Commission Chairman Doug Johnson quipped that Douglas County was going to put a red line between Nevada and Oregon in an effort to prevent county managers from going there.
“Perhaps we should have some sort of sanctions,” he suggested at Monday night’s annual State of the County address at the Carson Valley Inn.
County Manager Steve Mokrohisky announced Feb. 28 he’s taking the county administrator’s job in Lane County, Ore.
“The person in charge gets all the credit when things go right, and all the blame when things go wrong,” Mokrohisky told more than 100 people who attended the event reassuring them that Douglas County is in good shape despite his impending departure. “In most cases, neither is deserved.”
The county is preparing a $160 million budget for submission to the state in May.
Mokrohisky told the story of the three workers. A man sees three men at work and asks them what they’re doing. The first man says he’s laying bricks, the second man says he’s building a wall.
“The third man answers that he’s building a beautiful cathedral,” Mokrohisky said.
“Clarity of vision is critical to what we’re doing,” he said at the second state of the county gathering.
During the recession years of 2008-11, the county was spending reserves to meet its budget obligations.
“We were fixing the same problems every year,” he said. “That’s why we made long-term, five-year projections for the general fund.”
Before the recession Douglas County revenues were growing by 5.7 percent, but its expenses were up to 7.5 percent.
Since 2011, the county has reduced its expenses to less than a percent and its revenues have increased by 2 percent.
Mokrohisky said it was unrealistic to expect personnel expenses, which account for 72 percent of the county’s budget, to continue to increase by less than a percent.
“Our task is to manage growth in the future,” he said.
County employees are paying 100 percent of the increase in their health insurance and 50 percent of their retirement.
“We could not have balanced the budget without the help of our employees,” he said.
Douglas was the first county in the nation to implement priority-based budgeting, which allowed the county to take a detailed look at where it was spending its budget and cutting surgically.
Mokrohisky credited priority-based budgeting for being able to find $1 million to commit to the road fund last year.
“We plan to double down and increase that to $2.3 million this year,” he said. “In three years we would go from $300,000 to $2.3 million in the road fund by making hard decisions and prioritizing the budget.”
On March 4, the Nevada Taxpayers Association awarded the Cashman Good Government Award to Douglas County for the first time. Mokrohisky said the county was competing against Reno and Clark County, two of the largest governments in the state.
He said priority-based budgeting made the difference.
It was also one of the reasons Standard & Poor’s upgraded Douglas County’s underlying bond rating to double A or “very strong.” Lower interest rates on the county ‘s bonds means they’re less expensive.
“We’re not perfect, but we’re on the right track,” he said.
Douglas County’s growth is on par with the growth in the gross domestic product. Home sales are at their highest since 2008.
While sales tax earned in Douglas County is trending up, Mokrohisky made the point that Douglas is more reliant on sales tax generation in Clark and Washoe counties and Carson City than it is on its own.
Douglas imports sales tax from those counties, so it is the regional economic strength that has more meaning for the county.
Building is growing again with 108 residential permits pulled in 2013 and seven commercial, still far lower than in the early portions of the century.
“We may never see that kind of growth again,” he said. “But that might be OK. We are diversifying our local economy.”
Douglas County faces challenges because of its size and small population.
“There are a lot of road miles to reach outlying areas, a lot of miles of water and sewer line,” he said. “There is a lot of cost, but not a lot of people to pay for it.”
He credited former County Engineer Mahmood Azad with spearheading the effort to get Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps altered. Last year the county prevailed in a ruling from a scientific resolution panel.
“We won using a process no other county has ever been successful using,” he said.
Mokrohisky recognized county employees Linda Doherty, Liz Baumgartner, Sgt. Pat Brooks, the Recorder’s Office, Tanya Scott, Eric Schmidt, 911 Emergency Services, Liz Begovich, Debbie Beam and Tammy Davis.
The county recognized seven businesses with Spotlight Awards, including Fresh Ideas, Red Hut, AVK, Edgewood, Soaring NV, R.O. Anderson Engineering and the Carson Valley Inn.