U.S. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has secured for Nevada more than $100 million of the $410 billion spending bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday, but without concrete numbers devoted to the county or cities at this point, Martini, Cashell and Washoe County Commission Chairman David Humke emphasized a working progress to use stimulus funds in the most effective, “one-time shot” way.
The three officials fielded questions from the region’s businesspeople about how local governments are going to prioritize their portions of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package at a Sparks Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
“When we first heard about the stimulus bill, one of the first phone calls we made was to Sen. Harry Reid’s office and they implored us to work together and start right away and we took it to heart,” Humke said. “We started planning well in advance. We did more planning than Congress did in compiling the stimulus and found six or seven areas that we thought the money could go into that would be most effective.”
Those areas included energy, flood and draining, transit, neighborhood revitalization, schools and water and waste water, Humke said.
Among those areas, the county and cities have had many projects to consider as priorities and several criteria were then agreed upon by local officials for best use of funding, Humke said.
Those criteria, formulated in questions, included:
• Will the project meet expected federal projections?
• Are projects flexible enough to handle changes made to its materials, or documentation?
• Do recommended projects provide enough balance among the various entities so that the one entity is not adversely burdened by the projects?
The three officials answered various questions about energy, city building permit processes and the possibility of hosting the Winter Olympics as a tourism strategy.
Asking for a reaction to news on Thursday morning that Gov. Jim Gibbons expressed reluctance to accept all the stimulus dollars that Nevada could be eligible for, one audience member asked about loopholes and rules that would motivate the mayors to reject the funds apportioned to the city.
Cashell said that if accepting stimulus money could cost the city more money later, it could be a reason to reject it.
“I don’t mind if it creates jobs, but if I have to bring on staff and employees we can’t afford, I’d be against it,” Cashell said. “The package is geared mostly toward the housing market and banks and loans and one-shot items. But if it’s going to be required and it’s going to be a burden, I would say no.”
Martini said the county and the cities haven’t received much information about what’s coming down the pipes, but consolidation of services may be crucial in the interim.
“We call it ‘shared services,’ ” Martini said. “There are some things we’re willing to consolidate, like animal control, but we opted out of the fire contracts. (Sparks is) happy we’re not in those contracts. But it’s something we can work together on. We’re cognizant of what citizens told us.”
One audience member asked about the future of the relationship between the city of Sparks and the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, in light of the recent revelation that the region’s tourism agency overpaid Sparks by more than $436,000 and is seeking repayment.
Martini assured the audience that the city is working to maintain a good relationship.
“The city of Sparks gives its room tax to the RSCVA,” he said. “We’re looking for a little more notoriety than we’ve had in the past. This is nothing new.”
Cashell quipped that Martini is tired of calling Sparks “East Reno” because Sparks is becoming a major player in the region with the development of Legends at the Sparks Marina.
“Sparks does a great job for this community with the (Best in the West Nugget) Rib Cook-Off and everything else and now this new marina project is a great asset to the community,” Cashell said. “The three of us realize we live in a region. We don’t live in Sparks or Reno or the county. We live in a region.”