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Pollyanna and Hillary at Sparks City Hall
by Andrew Barabno
Mar 01, 2008 | 954 views | 1 1 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
"All of our departments have found ways to do more with less." – Mayor Geno Martini, from his State of the City address, Feb. 27

"The days of doing more with less are over. We're now doing less with less." – Assemblymember Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, Feb. 11

Can they both be right? Hizzoner also stated that "we currently do not meet the national average of 1.8 police officers per thousand residents."

The city's 1.27 sure looks like less with less to me.

Ms. Leslie was addressing a group of human services activists about Gov. Jim the Dim's draconian budget cuts, which will result in minor impacts like premature deaths. The mayor was delivering a virtuoso rendition of the old silver lining tune — gushing over the refreshing sprinkler waters while the house burns down.

At this here newspaper for the past two decades, the more enlightened writers have howled about Sparks and Reno corporate welfare programs. The late conservative Ralph Heller and his replacement Ira Hansen have been in concert with this flaming liberal in decrying expenditures of tax money and public credit to private enterprises which should stand or fall on their own merits and money.

Cities have suffered increasing financial problems since the coronation of King Ronald the Vague. President Reagan's New Federalism foisted many programs onto the states without proper funding. Formerly fiscally responsible legislatures began trickling the pain down onto their municipalities. The most recent example is the law ordering local governments to obtain DNA from criminals but providing no funds with which to conduct the expensive analysis. It took the kidnapping and murder of college student Brianna Denison to bring the issue to the forefront as law enforcement conducted the equivalent of a bake sale to finance processing of the backlog in its hunt for a serial rapist and murderer.

Growing cities need money to pay for parks, schools, roads, police, fire protection and other such wasteful government programs. Growth in Nevada stopped paying for itself more than a decade ago. Sparks and Reno were already caught in a triple whammy starting with Reagan and followed by Sen. Bill Raggio's 1991 legislative blundering, which caused a hemorrhage of money to flow toward southern Nevada and resulting in today's red ink. Practicing creative wishful thinking, the cities created whammy number three by escalating their practices of giving away millions in corporate welfare to any out-of-town suede-shoe promising pie in the sky and a cure for what ails you.

The goofiest used car deal came from Cabela's sporting goods, which preached that its innate wonderfulness would attract three million new visitors a year. Pickle smoke.

I pointed out to the Reno City Council that this county only draws a little more than 5 million tourists a year total. How can one retailer jack up an extra 60 percent? Cabela's afterward scaled back its promises a wee bit but still scored its sting. Scheels' sporting goods (the folks who want Sparks Boulevard renamed for them) guarantees a mere 800,000 new tourists. Would Sparks like mustard with its pickle smoke?

The convention authority shunts room tax money to subsidize casino promotion. Redevelopment projects and a wide range of other corporate welfare programs have permanently debilitated municipal finances. Sparks and Reno have lately annexed huge swaths of county land in their hunger for more property tax revenue, but it's a losing proposition.

Now, even longtime proponents of major development are thinking twice. The golden goose is looking sick. A turnaround may have come at Sparks City Hall on Feb. 11.

City council members, in full Harry Potter drag as the Sparks Redevelopment Agency, were asked to wave their wands and approve a set of financial giveaways to the developers of the Sparks Marina project.

Councilman Ron Schmitt and City Manager Shaun Carey did their best imitations of Sens. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, advising the council that the vote was really just one small step. They could simply vote for it before they vote against it.

Councilmen John Mayer and Mike Carrigan refused to drink the Kool-Aid and were aided by a (gasp!) honest consultant.

California number cruncher Daniel Wildes warned the council that city finances would be strained close to the breaking point by approving the marina welfare program.

Wildes noted that if sales taxes generated by the project are not enough to cover the bonds sold to finance the construction, taxpayers will be on the hook to make up the difference. Should that happen, it "would have a negative impact on (the) ability of the Redevelopment Agency to fund other projects."

Carrigan growled that "we're supposed to be using this tax money to fix up older parts of Sparks and you just took that away from us."

Alas and alack, Mayor Martini, Schmitt and councilcritters Smith and Salerno all agreed to put the taxpayers into as much as $28 million worth of jeopardy. And it could get worse, regardless of Mr. Schmitt's rosy economic forecast delivered with the girlish optimism of Pollyanna.

Back in reality, the council was told that the marina's casino anchor will generate very little sales tax and that fresh property tax revenues from the project are the make-or-break issue. Which brings me to whammy number four: Nevada taxophobia.

If new property tax limitations pass either at the polls or in the ledge, repayment would go from difficult to near impossible, meaning that the taxpayers could pay for the project twice.

The corporate welfare addiction is madness. It's time for an intervention.

You can start by reviewing Mr. Wildes' memo to the council at the Web edition of this column at

Then start hitting city hall with support for Mayer and Carrigan's conservative position.

Don't let them play any more roulette with your money.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan and editor of E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
March 03, 2008
Hey Barbed wire, (Or should I say Bobin'wire?)

I thought you was for labor, or was that just one of your political ruses to garner some support for your sorry opinions?

We need the Legends project and the prevailig wages it will bring to us and our families. This construction project will be good for the region. Just because you have to "Raise Hell and be well" doesnt mean you need to criticize Sparks officials for at least trying to help the working man. Go peddle your crap somwhere else because we have to work for a living, not see our opportunities shot down by some lame brain who needs a subject for a column.
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