Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Tale of Two Public Projects

Here in Henderson, we have a very important election this fall. In addition to all the federal races receiving the bulk of the attention, there's something else we will vote on this fall which will determine the future of our community. Now that Henderson District Public Libraries face such a giant budget deficit that they will have to close two whole libraries if they don't find more revenue, and possibly close a third in the new Heritage Park Library as well (!!!), the district is now asking Henderson voters for a few extra cents (per person) in property taxes just to keep all the libraries open.

Geraldine Brurs left the Paseo Verde Library into the midday heat Tuesday with two audio books in hand. The frequent visitor to Henderson libraries had no idea that two of the system’s six branches will close at the end of the year if a tax initiative on the November ballot does not pass.

Those like Brurs who already use and appreciate the libraries, and are supporters of the property tax increase, are the easy targets.

“Oh, I would definitely vote for the tax,” Brurs said after hearing the details. “The Henderson libraries have already cut back. They are closed on Sundays and their hours are shorter than before. This library is packed all the time.”

Proponents of the initiative see three groups of voters when it comes to the tax initiative, which would increase Henderson property tax by 2 ents per $100 in assessed property value, a $14 annual hike for property worth $200,000. There are the regular library users who are expected to provide strong support; those who will never approve of any new tax, especially during a down economy; and those in between who may support the tax if they are reminded of the value of a community meeting place and research hub. [...]

“Libraries serve the function of promoting reading and literacy, but they are also community places where people get and share information,” said Danielle Miller, a member of the PAC and principal at El Dorado High School. “People access the Internet at libraries. They search for jobs at libraries. There is no other resource in the community like it. I think a lot of people just don’t realize how close they are to closing branches.”

We've talked about this before. Public infrastructure isn't something to dismiss in importance. Libraries are critical meeting places for the community, and they are places that are critical for our community's growth and education. Especially now, as Southern Nevada is being forced to transition to a new economy that isn't so addicted to the whims and fancies of gaming and real estate bubbles, we need public infrastructure more than ever before.

However, it seems like not all infrastructure is created equal in the eyes of the powers that be in Carson City.
This is also something we've discussed before. And this is something that's coming back to the forefront as
a new project opens up north.

Nevada’s most expensive highway will open this month — an 8 1/2-mile stretch of pavement that most Southern Nevadans will never use, unless you’re a politician or lobbyist commuting between Reno and Carson City. [...]

And the cost? More than a half-billion-with-a-b dollars.

The new highway, Interstate 580, was paid for primarily with federal and state gas tax money. It has been planned for decades.

“This project is not just a home run, it’s a grand slam,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said at the ribbon cutting last week.

He said it would improve safety, promote commerce and ease commutes.

But to critics, the project was a boondoggle — our own “bridge to nowhere,” as Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani called it when she was in the Assembly. The route was heavily influenced by not-in-my-backyard politics back in 1983. The residents along the current road, U.S. 395, didn’t want an expansion. The project couldn’t be moved to the west because that would run into a tony development. So the Washoe County Commission decided to have the highway hug a hillside overlooking Pleasant Valley to the west.

Some Southern Nevadans say the highway was built so Northern Nevadans could strut.

“I think it’s widely acknowledged as primarily a flex pose in the mirror, designed to celebrate the political might of a couple of Washoe County legislators,” said Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers, who was also a legislator as this project was approved. (The late state Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and late Gov. Kenny Guinn were both honored at the groundbreaking.)

Bill Raggio may no longer be with us, but he will certainly never be forgotten.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think we should neglect critical infrastructure needs in Northern Nevada. I just think it's foolish to ignore critical infrastructure needs in Southern Nevada. Really, the entire state needs better public infrastructure in order to develop a more sustainable economy. Yet when over 70% of the state's population continue to be shortchanged and forced to fight each other for mere crumbs of the state's fiscal loaf, we shouldn't be surprised when our economy faces severe structural problems.

It's just plain maddening to see our state approach public infrastructure as a matter of "juice" and "wheeling & dealing". And it's saddening to think that critical resources like public libraries are at risk of closing indefinitely just because they're not as politically well connected as contractors looking to build a highway from the state capital to the historical epicenter of political clout.

Again, I don't want to deny anything that Reno and Carson City need. It would just be nice if Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Henderson didn't always have to fight tooth and nail just to prevent losing what we need. Is that too much to ask?

1 comment:

  1. Washoe didnt want people commuting through their town because they are so stuck up, so this project was pushed to be created on a hillside that cost a fortune due to the topograhy...spent much time there.