At the May 24 regular Mesquite City Council meeting, a full agenda with several contentious items was blown through in under an hour. All council members were present, with the exception of Councilman Kraig Hafen.
The more serious of items was the introduction of Bill 495 which would increase the license fees the city would receive from off-sale liquor licenses by businesses like Lee’s Liquor and Smith’s Food and Drug Store, as well as other convenience stores. The proposal, if passed, would remove the semiannual fee of $800 for beer, wine and spirit-based off-sale products as well as the full liquor off-sale fee of $3,500 and instead impose a 3 percent fee as the renewal fee. According to the agenda item’s backup materials, this proposed bill is an alternative to raising taxes.
Because it was an introduction only, there was argument against the bill given during the first public comment portion of the meeting by Chris Kaempfer, an attorney for Hae Un Lee, owner of Lee’s Liquor in Mesquite, who was also in attendance. “We understand and appreciate that desire,” said Kaempfer of the city’s choice to avoid raising taxes. “However, it poses other problems.”
Kaempfer went on to highlight five key issues with the fee, citing that the increase could be the breaking point for most customers, thus reducing their business as well as others offering the same products. “While a substantial number of people coming to Mesquite from Southern Utah do come here to buy less expensive alcohol product, there is a limitation to what they can and will pay. That is not good for us and it is not good for other Mesquite businesses like restaurants and retail who also benefit from those folks coming here.”
“I’ve got some problems with this thing,” said Councilman George Rapson. “I sympathize with Mr. Lee and Mr. Kaempfer and the Retail Association. I appreciate their involvement. I think it is skewed and I do think it impacts the citizens of mesquite. My principal argument is that tax increases that are not purpose-specific go into the general fund and that it is problematic. It somehow miraculously disappears with little benefit. I look forward to more information to support retailers in this town.”
Councilwoman Cindi Delaney also spoke, stating that she supports “this bill in theory,” and that fees for liquor should be held to the same standards of recreational marijuana, another issue which will appear on the ballot in November. “
She also clarified to the council and audience that this issue continues to be referred to as a tax, when, according to Nevada Revised Statute and City Attorney Bob Sweetin it’s an adjustment to the license fee. “That is true,” said Sweetin, “this is not a tax, it is an adjustment to the license fee.”
“One of the biggest challenges facing us in the next few years is revenue for the city,” said Delaney. “We need to rethink the numbers and find out where these numbers will take us. I really don’t believe that 3 percent or 4 percent or even 5 percent is going to make that much difference to most people. They’re not going to cringe when they see the price on a bottle of alcohol go from $19 to $20.”
Councilman Rich Green chimed in, agreeing that more research needs to be done before a decision is made. Councilman Geno Withelder also stated that “we have to crunch some more numbers” and then motioned that council reconsider the numbers and bring it back for discussion before the end of June. The motion passed by a vote of 3-1 with Rapson being the lone nay.
Other business throughout the meeting included Mayor’s comments when Mayor Al Litman pointed out that for the first time in nearly a decade the City of Mesquite will have a balanced budget. He also noted that it was made possible by several cuts in different departments. “There are consequences to balancing the budget and hopefully we will be able to work through those throughout the year.” During public comment at the end of the night, Mayoral Candidate Arthur Pareida questioned Mayor Litman if the cuts taken by City Departments resulted in any jobs lost. Litman responded with a very proud “no.”
Additional savings will also be realized in July when the city hopes to begin a new insurance contract. As of now, a final company has not been decided on but their standing withdrawal from POOL PACT is on track to end June 30.
Another item that contributed to the budget was an agreement with Hinton Burdick, PLLC CPA’s & Advisors for the annual financial statement audits for three fiscal years ending June 30 of 2017, 2018 and 2019. According to the agenda item materials, “Audit fees are based upon standard hourly rates plus out-of-pocket costs. The fee for the FY16-17 engagement will not exceed $41,500. In the event the city is required to have a Federal Single Audit, fees will be $3,150 for up to two major programs and $1,500 for each major program thereafter. Assuming that there is no significant change in the scope of the audit, our audit fee for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 audits will not increase by more than 3 percent. If audits can be done for less, the city will be billed less.”
Other items approved in Tuesday’s meeting included the introduction of Bill No. 500, an adjustment of operation hours and a reduction of video storage requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries, primarily Deep Roots Medical. A public hearing for the item has been set for Wednesday, June 15, the next regular meeting. The bill will allow dispensaries to operate between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily and require video storage of only 30 days to be maintained. Currently under Bill No. 485 the operating hours are restricted to 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and video retention is set at 90 days.
Several other items were heard briefly, which resulted in the passing of an agreement with the City of Mesquite and the Colorado River Commission of Nevada for energy allocation; approval of Bill 501 which regulates future pet shops that may open in Mesquite to ensure that they do not use animals from “puppy mills” and the like; and approval of the Final Budget for Fiscal Year 2016-2017.
Due to the 2016 Primary being held on June 14, the next regular Mesquite City Council Meeting will be held at 5 p.m. on June 15 in Council Chambers.