Contact 13 Investigates
You Paid for It: Vacant Southern Nevada Health District building utilities
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- We know that many of you struggle to make ends meet each month between paying the mortgage and other monthly bills. Which is why Contact 13 is investigating some other bills you're paying.
Chief Investigator Darcy Spears asks Health District leaders why taxpayers are still paying for utilities at a building that's been vacant for six months.
The lights are on at the old Health District headquarters on Shadow Lane but no one has been home there since last April. That's when health district leaders shut the building down after an engineering report deemed it unsafe, calling it structurally unsound.
Former Chief Health Officer Larry Sands evacuated staff and closed it to the public. Without a plan and with a lot of controversy.
"It's somewhat irresponsible, I mean, to me, I still am not a believer that the building needed to be closed," said County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani.
Shortly before resigning his position, Sands defended his decision.
"The decision was made on very credible information that was provided by a very reputable engineering firm that had very specific information about the safety of the building," Sands said in May.
Even though all business came to a screeching halt, Contact 13 noticed that the lights were still on. The air conditioners still humming. So we asked the Health District how much you're paying for all that and why?
They gave us a spreadsheet showing taxpayers have shelled out more than $106,000 in the six months since the building's been shuttered.
Here's how the bills break down.
About $1300 a month pays for sewer plus another $1400 for trash. Gas comes in at around $1,000 a month with the water bill just shy of that, averaging $860. Power is the biggest tab. It averages $13,000 a month and was over $20,000 in June.
We showed taxpayers at the Health District's new headquarters the bills they're paying for the old one.
"I think it's terrible. It's disgusting. Our government doesn't handle themselves properly," said one man who asked not to be identified.
"I'm working out of state now because I can't get a job here and this is kind of stupid," said Rob Read. "It's just really idiotic, you know?"
Lois Jacobs asked, "Why have water and electricity in an empty building that no one's using?"
Interim Health District Director Rory Chetelat says they have to keep utilities on in the main building because of what's around it.
"These bills are actually covering the entire campus and we still have other buildings in the campus that are being utilized."
A tuberculosis clinic in the back of the parking lot and an annex building.
As for the vacant one, Chetelat says, "A lot of our I.T. equipment, our servers and our switches are still in that building and functioning."
He says that's because their Internet system feeds out of the vacant building and into the other ones and I.T. equipment has to stay cool.
"We're certainly not keeping it as cool as if we had people in there. But we're trying to keep it so we can maintain that equipment so we don't cost the taxpayers more money."
There's something else still in there that has County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani up in arms.
Darcy: "Refrigerators with vaccines and stuff that are sitting in that Shadow Lane building."
Chris: "Well if it isn't safe enough, why are you leaving vaccines in there?! Oh my heavens, you're kidding me!?"
Chetelat says they need to keep vaccines in the Shadow Lane building for backup in case they lose power at outlying facilities.
But they've got plenty of space at the new building.
Darcy: "That is a huge facility, so why wouldn't the refrigerators be there?"
Rory: "We're moving refrigerators over there. We had to purchase new ones that we wanted to put in there -- they're so large that we buy them to fit the site and we've got refrigerators on order. They should be in some time this month and then that's another thing that we can disconnect up here."
Chetelat admits they've run into hurdles moving in to the Valley View building, like delayed building permits and waiting for the landlord to make building improvements.
It was supposed to be fully operational in August.
"They moved into an old building in lieu of an old building," Commissioner Giunchigliani explains. And it may look nicer on the outside but it's not. It's got a lot of issues internally."
So taxpayers are shouldering a double burden at this point and are paying bills for the old Shadow Lane campus and the new Valley View headquarters.
Lois Jacobs wants to know, "Who do we get to get them out of there?"
Commissioner Giunchigliani sits on the Board of Health. She says they could give the Health District a move out deadline, but thinks that would only add fuel to the fire that's been brewing over where the District is going to end up.
The Valley View building is only on lease for three years.
Darcy: "Would you say to the taxpayers, sorry but you have no choice? We have to keep taking your money for this building at this point?"
Rory: "Well, what I would say to the taxpayers is we're doing the best we can to get out of a difficult situation. When we made the decision to close that building, it was a rather rapid decision. We're now trying to compensate for that. We're trying to do everything we can to get out of that building."
The Health District still doesn't know when taxpayers will be able to stop paying for the Shadow Lane buildings. They're still working with the County on a long term outcome and a permanent replacement building.
In the meantime, taxpayers will spend about $3 million for that three-year lease on the District's temporary home.
Taxpayers have been paying for the Health District's decision in many ways.
In May, Contact 13 exposed how 70 public health employees were put on paid administrative leave following the closure of the Shadow Lane headquarters.
Total tab to taxpayers? Nearly $22,000 in just one week.