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County-city annexation dispute grows in Las Vegas

The jurisdictional discord between Clark County and the city of Las Vegas appears to be building.

County officials say they’ve gotten hundreds of complaints in the past year and a half alleging improper annexation of land by the city. County commissioners unanimously approved a measure Wednesday setting up a process to determine whether those objections have merit and possible remedies for “potential problems caused by the city’s actions or inactions.”

Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said the goal is to create “a level of stability” for residents.

The new county ordinance requires a public hearing allowing city representatives to address the allegations. If after that county officials deem the annexation was improper, among the possible actions the county may take are:

■ Simply directing the city to remove the property from its jurisdictional boundaries.

■ Placing any municipal taxes that would go to the city as a result of the annexation into a special fund to be held there.

■ Directing the district attorney’s office to seek an injunction or judgment in District Court.

Clark County land that the city of Las Vegas wants to annex (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

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.

The city has been annexing parcels within the “islands” of unincorporated county territory situated inside the city. The bulk of that land is located in northwestern Las Vegas.

An expired interlocal agreement allowed county landowners to hook into city infrastructure, paying normal connection fees and sewer bills, without their land being annexed into the city. The county’s system doesn’t extend north of Sahara.

“Why wouldn’t you renew this document that worked so well?” Commissioner Larry Brown said, adding that “the bottom line is taxes.”

In response to a request for comment on the county’s approval of the ordinance Wednesday, the city provided a letter City Manager Betsy Fretwell wrote to commissioners last week disputing that they have the authority under state law to proceed with the ordinance.

“The city also disputes many of the ‘factual’ predicates and conclusions set forth in the proposed ordinance … the purpose of this letter is not only to remove any suggestion that the city acquiesces to the proposed ordinance, but to express our disappointment, as well as, the city’s objection and opposition,” Fretwell wrote. “The city intends to continue to exercise the authority granted to it by its charter and by other statutory and case law.”

SUPPORT FOR ORDINANCE

About a dozen people spoke out in support of the county ordinance at a public hearing Wednesday. When County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak asked who supported the ordinance, more than 20 people raised their hands. No one in the audience raised a hand in opposition.

Some opponents said they don’t want to pay higher property taxes, others said they don’t want housing density to increase.

Timothy O’Brien lives in the Constellation subdivision, which the city annexed in 2014. When homeowners in the subdivision first caught wind of that plan, more than 40 of them signed letters of protest, O’Brien said.

The homeowners pressed the city about the benefits they would receive by being annexed. Street maintenance wasn’t a big need for the neighborhood: Five of the six streets in the subdivision are maintained by the homeowners’ association, O’Brien said.

“After some hemming and hawing the best they could come up with is ‘you’ll be able to vote for the mayor,’” O’Brien said. “That didn’t go over too good with the residents.”

Sharon Linsenbardt, owner of The Farm on Grand Teton Drive, told commissioners she has been fighting for six years to hook her property into the sewer system without annexation.

The additional taxes can become “insurmountable for small people,” she said.

Linsenbardt said she was at City Hall on July 1, 2015, with an application and plans. Council members passed the service area ordinance later that day. She called it “wrong” and “unfair” not to accept her into the system, and she has a lawsuit against the city.

If the city and the county were to get an interlocal agreement on the annexations and sewer hookups back into place, it would help Linsenbardt’s case, she said.

County commissioners called the issues a “fight” and a “battle” and told the speakers they’re not backing down.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” Sisolak said. “A lot of thought was put into this.”

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

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