It’s April Fool’s Day every day when you’re dealing with government bureaucracy.
When I saw the story in this week’s Review-Journal about Wes Isbutt — proprietor of the Arts Factory in the downtown Arts District and one of the founders of the First Friday street party — again threatening to leave town due to his frustrations with expensive and time consuming local regulations and permits, I looked up the piece I wrote for the cover of the Viewpoints section a year ago. The date was April 1.
Isbutt then, as now, was bemoaning the regulatory rigmarole a business owner must navigate in a too-often-futile effort to make a profit.
“There are so many permits we have to get every month for First Friday on my own property,” Isbutt explained to reporter Ben Spillman. “I will not pay them another penny. I am done with the extortion.”
A year ago, under the headline “Death by a thousand permits,” I recounted tagging along with Isbutt one morning as he went from government office to government office obtaining the various permits and paying the assorted fees he had to pay each month to conduct First Friday events on his own property.
I reported what happened at Las Vegas City Hall at 7 a.m. where he had to get an event permit:
“The third-floor business licensing office has nine windows. For the hour and a half we were there, only one window was manned as an average seven or eight people at any one time took a number and waited their turns.
”The plaque over each window identified the person at the station as a license technician. Pay records for 2009 showed the city of Las Vegas listing six persons with that title with salary and benefit packages totaling from $78,000 to $115,000 per year. The city also lists 14 ‘license officers’ with pay and benefits in excess of $100,000 per year each.”
At the time Isbutt estimated that each month he spent $500 to $600 in fees and spent 12 hours completing redundant paperwork, waiting in lines and talking with license clerks.
After filling out the city paperwork that morning, Isbutt then had to go from the third floor to the sixth floor to pay his $235 fee at the Department of Finance and Business Services. That is also where parking tickets are paid and that could cause another long wait. That morning the parking scofflaws slept in. He then had to go back to the third floor to get his receipt stamped.
Then we were off to the Health District for more fees and waiting in lines.
The last straw, according to Spillman’s account, appears to be a new requirement to hire off-duty cops to provide security at outdoor events — at a cost of $66 an hour. If that were a full-time job without overtime, the annual pay would be in excess of $137,000.
In a February Q&A with R-J entertainment writer Steve Bornfeld, there was this exchange:
“Q: You sound like you’re fed up and ready to give up. Are you?
“A: (Expletive), yeah. I’m at that point now. I’m entertaining offers from other cities.”
Meanwhile, those license techs have set up office in a brand new City Hall, where City Manager Betsy Fretwell told Spillman city officials have streamlined the permitting process, reduced fees and improved service times.
There were only five license techs in 2011 and three of them got pay and benefits in excess of $100,000.