Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of stories previewing local municipal races for the April 2 primary election.
If it seems like voters in Ward 6 are doing more than their fair share electing members to the Las Vegas City Council, it’s because they are.
They are going to the polls for the third time since 2009 to decide the fate of incumbent Councilman Steve Ross.
Ross, first elected in 2005, was re-elected in 2009, survived a recall vote in 2012 and is back in front of voters yet again.
But unlike the recall election in which challenger Byron Goynes had just three weeks to prepare, Ross is facing a more organized challenger in the form of commercial real estate broker Suzette LaGrange. The nonpartisan race also features a third candidate, pest control company owner Paul Rodriguez, who could splinter the vote in a ward that is narrowly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Although registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans, the ward leans conservative. In November, Republican Mitt Romney received about 400 more votes in Ward 6 than incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama.
Ross, a Democrat, is betting name recognition and experience will propel him to a third consecutive term.
“What this city needs, I’ve been doing it,” Ross, 50, said of issues he has championed, such as expanding business hours for building and safety inspectors so residents and businesses could have inspections done during the weekend.
Other Ross-backed initiatives include a foreclosure registry to make it easier for the city to track vacant homes and a pending ordinance to establish a multi-jurisdictional business license.
“We have got to be more friendly to growth, development, business because that is what is going to put people back to work,” Ross said.
When it comes to issues facing the city as a whole, Ross is in favor of increasing the sales tax to pay for police, wants the Fire Department to take a bigger share of medical transports it now shares with a private ambulance company, and supports extending the life span of the downtown redevelopment agency.
Ross was among council members who voted for a resolution urging the state Legislature to approve authorizing a one-quarter cent sales tax increase in Clark County to support police. Without the tax increase, the city faces a projected $32 million gap between revenue and expenses in 2014. If Las Vegas police get the sales tax, it would alleviate some of the funding burden for Las Vegas and reduce the projected 2014 budget gap to $12.3 million.
Ross said the sales tax is justified because it is the second half of a one-half cent increase voters approved in 2004 to hire more police.
“This is a voter mandate,” he said. “They need more police officers. We have got to have more police officers on the street.”
Ross also said he wants the Fire Department to take a greater share of medical transports from ambulance company AMR. The issue was the subject of a study by the International City/County Manager Association that suggested the department should either take all medical transports at the expense of AMR or get out of the transport business altogether.
Ross is seeking a middle way. He said firefighters should take a greater percentage of serious calls and leave less severely injured patients to AMR.
LaGrange, 39, is presenting herself as a conservative alternative to Ross.
A lifelong resident of Las Vegas, she has criticized Ross for statements he has made in support of tax increases and accuses the incumbent of being out of touch with voters in the ward.
On the issue of medical transports, LaGrange said the current situation in which the Fire Department and AMR share the transport load works well, and she is skeptical that tilting the balance in favor of the Fire Department would be an improvement.
“I don’t really believe you should trade 400 AMR jobs for firefighter jobs,” LaGrange said.
She said supporters of a Fire Department takeover overlook the difficulty of effectively billing for the service, something AMR already does.
On the issue of funding for police, LaGrange said although voters approved the sales tax back in 2004, she would like to see more accountability about how the money is spent.
“I would be in favor of putting more police on the street but not increasing salaries; they are already pretty high.”
She would like the Metropolitan Police Department to file a comprehensive annual financial report like other government agencies in Nevada so people could more easily evaluate its finances.
“Public safety is so important, but at the same time we can’t be wasting money,” LaGrange said.
Although Ross has locked up important support from Mayor Carolyn Goodman and city election donors, LaGrange expects to raise the six figures needed to run a credible campaign.
She has hired Cory Christensen, an experienced Republican campaign manager, to run her race.
“A lot of people know I’m conservative,” LaGrange said. “And we’ll make sure it is known I’m the Republican in the race.”
Another factor in the race is the presence of Rodriguez, 40, as an alternative to Ross and LaGrange.
He has no political experience but is running as a fiscal conservative.
He said his career as a small-business operator has given him experience necessary to make tough decisions.
“I look at profit and loss every single day,” Rodriguez said. “As it stands now, our three biggest expenditures are salaries, benefits and (union) contracts; all three of them as it stands today are not sustainable.”
Rodriguez said he would target positions paying six-figure and high-five- figure salaries for scrutiny.
“Somebody has to question that,” he said.
Early voting is Saturday through March 29. Election day is April 2. The salary for council members is $73,687.05.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285 .