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A black hole for taxpayer dollars

The downtown Regional Justice Center is sort of like the Energizer Bunny. Except instead of still “going and going,” the taxpayers are still “paying and paying.”

On Wednesday, arbitrators ruled that the county is on the hook for an additional $52.6 million to a contractor who helped build the complex and was blamed by county officials for construction flaws that led to delays and cost overruns.

For newcomers to the area, the Regional Justice Center — which houses most of Clark County’s courtroom space — was approved by voters in the mid-1990s under the expectation that it could be built without tax increases for about $120 million. It was supposed to be in operation by 2001.

It ended up opening four years late in 2005 at a cost of more than $180 million.

During construction, county officials repeatedly blamed AF Construction for the boondoggle.

“I have never in my 12 years of doing construction run into a contractor who has had as many problems completing the work,” said Randy Walker in 2003. Mr. Walker, who runs McCarran International Airport, was brought in by a newly hired county manager in 2002 to get the project back on track. “This job will absolutely go into arbitration,” he said at the time.

Well, Mr. Walker should have been careful what he wished for.

The arbitrators this week awarded AF Construction $39 million in damages plus $13.6 million in interest, meaning they obviously concluded that the county’s own bungling contributed to the mess. Yes, the arbitrators backed some of the county’s arguments, but they also made it clear that county officials in charge of running the project were asleep at the switch.

Expect the county to appeal.

But in the meantime, don’t look for any serious repercussions down on Grand Central Parkway. Because in the 13 years since this tale began, nobody — repeat, nobody — has ever been held responsible for the lax oversight and shoddy management that led to this fiasco.

Except, of course, for the taxpayers.

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