Pool tax rate raised for ’97-98; rate established by State Tax Commission
A question was raised among East Fork Swimming Pool District board members regarding the hike in the overall tax rate following concerns expreesed by some Valley residents.
The current tax rate for the operating budget is based on the growth rate of the district and has risen this year from .1188 to .1255, causing the overall tax rate to increase from .1477 to .1506.
This tax rate is a combination of the operating budget rate and the debt rate.
“We (the pool board) have not raised the tax rate,” said Kirk Chiapella, director of the Carson Valley swim center.
Mark Neddenreip, the accountant for the pool district, explained the increase to the board at the monthly meeting Wednesday.
Neddenreip said the rate depends on the amount of property tax collected and a guaranteed 6 percent increase allowed due to the cost of living and the rate of inflation, and is set by the state tax commission.
According to District Attorney Scott Doyle, the operating tax rate for the pool district was set by the state tax commission after the original bond was passed in 1986 when the pool district re-evaluated the costs for operating and found that user fees would not be enough to run the newly built pool.
The district approached the state tax commission and asked for an operating budget separate from the debt payment, which was approved for use of operation and capital improvements, Doyle said.
Chiapella added that there has also been an increase in the operation costs since the projected budget was established in 1986.
This is the result of three main factors, he said.
n The first factor is there are more pools at the facility than when the swim center first opened.
n Second, the pool is open more than originally planned. Chiapella said the pool management believed the pool would have to close for days at a time for maintenance. Instead, the swim center is open 365 days a year with longer hours than expected.
n The third reason is simple inflation.
The board members tax at the maximum rate allowed for operating costs, and they said they were unaware the rate was not fixed at the same level every year.
Douglas County Clerk Barbara Reed said the pool district is an independently elected board and does not have to ask the county commission for a tax increase.
This also allows them to tax at any level up to the maximum rate.
“It is a fixed rate, but they don’t have to levy the maximum rate on the operating side,” said Douglas County Manager Dan Holler.
Chiapella said that although the operating tax has increased, the debt rate has decreased and has been on the decline, reaching an all-time low of .0251 this year.
The current rate of .1506 is also the second lowest rate they have had since the 1987-88 fiscal year, Chiapella said.
Gardnerville resident and pool district critic Al Walker believes the finances of the pool district and the way it taxes is a problem for the county.
“Basically, they collect taxes far, far above what is required to run the swimming pool,” Walker said.
Walker said the pool district is stashing away millions of dollars to build a future swimming complex he feels no one in the community wants or can afford.
Suzy Stockdale, chair of the board, said the excess money is being saved and is gaining interest for future growth. She said this has been public knowledge.
“For more than six years, we have saved money for future growth, and we’ve been saving for the possible expansion of the swim center or an additional swim center in another area,” Stockdale said. “That has been a public budget statement as prepared by law.
“Our plan has always been to maintain the pool and plan for the future.
“Now people are looking at where our money is going to. They see a line item of swimming pool and they say, ‘How is this being spent?’
“Maybe with public input and public discussion, maybe the public will say, ‘We don’t want to plan for the future.’ We can then change that fact.”
However, Walker has a different plan for the future of the pool district.
“Disestablish the East Fork Swimming Pool District and put its responsibilities and property taxing authority under the county government,” he said.
Walker said once the pool district is under county authority, it could be run by the parks and recreation department.
“The financial problem in the county is in the area of funding the library, parks and recreation and senior services due to the cut in the room taxes,” he said.
“If the swimming pool collected only enough money for operations, used their reserves to pay off the debt, there would be plenty of money for those other equally important programs with no tax increase to the public.”
“The issue that has come under discussion is that if you have the money in the bank, they could pay off the bond,” said Holler. He said this would virtually eliminate the debt rate and therefore leave only the operating rate.
However, Chiapella said the bonds are not callable until November of 2003, meaning if they are paid off before this time, a penalty fee will have to be paid. The bond is scheduled to be paid off three years from that date, in November of 2006.
According to Doyle, the state has laws which deal with the dissolution of districts within counties, involving a series of steps:
n First, the county commission would have to pass an ordinance asking to dissolve the district.
n The commission would then have to make sure all outstanding debts were paid off or could be assumed by another government entity.
n Next, the commission would have to determine the services of the district were no longer needed or could be performed more efficiently by another unit of government.
n The commission would then have to provide a protest period for property owners in the district. If a protest was filed by a majority of the property owners, the district could not be dissolved. If less than a majority filed a protest, the commission could decide whether or not to dissolve it.
Another suggestion that has surfaced is for the pool district to give the saved funds to other programs which may need them more.
Stockdale said it is not possible for the reserve funds to be redirected to other programs because that was not the purpose they were raised for.
“You can’t use it in other areas because it is collected in East Fork,” she said.
Stockdale said a feasibility study will be done to see what people want and what they think about the current swim center and plans for future expansion.
Walker said he feels the public has never been given a chance on whether or not they would like further expansion of the pool district, and would like the truth to be known by the public as to how much money it actually takes to run the swim center.
He believes a voter initiative would show that 90-95 percent would agree with him on the disestablishment of the pool district.
“I will guarantee at least four hours of my time every day until we get this done,” he said.
Chiappella said Walker has not come to the pool with his concerns.
“He (Walker) has never made an attempt to contact any member of our staff,” said Chiapella.
Walker also said he wants to make it clear that his problem is not with the swimming pool but with the pool district.
“I think it’s a beautiful place,” he said. “It’s well run and it’s a great enjoyment to the people in the community.
“I have friends that use the pool, and more importantly, I have friends whose children use the pool. I believe in it strongly.
“On the other hand, we have these programs,” he said, referring to the library, parks and recreation and senior services, which he said are facing program decreases and fee increases.
The next pool board meeting will be Aug. 20 at 8 a.m. at the Carson Valley Swim Center. The public is invited to attend.