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One hurdle remaining for senior center OK

by Susie Vasquez

A utility tax to fund creation of a new senior center has one more hurdle to clear before it is implemented.

A second reading of the ordinance creating the tax is scheduled for the Feb. 2 meeting of the county commissioners. Commissioners voted 3-2 on Thursday to approve the first reading of the ordinance.

If approved, the contract for design of the project should be awarded by July. Bonds will be issued in September and construction should start by December. The senior center should open in mid-2008.

Commissioner Kelly Kite said many of the most adamant opponents of Question 1 in his constituency support the senior center project and he’s seen the need first-hand.

“I spent a lot of time visiting homebound seniors who receive meals on wheels,” Kite said. “Without the program, 75 percent of them would have been in long-term care. Meals on Wheels costs $210 a month.”

By law, indigent long-term care costs for seniors ultimately falls to local taxpayers.

“We’re probably saving taxpayers a huge amount by keeping this program going,” Kite said.

The resolve shown by Douglas County commissioners when they approved a utility tax to fund a new Douglas County Senior Center was appreciated by those in support of the project.

“I’m very proud of the commissioners. I thought they showed leadership and strength,” said Warren Bottino, senior services supervisor. “They saw it as important enough to make this type of commitment.”

Last November’s Question 1 vote denied utility tax funding for the project, the same mechanism approved by Thursday’s vote, but Question 1 was much larger, including amenities like a community center and performing arts center.

Before the vote, commissioner Tim Smith said it’s incumbent on the commissioners to bite the bullet and make this difficult decision, but not all agreed.

“It’s fundamentally wrong to come up with a plan that goes around the voters,” said Douglas County resident Roy Snow. “Voters should have the opportunity to decide, especially since Question 1 was voted down.”

“We have an election coming up in November,” said Gardnerville Ranchos resident Chuck Hill. “It could be addressed then.”

Commissioner Doug Johnson said this is an issue concerning credibility, accountability and principle.

“If we implement this utility tax, we are going against the voters of this county,” he said.

The cost of this 1.5 percent utility tax, an estimated $48.30 a year, would be equal to a pack of cigarettes or gallon of gas a month, said Terry Faff, a member of the Senior Services Advisory Council.

“If the police department needs officers and the people vote down the funding, then crime rates go up. What do you do?” he said. “I admire Tim Smith for standing up and saying what he did.”

Advisory council member Bob Cook said denying the project now will mean a serious setback. Each year Douglas County’s senior program limps along with an inadequate facility, another $1 million is added to the pricetag.

“We’re chasing a red herring down the path of permanent delay,” he said. “This project can’t wait another day.”

Skip Sayre, executive director of the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce said his board supports the project if the scope includes a community center.

“The chamber has a great deal of trepidation about government fees and taxes,” he said. “But as our community grows, the need for facilities like a community center escalates. This is a good opportunity to used a local government revenue source to address these two components of a healthy and successful community.”

Based on Thursday’s vote, funding for the senior center includes a a 15-year sunset clause on the portion of utility tax used to fund construction of the project. That portion could be reviewed over time.

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