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Las Vegas OKs shared services pact to help North Las Vegas

The cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas will study sharing everything from animal control to traffic services under an agreement approved Wednesday by the Las Vegas City Council.

The council voted 6-1 in favor of the proposed inter-local agreement with struggling North Las Vegas that would give the two cities six months to research potential shared services.

The North Las Vegas City Council still needs to approve the proposal for it to take affect, but Mayor John Lee said he believes it has the votes to pass.

Las Vegas Councilman Bob Beers cast the lone vote against the agreement Wednesday, saying he was concerned the proposal could result in Las Vegas employees being distracted from work in their own city.

“I don’t believe we have people sitting around the city manager’s office sitting on their hands looking for things to do,” Beers said. “If we do then we need to trim our staff.”

But the remaining council members, City Manager Betsy Fretwell and Lee disagreed with Beers’ reasoning and suggested the proposal could lead to reduced costs and greater service for taxpayers in both cities.

In recent years North Las Vegas has emerged as one of the hardest-hit cities in the nation by the crash of the housing market and subsequent recession.

The most recent North Las Vegas budget includes approximately $377 million in expenses and $337 million in revenue. The city plans to use about $14 million from a sewage utility fund to help close the gap. It will have to make up the rest of the differences through cuts, debt refinancing and other measures.

Meanwhile Las Vegas’ 2014 budget projects $482 million in spending and $472 million in revenue, with the shortfall of about $10 million coming from reserves.

Leaders in the two cities are hopeful cooperation can improve the outlook for both.

Councilman Bob Coffin compared the proposal to a life raft that could help keep both parties afloat.

“I think we have room for North Las Vegas as long as they don’t bring sharp nails in there,” Coffin said.

Fretwell said there’s little danger department heads tasked with consulting with their neighbor to the north will be distracted from their daily duties at home.

She said officials already combine efforts with other communities on regional groups for everything from flood control to medical issues.

“Nothing we do happens in a vacuum,” Fretwell said in response to Beers. “We built a team and structured our workload to be able to handle significant strategic projects on behalf of this city.”

Under terms of the deal, leaders in the two cities will spend six months exploring potential partnerships in at least 10 categories, a list that includes animal control, traffic operations, business licensing, information technology, purchasing, parks and community centers and support services for fire suppression. Law enforcement and firefighting weren’t part of the agreement.

Also, Las Vegas officials will help Lee’s office get a clearer picture of North Las Vegas’ true financial situation.

Lee, a former state senator, was elected earlier this year and soon after the city parted ways with then-City Manager Timothy Hacker, then-Finance Director Gerald Zochowski and then-City Attorney Jeff Barr.

“If you don’t help us there is a great chance we are going to have a major blowup in North Las Vegas,” Lee told the Las Vegas council.

In addition to studying potential to share services and the financial assessment, the agreement includes creation of an 11-member Shared Services Committee made up of residents from both cities. Former Clark County Manager Thom Reilly has also been hired by North Las Vegas as a consultant charged with overseeing implementation of the agreement.

Fretwell said the city will track work done by her staff on behalf of North Las Vegas and, if the deal results in savings, the city will be repaid. If it doesn’t, the value of the work is capped at $50,000, she said.

North Las Vegas already uses the Las Vegas jail in exchange for fees.

“I think we built in quite a bit of fail-safe into the process that will help keep us from over-committing,” Fretwell said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com and follow him on Twitter at @BenSpillman702. View reporter James DeHaven contributed to this report.

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