Councilman Litman On Downtown Corridor, Other Issues-Video
Posting Date: 07/19/2012
By Barbara Ellestad
Councilman Al Litman is the only councilor on the Mesquite City Council serving a two year term, filling out the remainder of the late Councilwoman Donna Fairchild's term. He recently discussed his first year on the dais in an interview with the Mesquite Citizen Journal.
He began by reviewing a list of issues he had been directly involved in during his first year, beginning with the restoration of the city-wide Boy Scout door-to-door food drives. "I think I was pretty influential in getting that change done. I think it's paying off because the Boy Scouts had their biggest collection ever," last year.
As he listed other issues he remarked that "it's a team effort. No one person up there is running that Council. We don't lobby one another for votes. We all vote the way we feel we ought to."
Litman mentioned that several military veterans asked him to explore the possibility of the City expanding its cemetery facility and creating a special section designated for veterans. "We have just over 200 plots available in the current cemetery. I'm making a big push for a new cemetery with a veterans section. It's going to happen and I'll stay on it until it does."
Another recent issue he spoke about was the Shared Use Path project along Pioneer Blvd. Original City plans called for the existing sidewalk to be replaced with a slightly larger one. Many citizens disagreed with that idea and pushed the Council to consider alternative ideas.
"At first I thought, this is no big deal. When I got in to it a little more, I realized it was a big deal. The City was saying one thing, the residents were saying another. We were able to get together and change it. It's going to be a very positive change. It's in progress now."
He's been working on issues with the Mesquite Municipal Airport, expanding and improving its facilities to bring in more revenue. "We had some problems with a broken fuel truck. There's no AWOS (Aviation Weather Operating System). It looks like we're going to have one in the very near future."
He lamented that some of the changes take time "because it's government. It goes a little bit slow."
"We need to expand our runway. We're already into Arizona. It will take a little bit of cooperative effort but I think we'll achieve that," Litman remarked.
"I love the challenges," that come with the position, Litman commented. "I would not want to be on a Council that comes in, rubber stamps a few items, and goes home."
"Sometimes it's better to step back, re-evaluate a situation, than to jump in with both feet and later say 'oops.'" Litman said as he explained why some issues take a long time to resolve.
"I think things are falling into place nicely," Litman said about the Council as a whole. "I understand the workings of government and I don't get impatient because it didn't happen yesterday. I'd like to see things go correctly so that a future Council doesn't have to go back and 'clean up their mess because they acted too quickly or without the patience they should have.' I don't want to see repeats of that."
"I would like to see it happen," Litman said about possible pay adjustments or raises for senior managers in City Hall. They are the only group of employees who did not receive pay increases this year. Last year they took a five percent pay cut.
"When you've got really good management people, they are always looking for another job, higher pay, or more responsibilities. You can lose somebody over a couple of dollars. We can't negotiate salaries individually."
"Yes, you hear that city employees are overpaid," he continued. "But a lot of people making those statements make more money than the employees."
When the discussion turned to the issue of the C-Tax (consolidated tax) revenue which comprises 44 percent of the City's budget, Litman said "it makes me very nervous," that the State Legislature could possibly re-work the formula resulting in Mesquite receiving fewer dollars.
"Everyone wants a larger piece of the pie. I'd like to know what the funds will be before we spend the funds."
When Litman took office the City was facing a $2 million deficit in its budget. This year, the Council presented a balanced budget. "Can it be done," Litman asked rhetorically. "Yes. Can it be done forever? Probably not."
Business License and Impact Fees
"For every dollar we don't collect, we have to make it up somewhere else if we're going to keep a balanced budget," he remarked when asked about revising business license fees and impact fees.
He gave an example of a woman who wanted to hire another employee but realized she couldn't because the business license fee was more than she could afford at the time.
He explained that getting rid of all the fees probably wouldn't happen. "I'd like to see them prorated out. We'll get it all back. But, sometimes all of it upfront is difficult."
Mayor Mark Wier has mentioned he wants to adjust the gross revenue license fee. "I would replace it," Litman said. "I would look at some other type of fee. I don't like gross revenue taxes. They inhibit you from wanting to do more business because you pay more taxes."
"We have to market the city to businesses. When they ask why they should open a business in Mesquite, we have to have an answer," Litman commented. "Not just a logo for the City, but a true reason."
Litman is becoming well-known for his in-depth research into issues confronting the City and one of the most recent is the change to a public-private economic development function.
"Having a privatized economic development function is not a panacea. When you go back and look at others, you find out there's been too much influence by the city government, or not enough. I think in our case it's going to work,"
"People say we're spending a lot of money on it. But we spent a lot of money on other economic development activities. The results have been dismal. I'll call it as I see it, dismal," he reiterated.
He added that the new Mesquite Regional Business, Inc. economic development entity "has to offer a lot of things, and the City has to back them up."
Litman explained that six years ago he did a survey that identified 27 buildings in need of renovation along Mesquite and Sandhill Blvds. "Now six years later, it's worse than it ever was."
He said a possible solution is to meet with absentee properties owners and "lay it on the line to them that we need improvements on their part. We can't tear down their properties. That will just cause litigation. I'm not a big fan of eminent domain."
He advocates using the remaining RDA (Redevelopment Agency) funds in the downtown area. "If you look at the RDA document, it says it's for the downtown area." He lamented the fact that most of the RDA funds were "used on non-blighted areas."
Litman also wants business owners to apply for RDA grants to help them improve the appearance of their properties. "We better spend it prudently," he said about the remaining $2.5 million in the RDA Bond fund. "There isn't much more."
