Thursday, March 29, 2012

Laughlin: "The Little City That Could"?

RT @SandraChereb: Laughlin residents will vote on incorporation. #laughlin /The Little City That Could......

That's what Jon Ralston tweeted when Nevada AP reporter Sandra Chereb broke the news that Laughlin will get a referendum on cityhood, after all.

Residents of Laughlin will be allowed to vote on incorporation under a compromise reached with state lawmakers that allows them to pull the plug on the new city if it can't support itself.

The Legislative Commission approved the proposal Thursday. The action allows residents to vote on incorporation in June, but requires proponents to instruct residents that if passed, becoming a city could mean higher taxes or reduced services.

The commission agreed that a bill draft will be requested for the 2013 session, giving legislators the option to either delay the July 1, 2013 effective date of Laughlin's cityhood, or revoke it altogether if there's insufficient revenue to fund it.

This is turning out to be quite the surprise. Just a month ago, it looked like Laughlin cityhood was dead as the state had originally punted the decision to the Clark County Commission, which wasn't interested in granting it.

The major point of conflict was (of course) over the financials. Clark County insisted that a City of Laughlin would immediately start in the red and could never really support itself. However a group of pro-city locals disagreed, and they even hired their own consultants to do feasibility analysis to show how a City of Laughlin could work. While most Nevadans probably haven't been paying too much attention to this fight over 7,323 residents and who should serve as their primary local government, this has been a fierce battle in the very southern tip of the state that some thought was over casino revenue and/or future development plans.

But now, it looks like there will be a vote this year for a proposed city that excludes the casino corridor while including plenty of land that's been eyed for development for some time. We'll have to see how it goes.

And apparently, so will the state. Under this proposed agreement, the state will leave open the possibility of the Legislature delaying incorporation of the city next year, or even repeal the city charter altogether, if future evidence shows that a City of Laughlin would not be financially feasible. This is why this fight isn't completely over yet. We'll have to watch Laughlin tax revenue and tourism numbers more closely in the coming months to see what kind of data state legislators in Carson City will be looking at next year.

Last year, the issue of Laughlin incorporation became a bit of a political football as state budget negotiations were underway. But perhaps now that Laughlin cityhood appears to have broad bipartisan support, this tale may finally deliver a long awaited happy ending for those Nevadans at the very southern tip of the state looking to chart their own future.

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