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Redevelopment suit to be heard Wednesday

by Christy Chalmers

A judge will hear arguments today on whether Douglas County should be sanctioned for not requiring developers of the North Valley Plaza shopping center to pay prevailing wages.

The hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. in District Court, comes nearly two months after the Nevada labor commissioner accused the county, the board of commissioners and the county redevelopment authority of deliberately skirting the prevailing wage law by not requiring the center’s developers to pay the prevailing wage, which is the average local wage based on a yearly survey of pay rates for a given industry.

The state has asked for an order requiring county officials to change the development agreements so that prevailing wages are paid, or to stop the project, located at Highway 395 and Jacks Valley Road. Developers JS Devco, DGD Development Limited Partnership and Target Stores Inc. are also named as defendants.

Prevailing wage laws don’t ordinarily apply to private developers, but the North Valley Plaza is in Douglas County’s redevelopment area and county leaders agreed to spend up to $3.5 million on water, sewer and road improvements to serve the retail center. State attorneys say those commitments make the North Valley Plaza’s developers subject to prevailing wage rules.

Attorneys for the state, Douglas County and the redevelopment agency have been trading arguments on a variety of requests since the state’s complaint was filed July 9.

Douglas Deputy District Attorney Tom Perkins said in an Aug. 16 motion that Douglas County and the county commission shouldn’t be named in the lawsuit because the redevelopment authority made the development agreements.

Plus, the orders sought won’t undo what’s been done and are not an appropriate remedy for the alleged transgressions, Perkins wrote.

He also challenged the timing of the lawsuit. Agreements detailing the improvements that would be made to accommodate the center were approved in February.

“Given the magnitude of the project, inaction by the office of the Labor Commissioner implies acquiescence,” Perkins wrote. “The delay is prejudicial because of the magnitude of the public and private projects, near completion. The delay would render any relief the court might grant ineffectual, because the court is powerless to compel the private parties to enter the contracts the state wants to be written and signed.”

Mark Wasser, attorney for the county redevelopment authority, said in an Aug. 27 answer to the original complaint that the authority broke no laws with the redevelopment plan and the development agreement for the shopping center. In a motion opposing the state’s request, he said there’s no basis for an order because the redevelopment agency didn’t award any contracts for public work.

“The undisputed facts disclose that the agency’s only contract is with Douglas County for the construction of certain street and highway improvements,” Wasser wrote. “The agency has not awarded any contracts for public works, has not employed any workers and has no agreement with any of the developers.”

State attorneys dispute the county’s positions. Documents they filed say the labor commissioner acted only after repeated efforts to inform the county of the prevailing wage laws were unheeded, and that the county and county commission should be included in the lawsuit because of their extensive involvement in the redevelopment project. The county commission also sits as the governing board of the redevelopment authority.

In a brief filed Sept. 2, the state attorneys said the state only wants compliance with the law, and the order is appropriate.

“It is unequivocal that the parties attempted to circumvent the applicable statutes,” the document says. “That is the undisputed fact; and to call the agreement between the county and redevelopment agency only a ‘reimbursement agreement’ is only another attempt to conceal the parties’ circumvention of statutes.

“To have language in contracts and/or agreements that the parties intend to comply with appropriate laws is absurd when contracts and/or agreements were redrafted to evade such applicable laws! If it was the intent of the parties to comply with statutes, then the documents would have been rewritten correctly requiring prevailing wage on the project for the financial incentives provided by the respondents and these proceedings would not have commenced.”

Besides, the state says, workers don’t have to be hired by a redevelopment authority to be entitled to prevailing wages, and the issue could be addressed if the redevelopment authority would require payment of those wages.

Construction of the first major part of the retail center, a 124,000-square-foot Target store, is nearly completed, with the store scheduled to open in October. Work on a Home Depot store has started.

As planned, the center is to eventually have 370,000 square feet of store space.