Proposed Mesquite Indoor Sports Complex
"I'm opposed to the project. It isn't the best use of our money," Litman said about the proposed Mesquite Indoor Sports Complex. "I don't see that it will return enough to the community."
He has long been concerned and vocal about the ongoing operating and maintenance (O & M) costs of the facility. "It's easy to build a building. I've ask about the O & M costs but have never gotten an answer."
"I think they will get most of the business," Litman remarked about a similar private facility now under construction in St. George, UT. "There's only so much to go around."
He's concerned about the justification for building the facility is that it could be marketed as multi-use, possibly attracting conventions and similar activities. "I don't see Las Vegas giving up one piece of the convention business to Mesquite."
"Inasmuch as I'm not in favor of it anyway, would it benefit the blighted downtown area better than up at Flat Top Mesa? Probably to some degree. But for the time being, it wouldn't matter where it is," he remarked. Litman did say he'd rather have the facility located in the downtown area.
Other Spending Issues
"It comes to the point where the combined three fees are equivalent to the property value," Litman remarked about the additional conservation fees required under the Virgin River Habitat Conservation Recovery Plan (VRHCRP).
Under the VRHCRP, the City charges a $500 fee for grading land on top of the $550 fee Clark County charges for a separate Clark County Conservation Plan. The Virgin Valley Water District plans to charge a third additional fee. Other entities in Clark County only charge a single $550 fee.
"A developer starts adding up the bottom line and says, 'I've got three development fees? Fooey. I'm outta here.'"
"I beg Clark County to get back in with their plan and follow through with what should have happened a long time ago. We need to get it back down to one fee," he said.
Gold Butte NCA with Wilderness
"Of all the issues so far, this has been the most confusing," Litman commented about the City's resolution to support the designation of the Gold Butte area as a National Conservation Area (NCA) with Wilderness.
"I've been out to Gold Butte and looked around. To me, it's not a big deal. If nothing was done to it, it would still be the same in 5,000 years," he quipped.
"But we're spending a lot of time worrying about whether or not it's going to be an economic boom to the community. I think we have bigger issues than Gold Butte. There are so many special interests groups involved in it. We really need to sit back and look at it a long time before we make a decision. Once you make a decision, you're done."
He disagrees with the idea that Gold Butte would be a significant economic draw to the Mesquite area if it's designated as a NCA with Wilderness.
Litman spoke about a recent trip he made to Sedona, AZ where 'pink Jeeps' took tourists on scenic trips through nearby deserts. "People are literally lined up out the door to pay $35 or $40 to take a trip through the desert. People love it. It's huge. I did it and loved it."
One issue Litman wants to work on is the utility right-of-way (ROW) fee that was recently on the Council agenda. A proposal to gradually reduce the three percent ROW fee beginning July 1, 2013, was delayed pending more research and information from City Staff. All businesses and residents pay three percent of their utility costs to the City and it's deposited into the Street Maintenance Fund.
"We need to look at a number of scenarios. To say we're not cutting it because we need the money is pretty definitive. But to just eliminate the fee altogether might not be the answer either. I would like to see the fees reduced but not to the extent that we can't fix our streets because we gave away the money."
"Sometimes we come up with fees and taxes, thinking we're doing a good thing, and then we never get rid of them," Litman remarked.
Concluding the interview, Litman said, "If I'm as healthy as I am now, absolutely," when asked if he intends to run for re-election next year. "I enjoy this very much. Because I'm a positive person, I'm positive I'll win re-election."
Posted Date: 07/19/2012 This councilman needs to realize that with proper Code Enforcement, there would not be any blight in Mesquite. The department head for Code Enforcement must answer for their lack of enforcement. Using tax dollars to help wealthy or even non-wealthy land owners is WRONG. Why not look into a private cemetery for the vets? The city does not have to provide a new cemetery. Open up the city for a large privately owned one. Litman seems ok, but needs to change his mindset that city workers need to be paid more. They get paid very well and with benefits, many are overpaid a la Mr. Sawyer and Mr. Tanner. By: ralph
Posted Date: 07/19/2012 Doing a great jon Al. Keep it up. Without your votes we would be in trouble. I do agree that maybe we need to look at making a change to the city code to force owners to clean up blighted properties. We might not have to use it but it would be there. By: Charlie
Posted Date: 07/19/2012 I voted for Litman. As his thinking goes,
his positions, so sensible, I'm convinced it was a vote well spent! By: plain ol Doug
Posted Date: 07/19/2012 Congratulations Mr. Litman for a clear, concise and logical analysis regarding the cost benefit ratio of the proposed MISC. It is difficult to understand what the others on City Council are looking at. As a stand alone facility, the "tent" could not possibly bring in enough revenue to offset operating and maintenance cost, much less the cost of construction. As Editor Ellestad has succinctly pointed out, even the current soccer fields are rented at a loss. If there was a larger plan, whereby the tent is a marketing tool to attract other investment, that would make sense. Were that the case, those businesses in line to benefit the most should pay for it. To put the initial construction and recurring costs on the backs of all taxpayers would be at best, unethical. Forgive this speculative musing, but there are some very intelligent people in favor of this project, which in and of itself is illogical. If there is a bigger picture, let's see it. Otherwise, put the idea to rest. By: Andrew Newcom
Posted Date: 07/19/2012 When we first moved to Mesquite the LDS had a beautiful brick building on Mesquite Blvd. It was surrounded by green grass with a giant wall of oleanders along the canal. It was an asset to the community. Then the oleanders were pulled out, the building torn down and property sold to the city which promptly let the land go to waste. Why should an owner care about their property when the city doesn't care about theirs. A small park with rock instead of grass, some desert plants and a few tables with sun shades would help the looks of the city. By: Nan