City, county officials seek to mend fences over annexation, funding

It’s been a tense couple of years for local government in the Las Vegas Valley, but some officials are shooting for a sea change.

It’s not an uncommon occurrence at a Las Vegas City Council or Clark County Commission meeting to hear elected officials lambasting their municipal counterparts about the city annexing unincorporated county land or funding for the Metropolitan Police Department.

In a presentation to the City Council this summer, City Manager Betsy Fretwell highlighted the need to repair the city’s relationship with the county as a priority for the coming year. Since then, there have been “fruitful” discussions with county officials, Fretwell has said. And city staff presented elected officials with a possible path forward that could try to build consensus on a number of issues that have led to the city-county chasm, including northwest land use, fire protection costs, annexations and sewer services.

City staff last week presented the council with two vastly different options for how to proceed, which will be hashed out in the future:

■ Maintain the status quo on annexations and the city’s sewer service area.

■ A series of measures, including working toward terminating the 1985 mutual aid fire agreement, working on agreements with the county on land use in the northwest and election fees, considering moving to even-year elections to match the county schedule and developing legislative bill draft language to clarify the annexation process.

Unincorporated Clark County land

For a decade, an interlocal agreement between the city of Las Vegas and Clark County helped guide development in the northwest, where large islands of unincorporated county land sit within the city’s outer boundaries and where growth has happened swiftly. The agreements allowed county landowners to hook into city infrastructure and pay normal connection fees and sewer bills without their land being annexed into the city.

The most recent interlock agreement expired, and the two sides haven’t been able to agree on new terms.

They have differed on whether the city should be able to continue annexing county land; whether major future arterial roads should include curbs, sidewalks and street lights; and whether the city should provide sewer services to properties it considers out of its service area.

Another big sticking point is fire protection, and in particular a 1985 mutual aid fire agreement that called for the county to collect a tax for fire protection to be funneled into city coffers. City officials say the agreement somehow slipped through the cracks, and the city hasn’t received any such compensation over the past three decades.

In his time on the Las Vegas City Council, Councilman Bob Coffin said the city’s relationship with Clark County has deteriorated. There’s no single reason for the governmental discord, but the city’s continued annexation of unincorporated county land, particularly in the northwest, has added fuel to the flames.

“There’s a laundry list of things the city and county disagree on, but annexations seem to be the trigger for everything,” Coffin said.

The county upped the ante on annexations in July when commissioners passed a new ordinance. County officials said they have received numerous complaints about it and put in place a process to determine if any have merit. If the complaints are found by the county to be “improper” or warrant further action, the new ordinance provides possible recourse, such as placing municipal taxes that would go to the city as a result of the annexation into a special fund to be held there or direct the district attorney’s office to seek an injunction or judgment in District Court.

A year ago, when the Nevada Legislature adopted a bill barring cities from forcing unincorporated property owners within “service areas” to be annexed as a condition of using public utilities, the Las Vegas City Council passed an ordinance defining the service area as property within existing city limits.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman suggested last week during a presentation about annexations that the city could hold off on annexations for a little while as Fretwell continues discussions with county officials to try to reach a consensus.

City officials are willing to start at square one with the county, but there needs to be some sort of compensation tied to that mutual aid agreement, Coffin said.

The city-county discussions aimed at mending relations that have taken place since have been constructive, Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said.

The meetings have been productive and are continuing, and the hope is that agenda items will be placed on future County Commission and City Council agendas, and acted on, Pappa said.

“Renewed efforts to improve the relationship have taken place,” Pappa said. “The number one goal is to extend services to the citizens.”

Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Find @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter.

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