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County sued over redevelopment

by Christy Chalmers

The state labor commissioner is suing to stop Douglas County’s redevelopment project, claiming the county is illegally avoiding prevailing wage laws.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in District Court. It names Douglas County, the county redevelopment agency and the county commission, along with JS Devco, DGD Development Limited Partnership and Target Stores Inc., as defendants.

Attorneys for Douglas County and the redevelopment agency said they could not comment on the lawsuit because they had not seen it. District Judge Dave Gamble has scheduled a hearing Aug. 4 to determine whether the work should be stopped.

Devco, DGD and Target are developing a shopping center at Highway 395 and Jacks Valley Road. The site is in the county’s first redevelopment area.

The county commission, which also acts as the redevelopment agency board, approved agreements in February detailing improvements that would be made to accommodate the center. The redevelopment agency has pledged up to $3.5 million for road, sewer and water system improvements to the area, while the private firms are developing a 370,000 square-foot shopping complex to be anchored by Target and Home Depot.

n State sues. The state lawsuit, filed by acting Nevada Labor Commissioner Gail Maxwell, says the February agreements did not include language specifying that the shopping center project is subject to the same state laws a publicly-funded project would be. State law says private developers that benefit from publicly-funded “incentives” valued at more than $100,000 must pay prevailing wages, as the county does.

The law also says projects that will eventually be part of the same development cannot be separated to avoid the $100,000 cap, something the complaint accuses the county of trying to do.

“That appears to be the situation we have before us – the project contracts were ‘separated’ to give the appearance that no incentives were provided to the developers for the proposed project by the redevelopment agency,” state lawyers argued in their request for a court order stopping the work. “In reality, the county, its commission and the redevelopment agency have promised to pay up to $3.5 million for various improvements as incentives for this shopping center…In addition to violating the letter of the law, this separation of contracts violates the spirit of the law and should not be tolerated.”

n Wages questioned. Questions about the county’s handling of prevailing wage requirements were raised in fall 1998 by Richard “Skip” Daly, assistant business manager for Local 169 of the Laborer’s International Union, based in Reno.

Daly attended county commission meetings on two occasions and also contacted the commissioners and County Manager Dan Holler individually to discuss his concerns before approaching state officials.

He said Tuesday the state’s action bolsters his earlier arguments.

“It’s not too late, and I think that it will all come out in the end. I am disappointed at the inaction and the unwillingness to recognize their responsibility of the county commission,” he said. “They told me to shut up, basically. I think they have systematically and criminally evaded their responsibility under the law.”

The state complaint makes similar accusations, saying the officials “exceeded their jurisdiction and duties resulting from their offices, trusts and/or stations, by entering into such flawed agreements with the intent to circumvent the requirements of (state law), as is evident by their refusal to redraft the agreements in statutory compliance after such flaws were brought to their attention.”

Daly said the current prevailing wage for a general laborer in Douglas County starts at $22.47 an hour, or $18.05 for union workers, who have health and welfare pensions deducted from their wages. The rate, which increases for various skills, is set by a yearly survey of pay rates in the construction trade.

The contractors handling the county redevelopment work are meeting prevailing wage laws and a few are unionized, but Daly said none of those handling the Target job is a union shop.

He also noted the union won’t directly benefit from the state lawsuit, but it may affect future projects.

“If the prevailing wage (requirement) would have been in place, the union contractors and the guys that pay prevailing wage would have had a better shot at being successful bidders,” he said. “They didn’t have a fair shake.

“The union just wants the law upheld.”