County expects budget shortfall | RecordCourier.com

County expects budget shortfall

by Susie Vasquez

Dwindling sales, gaming and room tax revenues could mean a $1.3 to $1.5 million budget shortfall for Douglas County in the upcoming fiscal year, a trend that could last for another three to five years, according to county officials.

The total budget adopted for Douglas County in fiscal 2006-07 was $124 million.

“Communities around us are having the same problems and issues – an economic slow-down and increased personnel costs,” said County Manager Dan Holler.

Room tax in Douglas County has been flat for years and sales taxes revenues dropped 8 percent through December. Declines are also expected in other areas, including charges for services like recorder’s fees, Holler said.

Add to that an increase in demand for everything from personnel and utility costs to county services, like parks and senior center.

“We have departments running with the same number of staff we had 10 years ago. Labor costs are going up and we have no means for producing income,” said county commissioner Kelly Kite. “We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. We have the second-lowest tax rate in the state and now, we’re being punished for it.”

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One major bone of contention for county officials is the lack of a gas tax. When Carson City added taxes to their gas sales, prices went up throughout the region. The result, Douglas County residents are paying more at the pump with no benefit to county coffers.

“Funds are going out of the county to oil companies, not to the county for (road) overlays,” said Jim Park, a member of the Douglas County Regional Transportation Commission.

“It’s a big frustration for me,” said commission Chairman Doug Johnson. “If I could raise the gas tax I would do it right now. No one would know the difference and it would help immensely.”

Another issue is Douglas County’s room tax revenues, which have been flat for almost 10 years.

Douglas County services like parks and recreation and senior services, both funded through room tax revenues, have seen significant increases in demand in that timeframe, according to Scott Morgan, Douglas County community services director.

Parks and Recreation has added an 11-acre park, five ball fields, a skateboard park and shooting range in addition to expansion of the Topaz campground, to name a few.

“We’ve seen a 20 percent increase in special events and youth sports have increased significantly,” Morgan said.

The massive demand for senior services, as well as those for youth are two other factors in the budget equation, according to Morgan.

“We will live 20 to 30 years longer than our parents and people are outliving their money,” he said. “They come to the senior center every day, saying they never planned for this.”

Helping these people keeps them out of nursing care and as a result, they do not need to go to social services to pay their bills, he said.

“If we don’t care for them, the county will end up paying 10 times the amount in indigent costs,” he said. “The county picks up that bill.”

Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 211.