Senior advisors split on quarter-cent tax

Members of the Senior Advisory Council split Monday over plans to introduce a .25 percent sales tax initiative for a new senior center on the upcoming ballot.

"Some members don't think a request for a quarter-cent sales tax can compete with the .5 percent tax increase requested for the sheriff's office," said Paul Lockwood, secretary for the council.

The council vote is advisory. The ballot initiative, which has already been approved by county commissioners, could be reconsidered in the coming months, he said.

Chairman Bob Cook, Minda Villoria and Terry Faff voted to remove the sales tax proposal and Lockwood, Mary Swerdfeger and Joan Cummings voted to leave it on the ballot. Member Joe Denton was absent.

"The board understands the critical need for a .5 percent sales tax and some members think it would be better if we all got behind that," said Scott Morgan, community services director.

Lockwood, who feels the .25 percent tax could be approved on the coattails of the .5 percent tax, said no date has been set for the special meeting to break the tie at the Senior Advisory Council.

The .25 percent tax only needs voter approval, but the .5 percent increase for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office would face challenges in the Legislature. The ballot initiative is advisory only, Lockwood said.

Efforts to fund a new senior center have been ongoing for 10 years, Cook told commissioners at this weeks' budget hearings.

"Most of you support efforts to build a new senior center. Now is a good time for you to show this support by providing funding for the purchase of Bently Depot," he said. "Please keep our efforts in mind when making this very important decision."

The .25 percent sales tax is the third attempt to fund the senior center in two years.

Douglas County voters rejected advisory Question One, a proposal to fund a new senior center, community center and fine arts facility with a 3 percent utility tax in 2004.

Another attempt was thwarted in early February when county commissioners failed to support a 1.5 percent utility tax increase after overwhelming public outcry.

"Douglas County officials brag about the fact we have the lowest tax rates in the state, but we're in deep trouble, as far as social services go," Lockwood said.

Located in Gardnerville, Douglas County's Senior Center is overcrowded and officials are trying to create additional capacity by changing to a cafeteria-style rather than one fixed lunch, a move that has been hotly debated, Morgan told county commissioners this week.

"The load has flattened because we've reached capacity," Morgan said. "No more new people are coming in. There is no room in the parking lot and no place to sit."

Due to the impacts on the kitchen as a result of the proposed changes, officials are considering changing the Meals on Wheels program, delivering frozen meals on wheels five at a time rather than hot daily, Morgan said.

"No one will go hungry, but the service level will be degraded," Morgan said. "These policy changes are a result of working from an inferior, inadequate structure."

The life of the .25 percent sales tax, which is flexible and could extend a maximum of 30 years, could be used to fund other needs in Douglas County once the financial needs of the senior center have been met.

Adopted during the 2005 Legislature, this state law authorizes use of the tax revenues for libraries, parks, recreational programs and facilities, services and facilities for seniors and for preservation and protection of agriculture where the population of the county does not exceed 100,000.

The .25 percent increment would generate about $2.6 million annually, said Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle.

Designed to accommodate Douglas County's burgeoning senior population, the new 24,800-square-foot center would be located on 25 acres known as the Bently Depot Yard, northeast of Highway 395 in Minden.

The proposed facility would include a large commercial kitchen to accommodate Meals on Wheels and expanded lunch program, in addition to a large dining room and a senior daycare facility, deemed crucial by the Senior Advisory Council.

Additional amenities would be added during the next two phases of the project.

Annual operation and maintenance costs for the first phase are estimated at $560,000.

n Susie Vasquez can be reached at or 782-5121 ext. 211.


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