Richard Tomasso, Mesquite Gaming Vice-President for Government Affairs, explains his company’s proposal to pay the city of Mesquite $4,000 a month for the use of two billboards on the I-15 corridor. The city currently does not receive any income from the billboards. Photo by Barbara Ellestad.

The city of Mesquite stands to gain $4,000 a month in new revenue after councilors unanimously approved a new agreement with Mesquite Gaming, LLC that gives the casino owner control of two billboards on the I-15 corridor.

Richard Tomasso, Mesquite Gaming vice president for government affairs, told the city council at its Tuesday, Jan. 24, meeting that the company has contracts for more than 100 billboards between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, thus, is very familiar with the business.

In addition to the monthly income, MG will foot the bill for all maintenance, lighting and other utilities associated with the billboards, one at the Nevada Arizona border and one on the west side of the city.

MG, which owns the Virgin River and CasaBlanca casinos, can either use the billboards themselves or sublet them to another party. In the latter case, any revenue collected in excess of the $1,000 per billboard face, there are four of them, goes to the company, not the city.

Currently, the city does not receive any revenue from any entity that uses its billboards.

Tomasso explained that a previous agreement between the city and the Mesquite Resort Association arranged for MRA to take over the billboards and run signs dealing with Mesquite events. The MRA basically consists of MG’s two casinos and the Eureka Casino.

“We did that for 10 years. We continued even after the lease ran out,” Tomasso said. He explained that Mesquite Police Chief Troy Tanner had asked the company to put up a sign that was not directly associated with or promoted MG. “We did that and bore all the cost for it.”

Tomasso provided a map of all the billboards along the interstate through Mesquite that included current rent payments to various companies. Rents range from $1,000 to $1,395 depending on the location.

He added that MG has worked well with the city on other issues, namely improving the looks of the walkway bridge that crosses Mesquite Boulevard near the CasaBlanca casino. When the city approached MG about cleaning up the north end of the bridge, Tomasso explained the company spent $150,000 on that and improving the parking lot where many public events are held.

He added that Anthony Toti, MG CEO, has donated more than $250,000 to various groups and events around Mesquite.

Councilmen Dave Ballweg and George Rapson both said they would have preferred that the contract had gone out for bid by other companies but that it was too late in the process since the dollar figures had already been publicly released. They also agreed the MG’s proposal was a fair price for the billboards. Ballweg commented that any advertising should be for Mesquite events and businesses first and Las Vegas second.

Councilman Brian Wursten recused himself from the issue because he works for MG.

Government lobbyist Warren Hardy presented a proposal for issues he will pursue on the city’s behalf during the upcoming state legislature session.

He said the city’s position on most issues that will be discussed during the session will be more from a defensive position and not a lot of offense. He added that Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recent State of the State speech “could have been given by a democrat” because it was fairly bipartisan. Sandoval is a Republican serving out his last two years in office. Hardy opined that most of the governor’s focus will be on education reforms and workforce development during the upcoming session.

He speculated that the democratically controlled legislature will be pushing for raises to the state’s minimum wage law to somewhere in the $12 to $15 range, and for mandatory sentencing guideline reforms.

Hardy said he’s concerned about the increase in minimum wage laws because “that impacts the city’s ability to hire young people at places like the recreation center.”

He said his biggest focus while lobbying during the legislative session will be on getting the city’s new charter approved that was passed by the council last November. The legislators must approve it before it becomes official.

“I commend the city for getting the charter completed so quickly. I didn’t think you could get it done,” Hardy said. “It will make my job so much easier. Mesquite is a small city in a very large county. But we have all the issues that impact larger cities. This will be the first charter presented to the legislature in many, many years.”

The last issue Hardy discussed was proposed adjustments to property tax rates throughout the state. During the housing bubble in the early 2000s the state legislature placed a 3 percent tax increase cap on private property and an 8 percent increase cap on commercial property.

Explaining that he was a state senator who helped pass the caps, no one imagined that property values would ever decrease like they did during the recession. “That has put serious consequences on the city’s budget,” Hardy said because of decreased tax revenues. The push will be to put a minimum floor increase on property taxes rather than rely on Consumer Price Index (CPI)-related increases which have been quite small in the last five years.

Mayor Al Litman agreed and said many other mayors in southern Nevada intend to put a lot of pressure on lawmakers to allow larger increases in property tax rates.