Maintenance gets no respect

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Nevada, Reno have a serious building maintenance funding shortfall, on the order of more than $1 billion, as reported Friday by the Review-Journal’s Yesenia Amaro. Add in the College of Southern Nevada campuses, and there’s an additional $200 million in unfunded work.

On a yearly basis, the state allocates just $15 million to all its higher education campuses for such maintenance.

This problem isn’t limited to higher education. Maintenance on the state’s K-12 schools also is woefully underfunded, with many millions of dollars of worth of repairs needed right now. And there isn’t enough money to shore up either’s maintenance needs. Over the years, the state has spent big bucks building new buildings for both education systems, while not setting aside anywhere near enough for upkeep.

Yet when it comes time to tap already-overburdened taxpayers, state and local municipalities often seek more money to build more or to add new programs. And that’s not just in education — all three city halls in the Las Vegas Valley have been expanded or rebuilt in recent years, though none was terribly old.

Voters are wise to this trick by now, as evidenced by Clark County citizens overwhelmingly trashing the Clark County School District property tax proposal on last November’s ballot. That was for major renovations and new construction, instead of maintenance and repairs.

City, county and state officials are missing the elephant in the room: If you put a premium on maintenance, you won’t need as many new structures or as much renovation.

The Review-Journal’s editorial page earlier this year told the 2013 Legislature to make building maintenance a priority, and even how to do it. There is plenty of government funding that, by state law, is reserved for specific uses. Why doesn’t maintenance have that same protection? The Legislature needs to create separate, sheltered maintenance funds across all governments so officials can’t raid those funds for any other purpose, such as hiring or adding new programs. Clearly, this is what it’s going to take just to begin addressing the maintenance issues.

Instead, lawmakers gave the city of North Las Vegas permission to raid a sewer maintenance fund to bail out the city’s general fund. Don’t expect the city to pay it back. What happens when the sewer breaks down? The city will ask the taxpayers for more money, of course.

Maintenance gets no respect.

The lesson from last year’s election: If governments don’t adequately maintain buildings already in existence, the taxpayers will not be inclined to vote for a bailout when those buildings need fixing or replacing. And frankly, who could blame them?

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