Taxpayer horror stories

Taxpayers are like supporting characters in horror movies. You know they’re going to be terrorized and carved up. It’s just a question of when and how.

That formula played out again in 2010. ObamaCare became law. Your individual share of the national debt shot past $44,000. And plenty of lawmakers called for even higher taxes in 2011.

Feel free to scream anytime. But it won’t save you.

The leaders of your governments would have you believe that their money woes are just as frightening as yours. Yet they always come up with the cash they need for the stuff (or the people) they want.

Now that’s scary.

Of all the lists that mark the highlights of the year gone by, this is the only one that might keep you up at night.

I give you Nevada’s worst taxpayer nightmares of 2010.

5. Police union leadership perks.

A Review-Journal investigation revealed the seven executives of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association — the union that represents rank-and-file Metro officers — collect pay bonuses typically reserved for hazardous duty, specialized training and graveyard and weekend shifts. The assignment and shift pay premiums increased their taxpayer-funded salaries by about 12 percent.

The investigation also found that the arrangement has been going on for a decade, but finally became public when it was partially written into officers’ new collective bargaining agreement for the first time.

So union leaders, paid by you (not from union dues) to negotiate for ever-larger sums of your money, typically collect a higher salary than men and women on the streets catching bad guys, even as the department searches for ways to reduce spending by tens of millions of dollars. Somebody call 911.

4. A tie between the Clark County Shooting Park and the Big League Dreams softball complex.

The 2,900-acre shooting park was built in the northern valley with more than $60 million in federal funds.

But while various private shooting ranges are profitable enterprises, the county’s park is using taxpayers’ wallets for target practice. The new range has an annual operating budget of about $1.3 million while collecting less than $500,000 in revenues. You subsidize the balance. Stick ’em up!

Meanwhile, over at Freedom Park, the Big League Dreams softball and entertainment complex opened for business in January. It features replica ball fields of Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium, an indoor soccer field, two restaurants, batting cages, playgrounds and areas for private parties. Cool stuff.

However, you covered the construction costs — nearly $30 million worth — and donated the land. The city of Las Vegas, which brokered the deal, should start to share revenues five years into its 35-year contract with the park’s operators. Provided, of course, the taxpayers who paid to build the thing decide to drive northeast of downtown and pay more to use the place.

Return on investment? What’s that?

Big League Dreams is like a lot of stadium projects around the country: corporate welfare disguised as redevelopment.

Strike three — you’re out!

3. The Southern Nevada veterans hospital project.

Local veterans have been waiting … and waiting … and waiting for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to complete a new medical complex in North Las Vegas. In the works for about a decade, the hospital and nursing home is expected to put an end to the long trips so many vets must take to other VA facilities to get treatments unavailable here.

The project was supposed to open two years ago at a cost of less than $300 million. Now, we’re assured, it’s on target to open in 2011 — at a cost approaching $700 million, with the bill to you still climbing.

This is no CityCenter. The hospital will have about 100 beds, and the nursing home will have 120. The land was free!

In the time it’s taken federal bureaucrats to construct this complex, the private sector has built at least five new hospitals around the valley — for less than $700 million total.

Is there a CPA in the house?

2. The Clark County Department of Aviation.

These folks do a fine job running McCarran. But as property managers and landlords, they’re hopelessly incompetent.

The department has taken its charge to dispose of thousands of acres of public land beneath flight paths quite literally — administrators are throwing away valuable property, allowing a handful of businessmen to profit at the expense of taxpayers.

Recall that in 2005, the Review-Journal discovered the airport was swapping public property for parcels worth pennies on the dollar. In one case, a land broker sold a parcel for a $1.8 million profit just nine days after he acquired it from the county.

It turns out the airport’s dumb deals weren’t limited to deed transfers. It made lousy leases, too.

The airport owns the land under the spectacular Bali Hai Golf Club, just south of Mandalay Bay on the Strip. But it was revealed in 2010 that the golf course’s developer, Bill Walters, hasn’t paid a dime in rent over the past 10 years.

As with other airport leases, the rent is a set percentage of profit. And because Walters had one of his companies pay another of his companies $6 million in course management fees over that time, the golf club didn’t turn a profit.

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak says the airport is collecting little to no money on these arrangements, calling them “the worst leases in the world.” And you’re the chump because of them.

Wanna get away?

1. Morse Arberry.

Like a zombie who keeps rising from the grave, the former assemblyman and former city of Las Vegas employee never stops coming after your money.

While still holding a seat in the Assembly last summer, Morse “Moose” Arberry incorporated a lobbying business and negotiated a deal with local judges in which you would have paid him $10,000 per month. The judges wanted Moose to use his juice to protect their salaries, benefits and staffing from cuts during the 2011 legislative session. Arberry then resigned his Assembly seat.

Fortunately, the County Commission thought the deal reeked of the undead and killed it. Nonetheless, the fact that judges wanted their interests represented by a documented tax avoider, carpetbagger and double dipper was terrifying in itself. Who needs integrity? Not the Clark County judiciary.

Rest assured, Arberry won’t be satisfied with his city and legislative pensions. He craves the warm, sweet taste of tax money. At some point, he’ll be back for more.

One, two, Moose is coming for you. Three, four, better lock your door. Five, six, grab your crucifix. Seven, eight, gonna stay up late. Nine, ten, never sleep again.

Glenn Cook ( is a Review-Journal editorial writer.

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