Opponents think further study is needed for gas tax | RecordCourier.com

Opponents think further study is needed for gas tax

by Regina Purcell, Staff Writer

Voters are not traditionally eager to levy new taxes on themselves as ballot questions 1, 2 and 3 propose.

Residents will have an opportunity to hear presentations by the business council in relation to ballot questions 1, 2 and 3, at the debate, open to the public this Thursday, 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the CVIC Hall at 1604 Esmeralda Ave., Minden.

The Transportation 2020 Committee, backed by the Business Council of Douglas County, spent the last two years, on recommendation from county commissioners, to study the issue of traffic and roads throughout Carson Valley.

The committee was comprised of residents, county staffers, builders and developers and business owners. They met frequently and studied charts, graphs, traffic analysis of average trips and data provided by the Nevada Department of Transportation.

The result was three ballot questions that face voters Nov. 5. Question one is an increase of the optional 5-cent gas tax over two years. Question two is a 50-cents-per-square-foot tax on new construction of non-residential buildings. Question three asks voters to raise the sales tax by one-quarter of 1 percent (.0025) to be used for construction and repair of roads as well as issue bonds for road projects.

Douglas County voters, strongly backed by gas station owners, repealed a 5-cent gas tax in 1993 through a voter initiative, according to Douglas County Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed.

She said commissioners had the legal authority to put the issue on the ballot in order to let voters choose how they want to address traffic and roads management the growing county faces.

Initially, Reed said commissioners wanted all three tax issues put under one ballot question. But legal counsel said tax questions have to stand on their own merit so the issue was split into three questions.

Renae Louie, director of the Business Council of Douglas County and a member of the 2020 Transportation Committee, said the committee is dedicated to passing the measures because research indicates the measures address local and regional improvements, provide reasonable and justifiable prioritization and give a defined timeline for implementation of the desired projects.

However, some detractors say the measures are not fair to residents who will pay with millions of tax dollars for transportation and road projects that are not specifically earmarked.

Some say the county should first complete an advance Capital Improvements Plan to identify trouble spots and future traffic problems to determine how much funding is required and in what areas.

Douglas County Business Services Director Rick Kester, initially represented the district on the 2020 committee. The district later pulled out to concentrate on its own projects.

“A lot of people were trying to get the school district involved and supportive, but it is really county business,” he said. “We have a difficult time keeping up our own funding resources.”

Personally, Kester said he probably won’t vote for the measures because he thinks a CIP needs to be completed that specifically addresses fees assessed to new development and impacts it causes.

Currently, new county developments are levied a $500 impact fee.

Nationwide, typical impact fees range from 17 to 23 percent of new home costs.

The fees are levied to cover impacts of roads, schools, emergency services, said Roy Clason, a Zephyr Cove resident, who firmly agrees.

“The burden should be on construction,” he said. “Contractors like to shift that cost to the population at large.

“You figure the average cost of a new home is $219,000,” he said. “At 17 percent, $35,000 should be imposed on licensing of that new home.”

Clason said there are only three miles of Douglas County-maintained roads in Lake Tahoe, so new taxes would not benefit his neighborhood much.

“My backyard doesn’t need all this,” he said. “It is a Valley issue.

“The sales tax also impacts us to the same extent. It benefits the Valley.”

Clason calls question three “grossly unfair.”

“Instead of using ‘commercial’ building, the wording says ‘non-residential,'” he said. “Think of some poor farmer who wants to build another barn on his land. He is the one who will be taxed through this measure.”

Valley resident Don Forrester, who served on the Douglas County School Board for eight years, said although he voted for the gas tax in 1993, he probably won’t vote for it this year.

“The county never bothered with putting together a Capital Improvement Plan and it’s not fair to go back and try to make residents pay for that mistake,” he said. “We need money for roads, but residents should only have to pay their share.”

Gary Pyle, a proponent of the Sustainable Growth Initiative who helped write the argument against passage of questions 1, 2 and3 on the general election ballot, is also opposed because he thinks a CIP is necessary to address traffic and road management issues.

And, he said, “There is no definitive place where these funds are going to be used.

“This money can be spent for anything related to transportation, so if there is an existing road with potholes that needs to be fixed, it may not be through this money,” he said. “It just gives too much leeway for the county to spend this money and I think it will be used to support new development.”

Ray May, owner of the AM/PM gas station/store in Minden, is also against the tax measures.

“It shouldn’t (have) even been put on the ballot,” May said. “We voted it down before.”