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Clark County to direct marijuana money to homelessness fight

Updated January 22, 2019 - 6:25 pm

Clark County will direct up to $12 million in marijuana fees each year to homelessness programs, using unallocated revenue from the nascent commercial cannabis industry to expand housing and case management services.

The commission on Tuesday approved earmarking fees collected through marijuana business licenses to help some of the roughly 6,000 homeless people countywide.

“We know that if we can provide the full service to one client, it saves us for the long run,” Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said, “because it saves us in the jail, it saves us at the hospital, it saves us for overall.”

Kirkpatrick, who introduced the plan, said the idea was borne by the prevalence of homeless camps in her District B, particularly on the east side near District E, and the understanding that the marijuana fees were available.

Since recreational marijuana sales began in Nevada about 18 months ago, the county has collected marijuana business license fees of $9.3 million in fiscal year 2018 and projects to close in on $11 million this fiscal year, Jessica Colvin, the county’s chief financial officer, said this month.

Kirkpatrick said that by capping the dedicated revenue toward homelessness at $12 million, county officials weren’t overestimating the available funds at their disposal for new programs.

The county currently spends $14 million a year on homelessness programs, and while the new earmark would appear to nearly double that effort, Kirkpatrick noted that other funds, predominantly grants, also count toward homelessness spending — although it’s a “spiderweb” of revenue that typically is restricted on specific initiatives and difficult to track.

She said that marijuana business license fees provide a form of local control funding that will be accompanied by a plan within the next month on program expectations and how many people will be served, followed by quarterly reports to measure effectiveness.

Federal workers get help

Clark County is accepting donations through 5 p.m. Thursday for federal employees affected by the government shutdown, seeking toiletries and household goods like paper towels, laundry detergent and dish soap.

Donation boxes will be available at several government locations, including the Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Pkwy in Las Vegas. Email CCEAC@ClarkCountyNV.gov for a complete list.

“Overall, we want our county employees to know that we are there to help and support you through this tough time,” Kirkpatrick said, “and we really do appreciate you sticking with us.”

There are 1,875 federal employees in the county between the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, according to county spokesman Erik Pappa, but the donation effort is open to all federal employees locally.

County Treasurer Laura Fitzpatrick said Tuesday that her office maintains a process to review waiver requests for property tax penalties and that federal employees may submit documentation under a “circumstances beyond their control” category.

With proof of a federal badge, the county is also putting business license fees in abeyance without interest and will work out a payment plan if needed.

Commissioner Larry Brown said that the Clark County Water Reclamation District is working with federal employees on billing and the Regional Transportation Commission is providing federal employees free public transportation rides.

Kirkpatrick added that NV Energy and Southwest Gas have links on their websites where federal employees can go to defer payments.

Microhospitals a concern

Commissioners said Tuesday that there might be need to craft a special license for county hospitals after UMC CEO Mason VanHouweling warned of the emergence of independent microhospitals that fail to follow certain safety standards.

The freestanding ERs are licensed to operate through the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services but lack accreditation through agencies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or the Joint Commission.

Unlike their counterparts borne out of existing hospital networks — for example, Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican Hospitals runs four accredited freestanding ERs in the Las Vegas Valley — unaccredited independent microhospitals don’t have to report data on patient outcomes and infection control, don’t accept Medicare or Medicaid, and aren’t held to the same transparency standards as other facilities, VanHouweling said.

“Patients that are unwitting about which hospitals they’re walking into are potentially out of network,” he told commissioners.

And that could put residents and tourists who are unaware of other options in the community at risk of receiving care their insurer won’t cover.

“It seems to me we have a really serious responsibility to make sure our community licenses hospitals that are fully accredited,” Commissioner Jim Gibson said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Several commissioners agreed the county could draft an ordinance that banned unaccredited hospitals, but they didn’t vote on the idea.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Jessie Bekker contributed to this report.

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