Justices OK Vegas school property tax ballot issue

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A property tax increase that officials say will raise up to $120 million a year to repair aging Las Vegas-area schools will be on the November ballot, after the state Supreme Court decided Thursday not to block it.

Six justices who heard arguments Wednesday issued an unusually quick ruling saying that a Clark County District Court judge didn't abuse her discretion when she rejected a Nevada Policy Research Institute effort to kill the ballot measure.

The NPRI argues that the Regional Debt Management Commission violated state open meetings law by failing to take public comment before voting June 7 to put the measure to a public vote.

Joseph Becker, chief NPRI legal officer, put the overall cost to taxpayers during the six years the tax would be in effect at $669 million. He said the NPRI had hoped to prevent "voter confusion" over a measure with a shaky legal underpinning, and said the libertarian and fiscally conservative think tank will continue its legal fight to defend the state open meeting law.

Clark County School District official Joyce Haldeman characterized district administrators as delighted by the high court decision.

"It's important for the voters to decide this question, not to have it blocked on a technicality," she said.

Haldeman noted that the cash-strapped school district has been stretching funds to cover unexpected air conditioner repairs at several campuses. Doors opened last week for more than 300,000 students at 357 sites. Five elementary schools built for 750 students opened with more than 1,000 students, Haldeman said.

The tax would collect about $74 a year for each $100,000 of assessed value for homes in the Clark County School District, the fifth-largest in the nation.

"People need to be aware that older schools in our valley have repairs that desperately need to be made," Haldeman said, adding that 92 cents of every dollar raised will go to repairing older schools. Plans call for just two new schools to be built during the six years the tax would be in effect.

NPRI spokesman Victor Joecks noted the state high court decided only not to block the ballot vote. The justices didn't rule on the underlying question of whether state open meetings law had been broken.

Joecks said will continue to press the open meeting question in Clark County District Court. If the law was broken, the ballot measure would be void, Joecks said. He said NPRI had no position on the tax increase itself.

"We asked for the injunction to avoid the confusion of presenting voters with a ballot question that lacks legal effect," he said.

Clark County District Judge Valorie Vega ruled that no harm would come from putting the tax question to a public vote.