Infrastructure key among county challenges
Governing the patchwork of communities that make up Douglas County is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one if the focus is on solutions, officials said Monday.
“Remember that when you pay Douglas County style taxes, you get Douglas County infrastructure,” Commission Chairman Greg Lynn told more than 100 people who attended the financial state of the county address at Minden’s Carson Valley Inn.
County Manager Steve Mokrohisky said that maintaining roads and other infrastructure are among the biggest issues facing the county.
“I read somewhere that the county isn’t very good at long-range planning,” he said. “We’ve made a concerted effort to plan. Planning is an area where Douglas County is doing well.”
Among the challenges to long-term financial stability, Mokrohisky listed the slow recovery of the economy, a $3 million general fund shortfall over the long-term, $4 million a year needed to maintain roads at their current level, along with a more than $17 million backlog in road maintenance and investment in water and storm water infrastructure.
“There is a need to invest and maintain infrastructure,” he said. “We like that Douglas County has low taxes,” Mokrohisky said. “We’re not looking to change that. We want to maintain a really low tax structure.”
About 72 percent of the county’s budget goes to personnel, which Mokrohisky said isn’t a bad percentage for a service provider.
Agreements with county employees that cut 5 percent a year ago and stabilized increases over the next few years have contributed to the sustainability of the county budget, but there is still a gap between revenue and costs.
“We’re looking ahead to tackle issues to close the budget gap,” he said.
That’s where priority-based budgeting allows county commissioners to break the budget down to individual services and then determine the value of those services.
County officials celebrated some successes over the past year, pointing out that the county is in the best shape since the recession began.
Mokrohisky looked back to 2003, when the population, assessed value, revenue and business base was growing and unemployment was at 4.9 percent.
A decade later, assessed valuation is down 30 percent, county population has decreased, unemployment is at 10.9 percent, which is an improvement over the past four years.
But the housing market is showing signs of improvement with sales at the highest level since 2005. The county was named the healthiest three years in a row, and while public education in Nevada is generally considered dismal, Douglas has the top-rated school district in the state, with an 82 percent graduation rate.
Commissioners celebrated some of the county’s advances during the past year, including the beginning of work on the new community & senior center.
“One of the advantages of building in a down economy is that we’re probably going to get a $23 million building for $17 million,” he said.
Commissioner Nancy McDermid described the advances made in planning for revitalizing Stateline and work being done in Genoa, which could be completed in time for the town’s annual Candy Dance.
Commissioner Doug Johnson, who was in Washington D.C. last week with the Nevada Association of Counties, said the Douglas conservation bill received positive response from the state’s delegation.
“We’ve been told that we’re doing it right,” he said.
Four businesses could announce moving to the area within the next three weeks,
Commissioner Lee Bonner said. He also shared some of the marketing materials used to attract businesses to Western Nevada.
Commissioner Barry Penzel said plans are in the works to form a task force to look for efficiencies in delivering utilities services.
With 34 different taxing units for a population of 46,886 people, Douglas County is home to the largest number of governmental entities per capita in Nevada. Only Clark County has more taxing districts with 45 serving 1.9 million people.
Those additional districts received 47 percent of the consolidated taxes that benefit Douglas residents. The other 53 percent goes to the county.
Douglas County plans to hold tentative budget hearings April 9-10 in preparation for the April 15 state deadline. A public hearing on the final budget is May 20 in preparation for the submission to the state by June 1. Under Nevada law, county budgets must be balanced.