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NLV hopes these are its darkest days

After years of being relegated to the inside pages of newspapers and small stories on the evening news (when covered at all), old north town and its financial problems have catapulted the city into the national discussion of financially troubled municipalities.

According to the financial website 24/ and picked up by USA Today, the city ranks eighth on their list for “Worst Run Cities in America.” Citing unemployment at 13.3 percent (seventh highest in the country), the website points out that home values fell 50.7 percent between 2008 and 2012, the second-largest big-city decline in the country. Nearly half of the city’s 100-square-mile area remains undeveloped. Both situations mean there is a lot of tax money not being realized for the city’s revenue stream.

I could bore you here with a lot of numbers to show you how dire the situation is, but I will just give you the highlights: the city’s deficit could total $327.5 million by 2021 if the city doesn’t use its dwindling utility enterprise fund.

City bean counters need to find $152.6 million in additional revenue during the next seven years to keep the general fund balance at 8 percent.

If it drops to around 4 percent, here could come the state.

The city is in discussions with the City of Las Vegas on some possible shared services agreements. The pair already have one that sends North Las Vegas’ arrests to the Las Vegas jail on Stewart Avenue. This was projected to save north town $11 million to $15 million, generating nearly $7 million in revenue for Las Vegas, before expenses.

The city’s financial landscape was laid bare Jan. 7 for Mayor John Lee and the four City Councilmembers by city Finance Director Darren Adair. Prior to the evening presentation, the council chambers inside the new $130 million City Hall (that’s another story all in itself) filled with interested onlookers. County Commissioner Tom Collins, Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson were among the elected officials chatting with constituents and shaking hands.

Las Vegas City Manager Betsy Fretwell and some members of that city’s finance team were there, as was former County Manager Thom Reilly, who is working with North Las Vegas on its negotiations with Las Vegas.

The back of the room was filled with members of North Las Vegas police and fire, many in uniform, concerned about public safety budget.

While the atmosphere in the room prior to Adair’s presentation was tense but upbeat, the more he spoke the quieter the room got. Pin-drop quiet with a palpable sense of despair. The future is bleak. No way to spin that.

City officials like to use the “darkest-before-the-dawn” analogy. Lee, who took over the mayor’s office July 1, is trying to put forth a brave face and rally the city, but there is only so much that he and the council is empowered to do.

The city is in the process of selling the old police station, but that’s only $1.8 million. City Hall has about three of its nine floors it could lease out, but both are just drops in the bucket.

Someone’s going to have to make it rain a lot more than that.

ARNOLD M. KNIGHTLY is the editor of CityLife. Follow him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind