The Clark County Commission is slated to vote Tuesday on a deal to buy Las Vegas out of its lease at the Regional Justice Center, a move that would pave the way for the city to build a new municipal courthouse.
In exchange, city officials would agree for a decade not to pursue annexation of 1,037 acres of unincorporated Clark County land situated in “islands” within city boundaries.
“We need additional court space, and they want to get out to build their own courthouse,” Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said. “The numbers are now to the point where I think it’s to our advantage to move forward with it and save the taxpayers money.”
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman called the deal a “win-win.”
“This is the proper result. It should have happened six years ago,” Goodman said. “I’m hopeful it will pass.”
A City Council vote on the agreement is scheduled for Aug. 15, if the commission approves the deal.
The terms of the proposal call for the county to pay the city a $23.5 million down payment, plus four payments of $1.35 million between 2021 and 2024.
The city would vacate the Regional Justice Center by July 1, 2021, as long as the new city courthouse is ready. If it’s not, the city could continue to lease the current space the municipal court occupies for $189,748 monthly for another year. If the city isn’t out of the center by June 30, 2022, it would owe the county $569,244 for each month it continues to operate there, according to the agreement.
City officials are eyeing downtown land for the courthouse — the closer to the Regional Justice Center, the better, Goodman said.
One property city officials have been eyeing is southeast of Clark Avenue and South 1st Street, near City Hall, Councilman Bob Coffin said.
“The RJC was underbuilt to begin with,” Coffin said. “It’s the county that needs the space more than we do, but we wanted to have our courts in their own building because it’s a separate kind of justice.”
A group of residents this year mounted enough opposition to sideline a city proposal to absorb 872 acres of unincorporated county land sitting inside the city boundaries. That entire area is included within the annexation moratorium area outlined in the interlocal deal.
County Manager Yolanda King said the agreement was written in response to the annexation attempt.
“The reasonableness and fairness of it really boils down to providing comfort to residents who could have been affected by that annexation,” King said. “There was nothing before this that said the city couldn’t come back and try another annexation.”
The agreement also stipulates the county would not introduce or sponsor any law that would change Nevada’s annexation laws unless the city and county agreed on the legislation. Nearly 8,900 acres of unincorporated Clark County land sits inside city boundaries.
County Commissioner Susan Brager represents some of the county residents who faced annexation. She said she needs to know more about what could happen after the interlocal agreement expires before she can support it.
“I need to know if in 10 years if (annexation) is a done deal, or will the people in the islands be able to fight annexation?” she said.
Las Vegas’ practice of annexing county land inside city boundaries has been a point of contention between elected officials of the two jurisdictions.
City Council members have pointed out that county residents receive city services, like fire protection, without paying taxes. County commissioners contend that those residents should choose whether they want to live in the city and incur higher taxes.
“The county is not going to oppose the city from expanding in ways they are entitled to under state law, but we certainly want a commitment from them that they leave the unincorporated islands alone,” Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown said.
Michele Tombari, a resident who fought the annexation, said she’s not sure she can support the city-county agreement if it means the county won’t pursue a long-term solution.
“Ten years is better than doing this every year, but at the same time, I think we do need to look at that state law,” Tombari said. “There need to be changes in the ways that the state allows cities to do annexation.”
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