With a petition in hand, Douglas County commissioners were required by state law to instruct staff to set a time and date for a public hearing on what to do about the Topaz Ranch Estate General Improvement District.
That statute, under which the petition was circulated, says that if a fifth of the district’s registered voters sign, commissioners “shall” set a public hearing after notifying all the property owners, according to Douglas County Chief Deputy District Attorney Doug Ritchie.
Both county staff and commissioners were clear at Thursday’s meeting they weren’t taking over the district immediately, or even necessarily in the near future.
County Manager Jenifer Davidson asked that commissioners hold the discussion after the holidays.
“They are closing out their audit from the previous fiscal year and that will be very relevant to this conversation,” Davidson said in requesting the board not set a time and date. “We will be in close communication with the district, so we don’t surprise them. We want to make sure this works for them as well.”
A division between district trustees for the best course of action going forward is contributing to the issue.
Trustee Michael Tanner said the district submitted financials that indicated it was capable of handling its own affairs.
Resident Donna Tanner said the district has just hired a good business manager and bookkeeper who are looking at the district’s finances.
“We’re fiercely independent people out there,” she said. “We need help, but we don’t need to be a burden to the county. The roads are bad, and we could use a helping hand. We just want some help with your expertise to guide a little bit.”
District Vice Chairman Dave Akola said he was one of the people who distributed the petition.
“I was responsible for collecting a lot of the signatures,” he said. “Of all the people I talked to, who gave 140 of 180 signatures, 90 percent of them are in favor of this action.”
Akola told county commissioners in July that the district had suffered $7.2 million in damage after an engineer went back over the roads.
“During the spring when we had the flooding, TRE experienced over $7 million in damage,” he said at the July 6 Douglas County commissioners meetings. “Originally, we thought it was about $4.7 million and our engineer went back. He hadn’t reviewed several areas, and it went up over, I think, $7.2 or $7.3 million in damage.”
Newly appointed trustee Sharon Becker said that the district had $1 million in cash and $330,000 in their road budget.
She said the district is operating within the approved budget accepted by the Nevada State Board of Taxation and is complying with the management regulations.
County commissioner Wes Rice, who previously served as an improvement district trustee, said he is very reluctant to take over any district.
“We are not in the business of absorbing GIDs,” he said. “We need to take a deep dive into this before we make any decision on which direction we want to go.”
Commission Chairman Mark Gardner, a resident of the TRE district, said he agreed.
“Government closest to the people is the best government,” he said.
While the county hasn’t set the time and date, or even location, for the hearing, that shouldn’t happen until January at the earliest.
Davidson said the county will do everything it can to alert residents countywide about the hearing. Depending on the outcome of that hearing, the county would have to approve an ordinance taking further action, which would require at least two meetings.
“The law requires you set a hearing for this petition,” Ritchie said. “You could decide not to do anything.”