In recent years, whenever general public discourse has turned toward the idea of ‘home rule’ in Moapa Valley, it has been met with a fair amount of hand-wringing from the more cautious voices in the community. Several years ago, for example, when the discussion was about the possibility of incorporation, the concerns voiced were about being able to afford our community’s many acquired needs and wants. More recently, when the subject turned to the possibility of local schools breaking free from the Clark County School District, worries were voiced about the quality – or perceived lack thereof – in local leadership. Of course, both concerns have, in turn, had ample discussion back and forth and we won’t rehash them here.
But the most recent home rule discussion, that of the Moapa Valley Fire District (MVFD) striking out on its own, is really in a class all its own. Neither of the above concerns seem to apply.
For example, budget feasibility appears to be a non-issue. This proposed separation would not be carving a new piece out of the existing Nevada state Consolidated Sales Tax pie, as would have been in the case in incorporation. In fact, no ballpark figuring is needed at all. The numbers are readily known and documented.
The Moapa Valley Fire District has had an established allotment on the Consolidated Tax rolls since it was established back in 1965. It’s revenues are clear. We know precisely what the district has received each year. And, thanks to a refreshingly open and transparent Clark County Fire Department (CCFD) administration, we now also know precisely what the district has spent. According to CCFD reports, the district has always operated well within it’s means. In fact, it regularly runs a healthy surplus, which has been kept in a separate fund balance ample enough to take care of a reasonable range of future capital needs.
Of course, there are some who would prefer that the district keep the security blanket of Clark County behind it as a backstop…just in case. But just in case what? As far as can be determined from the reports, the district has never depended upon the County coffers for anything.
When expensive new vehicles and equipment have been needed, district funds were always used to purchase them, not the county.
When damages were done to district vehicles, in situations where insurance claims would normally have been filed, district officials were told that CCFD is “self insured.” That simply meant there was no insurance to pay claims. Thus, district funds were simply drafted to make repairs or replacements to vehicles. The district paid, not the county.
When disastrous wildfire struck in Warm Springs and regional resources were called upon to assist, the district was not given any special deals on those services. The cost for that regional response was billed to the district in full and paid out of district funds, not the county.
And the list goes on and on! The local fire district has not needed to be bailed out by Clark County ever. That’s because it has always had an ample revenue stream to pay its own bills. No matter how you look at it, there is really no question on whether the district can afford to operate on its own. It has been doing so in a financial sense for the past 53 years.
Furthermore, with a reserve fund balance at around $6 million, there is plenty of money on hand to provide more services than it has. Those reserves, if administered wisely and focused carefully, could better be put to use to expand services to the community; services that have long been needed.
But that brings us back to the other stock concern: Do we have the leadership potential in our little community to make such important budget decisions? Can we really manage these things on our own?
Currently local fire district funds are being managed from afar by the CCFD brass in Las Vegas. And over the years, it seems they have been managed responsibly and accounted appropriately. But is that enough? When it comes to emergency services the community’s need is growing even while its volunteer response is dwindling. Could our needs be better addressed through local decisionmaking?
No one disputes that the top CCFD administrators are the established experts at meeting the needs for urban Las Vegas. That’s what they do. But what makes them experts in meeting our rural needs? The fact will always stand that the CCFD has its hands full in dealing with the chaos of the inner city. Our needs are a tiny drop in that great fire bucket. As long as we are managed by CCFD, we will have to be content with whatever administrative attention is left over. That is just the way it will always be; and the way it has been.
Having decisions made closer to home would provide more focus, consistency and efficiency. How do we know that? Well, we have some very clear examples before us. The Overton Power District and the Moapa Valley Water District both have locally elected boards. These boards are made up of civic-minded and honorable community members who take their responsibilities very seriously. They take a tremendous amount of time and effort, working with their respective staff members in balancing budgets and staying within their means. The result of that effort: some of the leanest-running utilities to be found anywhere and lower utility rates than most in the region.
Best of all, local leadership is accessible. If a resident of the district has a problem with services being received, they won’t have to travel all the way to Las Vegas to try to wade through a bureaucratic mess.
They won’t have to sit through a long meeting to publicly address their elected official in a daunting and unfamiliar forum. Instead, it can be done all right here in the hometown. That alone presents a huge advantage!
County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick and others are absolutely right that the move toward local independence of the MVFD should be done methodically and cautiously. It should not be done in a hurry nor without careful thought. There is a mountain of details that will need to be considered and attended to, one by one. But with some coordination and cooperation from the CCFD administration, that transition can be managed.
Thus far there has been no valid reason presented why the community should NOT proceed toward making this separation. It is a move that would make the Moapa Valley a stronger, more self-sufficient, community. It would bring the decision-making closer to home where it is most effective and economical. And it could even open new doors in providing better emergency medical services to Moapa Valley.
Considering all of this, the best way is for the community to get behind the effort to move the MVFD forward toward independence from Clark County.