Counties join to file petition banning 'unfunded mandates'

Nevada's county governments banded together Thursday to file a petition that would bar the state from imposing "unfunded mandates" on local government.

Unfunded mandates are requirements and laws which cost local government money without providing some way to cover the cost. Local entities are almost entirely prohibited from increasing taxes and other levies without permission from the Legislature.

Nevada Association of Counties Executive Director Andrew List said those mandates have cost the counties millions of dollars over the years, stressing their ability to provide other vital governmental services.

"The counties do not necessarily agree or disagree with the actual laws or policies that have been passed, but find the lack of funding objectionable," List said.

He said the largest unfunded mandate put on counties and cities in Nevada provides heart, lung and hepatitis C coverage to police, fire and emergency medical personnel. Estimates are the cost could reach $500 million over time.

Norm Frey, NACO president elect and a Churchill County commissioner, said the Legislature "forces the expenditure of county funds to cover the Legislature's spending habits."

"They get the credit; we get the bill," he said.

Frey said another expense is in the legislative mandate that cities, counties and school districts subsidize health-care benefits for retired local employees. The total cost is more than $2.3 million a year and will continue to grow as more public workers retire.

Frey said the 2005 bill requiring counties to remove all Social Security numbers from public and online documents could cost more than $50 million. He said that means removing the information from millions of pages kept on microfilm - which means recopying the microfilm.

"We'd have to go back all the way to when Social Security was created," List said.

But both men said they understand the concerns about growing identity theft problems.

State law has prohibited unfunded mandates by the Legislature since 1993. But lawmakers often exempts proposed legislation from that requirement. Bills exempted range from a high of 93 in 1997 to just 29 this past session. But Frey said that number was probably artificially low because of the 2004 advisory ballot question which showed 62 percent of Nevada voters oppose the state dumping costs on local governments.

He said they expect just as much support or more for the petition's proposed constitutional change.

To put the issue on the November 2006 ballot, NACO must collect 83,184 signatures of registered Nevada voters - 10 percent of the number who voted in the last general election. To become part of the constitution, the amendment must be approved at two consecutive general elections.

-- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.

What it says

Language of the county petition to make "unfunded mandates" unconstitutional:

"The Nevada Legislature shall not, directly or indirectly, enact laws or authorize the adoption of regulations, requiring the counties and cities of the State to provide new services, expand existing services or conduct new or additional governmental functions without appropriating or designating state funding sources to support new said services, expansion of existing services, and new or additional governmental functions."


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