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Redevelopment ball in commissioners’ court

Douglas County commissioners have 30 days to take action to repeal a Stateline redevelopment area or place the question before voters on the November ballot.

A petition to place the ordinance forming Redevelopment Area No. 2 on the November ballot was certified on Wednesday by Douglas County Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Lewis.

Of the 3,044 signatures submitted, the required 2,613 were found to be valid, Election Administrator Dena Dawson said.

She said the Clerk’s Office examined 2,752 signatures and rejected 139 for various reasons.

It has been more than a quarter of a century since the last referendum on a Douglas County ordinance had a successful petition drive.

In 1994, Douglas County gas station owners led a charge to overturn the county’s nickel gas tax. Under the state definition, a referendum can only approve or disapprove something a legislative body, like the county commission, has approved.

The county has seen several initiatives over the years, most recently the Sustainable Growth Initiative’s successful petition drive in 2002. Challenged in court, it was another five years before the growth cap called for in the measure was implemented by the county. Another example of a successful initiative was the weight limit at Minden-Tahoe Airport.

The redevelopment area was formed in 2016 to help fund an events center at Stateline. It’s possible that next week commissioners will discuss a $34.25 million pledge over the area’s 30-year life for the $100 million center.

The Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority, which would own and operate the $100 million center, expects commissioners to hear the request at their April 16 meeting.

The agenda for that meeting is expected to be released on Friday.

At Tuesday’s budget meeting, Commission Chairman Barry Penzel asked what the county could do to help restart the Stateline economic engine after the coronavirus quarantine is over.

While the Governor’s emergency orders have allowed Nevada public bodies to hold meetings online, RDA opponent Virginia Starrett said she believes the item would violate the open meeting law.

She said she doubts anyone will purchase bonds to build the center with the increasing likelihood redevelopment will go on the ballot.

“The county needs time to evaluate what the priority needs of the residents and businesses will be,” she said in public comment April 2. “It needs the flexibility to call up as many resources as it can in order to take care of first things first. Nowhere on a list of ‘first things first’ would the words ‘event center’ appear.”

Starrett’s husband, Tom, is one of the five original signatories of the initiative petition. She also serves as commission candidate Mark Gardner’s campaign co-chairwoman.

There is a possibility that if the commission approves the pledge it will render the petition moot. Even if redevelopment was repealed, it would be July 1, 2021, before the county would see any tax revenue. Money raised in tax increment by redevelopment must be spent within its boundaries.

Zephyr Cove resident Kirk Walder said he supported committing redevelopment money to the events center.

He said that recovery from the coronavirus outbreak should focus on economic recovery, as well.

“Now seems to be an opportune time to finance a project such as the event center,” he said. “It is important to move forward now, as starting construction soon, given the short Tahoe construction window, will allow completion on an optimal timetable. The assets of Lake Tahoe should provide a major advantage in helping Douglas County recover faster than other areas, and prosper in the future.”

Walder serves on the Douglas County Planning Commission, though he said his comments were those of a private resident.

Redevelopment is one of three sources of funding for the events center. A $5 per room night tax approved by the Legislature last year and 2 percent of the license lodging fee collected at Stateline will make up the rest of the funding.

In February, proponents said that in order to bond to build the center, they will be required to show a stable source of income. The $1.3 million a year from redevelopment would supplement the $7 million a year threshold required.