(Michael Chamberlain/Nevada Business Coalition) – The left would like us to believe that the way to fight an economic downturn and build a recession-proof economy is to increase government spending. Increasing outlays on infrastructure and government payrolls are the road to prosperity, in their thinking. Locally, the troubles at the City of North Las Vegas provide a cautionary tale for that deluded approach.
Last week we covered how infrastructure spending at the onset of the recession not only didn’t help lift North Las Vegas out of economic trouble but may have contributed to its financial decline. But that is not the only problem plaguing what was once one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities.
In addition to spending money on ill-timed public works projects, North Las Vegas has the most expensive government of any city in the area. CNLV had the highest ratio of government employees to residents and spent the most per capita on government payroll of any city in the Las Vegas valley.
CNLV spent more per capita on payroll than either the City of Las Vegas or the City of Henderson. Citizen Outreach’s Dan Burdish Clark City Salaries supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau to calculate payroll costs for the three municipalities in the valley.
During March 2009, the latest month for which data is available, North Las Vegas’s payroll costs were more than $60 per NLV resident ($60.77 to be exact). This was $1.14 more than Las Vegas and $4.38 more than Henderson.
Those may seem like small differences but, with a population of 212,114, a small difference means a lot of money.
If North Las Vegas’s per capita payroll costs were the same as that of Las Vegas, CNLV would have spent nearly a quarter-million dollars less that month. Extend that out over a year and it’s almost $3 million dollars.
Reducing its per capita payroll to that of Henderson would have saved CNLV more than $920,000 in March 2009, amounting to more than $11 million for a year. Keep in mind that it is a shortfall of less than $9 million that may result in the state taking over CNLV’s finances.
North Las Vegas also had many more employees compared to the city’s population. 9.57 employees worked for CNLV for every 1,000 residents compared to 9.20 for Henderson and 8.75 for Las Vegas.
The largest single expense for each of the municipalities was Police Officers. The per capita cost in this category for North Las Vegas exceeded those of Las Vegas by a full $1.00 and Henderson’s by nearly $2.
The City of Las Vegas does not have its own police force but relies on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, or Metro. Metro also provides police protection for the unincorporated areas of Clark County, which comprises a majority of the area’s population, and its costs are included in Clark County’s in the Census Bureau database. Las Vegas’s portion of those costs is included in our compilation.
For those thinking North Las Vegas could save money by merging its police services with Metro as well, think again. Such a merger would have to be approved by both the City Council and Clark County Commission. According to NRS280.123(5), the most liberal wages and benefits would apply to all employees of the newly-merged department, resulting in all Metro employees receiving the higher pay and benefits offered by CNLV. It’s unlikely that even the County Commission that has given the farm away to the SEIU would agree to such a budget-busting arrangement.
CNLV’s per capita payroll costs in the areas of Correction, Housing & Community Development and Natural Resources were more than double those of both Las Vegas and Henderson. But this higher spending did not result in improved performance.
Despite the excessive cost in Housing & Community Development, CNLV’s housing authority has been plagued with problems. It was forced to pay back some federal funding and other local housing authorities took over some of its operations around the time period reflected in this spending data.
The city cut about 15% of its Corrections staff last year after losing 1/3 of its inmates when the federal government moved them to a new facility in Pahrump. However, by that time the number of employees had swelled to 282 from the 251 in the March 2009 Census Bureau data.
Not only that, but some CNLV employees have continued to receive increases in pay even as the recession worsened.
If liberals are to be believed and increasing government spending is the key to reversing a recession and ensuring a stable economy North Las Vegas should be the shining star of the area. That it is on the verge of bankruptcy is yet more evidence of the foolishness of those policies.
(Michael Chamberlain is Executive Director of Nevada Business Coalition.)