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County fares well at Legislature

by Christy Chalmers

Starting Thursday, Douglas County residents might notice a slight increase in the cost of doing business.

They might also hear a sigh of relief at local parks, the libraries and the senior centers.

It will be the result of the quarter-cent sales tax hike that was approved by voters in 1998 and ratified during the1999 legislative session. The proceeds of the tax will be dedicated to paying for parks, recreation, library and senior services.

The sales tax hike, which will bring Douglas County’s rate to 6.75 percent, is probably the most dramatic effect the recently-concluded legislative session will have on the majority of Douglas residents. But it’s not the only one.

Local leaders say they’re pleased with Douglas County’s performance during the legislative session. Unlike in past sessions, the county approached it with a strategy that might have been borrowed from the Boy Scouts: Be prepared.

Commissioners agreed they would team up to testify at hearings on county-sponsored bills or other pertinent issues. County Manager Dan Holler often joined them.

The county hired a lobbyist, and county department heads were ready with any information that might need to be relayed to lawmakers.

“We went into it much better and more prepared,” said Holler. “We were much more proactive than reactive.”

Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen agreed the personal appearances paid off, even if the commissioners didn’t always get much advance notice.

n “Class act.” “I think we proved ourselves to be a class act. That was our intent, to lay a good foundation and go speak intelligently and eloquently to the legislators,” he said.

Four out of five bills sought by Douglas officials passed, and the one that didn’t was withdrawn by the county. Several others supported by the county also passed.

Etchegoyhen was also heartened that the county’s biggest worry in 1997, the Tahoe Citizens Committee, was effectively silenced. The TCC, claiming inequitable treatment of lake residents in comparison to their valley counterparts, sought to form its own county. The group managed to get a hearing in 1997 which resulted in an edict from lawmakers to resolve the issue at the county level.

“It’s tough to have a group and there’s no issues,” said Etchegoyhen, noting the TCC still exists but has lost its high profile. “There were problems that were genuine, and they’ve been addressed, and I think that was very apparent this session.”

Holler cited the county’s work with other counties on Assembly Bill 314, which establishes funding for a juvenile drug treatment center in Silver Springs that will be used by five counties, as a model.

n Set standard. “That bill set a standard for cooperation, and I think they (lawmakers) were very glad to come in with everybody agreeing,” he said.

He noted county leaders also worked closely with their state representatives, Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen, R-Minden, and Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville.

Hettrick wasn’t available for comment this week, but Jacobsen agreed the county’s strategy was effective, especially considering the session’s accelerated schedule. Voters enacted a 120-day limit, compared to recent sessions that have lasted more than 160 days.

“By and large, I think Douglas County fared well,” said Jacobsen.

Jacobsen was responsible for the biggest piece of pork doled out of the budget windfall discovered at the end of the session: $2.8 million to expand the China Spring Youth Camp south of Gardnerville. The money will pay for the addition of facilities to house girls and renovate some existing facilities at the camp, which houses delinquent boys.

He also was pleased with the passage of a bill that will bring a total of $600,000 to Nevada’s 15 rural counties, including Douglas, to augment their senior transportation programs.

And he credited Douglas residents for their support of the sales tax increase. With the voter mandate, lawmakers were confident about passing the bill.

“It was pretty evident this session that no longer are we (legislators) in the mandate mood,” he said. “We are in the mood to let counties do what they feel is necessary.”