Redevelopment work will continue; court hearing postponed |

Redevelopment work will continue; court hearing postponed

by Christy Chalmers

A court hearing to decide if work on Douglas County’s first redevelopment project should be stopped has been postponed to Sept. 8 so county attorneys can have more time to prepare.

The hearing had been set for today, but attorneys for Douglas County and the county redevelopment agency successfully argued extra time is needed for preparation, and immediate action is not necessary.

In an order granting the request, District Judge Dave Gamble also declined to act on requests to drop Target and two development companies from the lawsuit.

Acting State Labor Commissioner Gail Maxwell sued the county July 9, claiming the county is illegally avoiding prevailing wage laws. The county commission created a redevelopment area and agency in 1998, and acts as the board of directors to the redevelopment agency. After the redevelopment agency committed to install up to $3.5 million worth of road, sewer and street improvements to the area of Jacks Valley Road and Highway 395, private developers announced plans for a regional shopping center that would be anchored by Target and Home Depot.

Maxwell says the stores must pay prevailing wages because public money is funding the improvements that will support the shopping center, but county officials contend the stores are independent projects and not subject to the prevailing wage law.

The state is seeking orders to either stop the work or renegotiate the store project contracts so that workers are paid prevailing wages. Prevailing wages are based on a yearly survey of pay rates for a given trade. Public entities are required to pay the rate.

Though Douglas District Attorney Scott Doyle and his deputy, Tom Perkins, say they need more time to prepare, Maxwell contends they should be ready – and that the hearing must be held soon because the Target store is almost completed.

“There is an urgency needed in this matter, and various issues of ‘fact and law’ have already been researched by respondents, as is evident by their revising the initial documents in an attempt to escape the prevailing wage requirements,” Maxwell wrote in a motion filed Monday against rescheduling the hearing. “The respondents have had since the middle of, and at least late 1998, to prepare for this proposed court action.”

The 1998 dates are a reference to appearances by a union leader who approached the county commission with concerns that the agreements on the work excluded the prevailing wage requirements.

Delaying the hearing, Maxwell wrote, could lead to additional lawsuits and conflicting opinions. Plus, Target could be finished and the workers relocated, making payment of back wages difficult.

While Maxwell and the county attorneys have sparred, attorneys for Target, JS Devco Limited Partnership and DGD Limited Partnership are asking to be dismissed from the case. They are listed as “real parties in interest” to the case – groups that have an interest in the property involved, though they haven’t been asked to respond directly to the charges.

Target attorney Todd Russell says Target shouldn’t be subject to prevailing wage laws because the company never made a formal agreement with the county or redevelopment agency. He also argued the orders sought by Maxwell are intended to apply to public officials, not private firms, and that the prevailing wage law is not meant to affect private projects within a public redevelopment area.

Likewise, attorneys for Devco and DGD said the orders sought by the state don’t apply to the firms, and the state hasn’t said exactly what it wants from them.

Maxwell said Devco and DGD were included so they would be aware of the state’s claims, and the state is making a specific claim of them: “The immediate voiding of the contracts and agreements as written, and that Target and Home Depot be required to pay prevailing wage for their workers since there is ample evidence that incentives were provided by the county and redevelopment agency.”

Gamble said in his order the issue of whether the companies should remain in the suit will be decided later. He set an Aug. 27 deadline for filing additional legal arguments, with a Sept. 2 date for replies.