Government has stimulated Nevada economy very little

The city of Las Vegas is pursuing $213 million from the federal stimulus package, part of a plan that, statewide, is expected to pump billions of dollars into Nevada, generating 34,000 jobs at a time when statewide unemployment is at an all-time high.

So how much has Las Vegas received so far?

$4,833, according to Mayor Oscar Goodman.

The numbers are a little rosier statewide, with $309 million of the $1.6 billion “paid out,” according to Recovery.gov. That doesn’t necessarily mean the work has started, but it points to a reality of a deliberative, bureaucratic government. Even doing something new and daring doesn’t mean doing it quickly.

“Right now, Washington has really come to our aid,” Goodman observed dryly at last week’s council meeting. “It’s beyond me that we’re not getting any money.

“I bet more on a football game than what the city’s received.”

Clark County and North Las Vegas did not have numbers available to show what they’re expecting and what’s been received so far, although a Clark County spokeswoman was able to confirm that the county had been awarded a $50,000 parks and recreation grant.

More information will be compiled this week, she said.

Henderson has $13.4 million from nine grants coming to the city, and is seeking $58.5 million more through competitive grants.

The earliest winners of those could be announced by the end of summer.

There are conflicting accounts, when it comes to how much the state of Nevada is getting. A presentation to the Las Vegas City Council pegged it at $1.6 billion, but the stimulus page at www.nevada.gov says the figure, as of June 18, is $2.2 billion.

The funding and the rules for applying also present a moving target, Las Vegas officials said, since many of the programs included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are new.

“We’re finding that the sand is shifting beneath our feet,” said Tim Whitright of Las Vegas’ Neighborhood Services Department, noting that other cities and counties face the same challenges. “Everything is changing as we go along.”

Take, for example, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which provides money to buy foreclosed homes, fix them if necessary and sell or rent them to lower-income households.

Originally, the purchase price had to be 15 percent below the current appraised value. That was changed to 1 percent, which rendered moot all the staff work that had gone into the program.

Las Vegas has been approved for $20.6 million for the first phase of that project, although the money hasn’t arrived yet.

Optimistically, city staff point to August or September as a start date.

Clark County, Las Vegas Henderson and North Las Vegas are also seeking another $367 million for phase two of that program, but it won’t be known if that funding is available until later this year.

There are other examples. Las Vegas just announced plans for a series of carports with solar panels that will provide power to city facilities, funded in part by $1.2 million in stimulus money. Jobs created: 14. Start date? Sometime next year.

Elsewhere, $1 billion has been allocated for Forest Service projects. So far, $98 million worth of projects have been selected.

The Nevada Division of Forestry will get $1.3 million for Lincoln County conservation projects. That will create 24 jobs and preserve four others.

That’s better than nothing, but barely a drop in the bucket in a state with 12.3 percent unemployment and 169,800 people without work.

Plans call for a lot of drops, though, including fuel reduction and weed management in the Las Vegas Wash and the Muddy River Drainage, upgrading Clark County’s criminal history system, new sidewalks on Fifth Place and Sixth Street north of Oakey Boulevard, park renovations and, perhaps, even new bike lanes in Las Vegas’ Ward 5.

Jon Summers, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., noted that there would be just as many complaints if the government rushed the money out the door without adequate oversight.

“This is new. There are systems that had to be put in place to make sure the money is distributed in the most effective and responsible way possible,” he said.

The money is also being distributed by agencies across the government for many different projects and in different ways. They are allocated by formulas, set aside for competitive grants, given directly to an entity or given to states to pass out.

For an impatient Goodman, though, it came down to a straightforward question last week.

“Has AIG got their money?” he demanded of City Manager Betsy Fretwell.

“I think that’s a loaded question,” she responded.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate @reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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