Tahoe County before Legislature Tuesday
A controversial proposal to split Douglas County heads for a showdown Tuesday before a joint legislative committee whose job is to decide if the new county is feasible.
“It’s going to be very difficult to do,” said Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville Ranchos, one of 14 members of the Nevada Legislative Select Committee.
“They have to show it’s revenue neutral. They have to prove in some fashion that moving from one county to another would solve their problems.”
The Tahoe County plan has been in the works for 15 months, spearheaded by the Tahoe Citizens Committee. The group claims to represent 1,040 members who want to secede from Douglas County and create a new county from Nevada’s Lake Tahoe areas.
“I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve made up my mind,” Hettrick said. “But we have to take a very hard look at it and be coldly realistic.”
Hettrick explained that proponents must prove that Tahoe County will be what he calls “revenue neutral,” in other words, not a financial burden on the rest of the state.
“Today, let’s say you can show us you are revenue neutral, but your costs are going to continue to go up,” Hettrick said. “Tahoe County has no growth. When the increases come in the future, how will they pay their bills?”
The hearing, scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m., will be held in Room 1214 on the Senate side of the legislative building.
Mike Jabara, chairman of the Tahoe Citizens Committee, said Hettrick’s questions will be answered.
“We are going to show up Tuesday with the most extensive financial analysis ever conducted at Lake Tahoe,” Jabara said Friday. “It will show Tahoe County is feasible, the Tahoe County school district is feasible in both the short- and long-term, and that we will have fully addressed all legislative concerns.”
Jabara said copies of the analysis would be available Tuesday.
“We are confident that the legislators understand there are significant problems at Lake Tahoe that are not going to go away and that they (legislators) will have to deal with. We remain committed to an economically viable and prosperous Douglas County, minus the Tahoe portion. We think the legislative committee is going to fully debate and examine this issue. I believe they will make tough decisions that are good for Lake Tahoe and good for the state,” Jabara said.
“Just because we’re not part of Douglas County any more won’t mean we don’t have the same relationships that we now enjoy,” he said. “The relationship won’t be any different that Douglas now has with Carson City or Yerington.”
The Tahoe County drive has been propelled by TCC assertions that the Lake portion of the county – home to the casino core – is the major contributor of taxes to Douglas County, but gets a disproportionate share of services.
“I understand all their concerns,” Hettrick said. “An issue doesn’t get to the legislative hearing state unless there are some concerns that truly need to be addressed. I think we need to explore a lot of options, however, before we dive into ‘there has to be a new county tomorrow.’
“We probably have 10 counties in the state that have one town or one area with the highest assessed valuation and they pay the bulk of the bills,” Hettrick said. “What if every county comes in and says, ‘Well, you did it over there, why can’t you do it for us?'”
Hettrick said he anticipates that the committee chairs will instruct representatives of all sides of the issue to work out their own solution.
He added that he thinks it’s unlikely the issue can be resolved in this session of the Legislature which could end in as few as 30 days.
“We can’t order the sides to negotiate, we can’t say, ‘You must take this settlement,'” Hettrick said. “But the risk they take is that if they come back to us, they may end up with something that makes neither party happy.”
Hettrick said the comments he’s received from constituents are following predictable lines.
“Ninety percent of the people at the Lake say we need a new county and 90 percent of the Valley floor say we don’t,” Hettrick said, adding that he’s hearing from activists on both sides and their figures don’t necessarily reflect the total county population.
Douglas County Manager Dan Holler said he believes the debate boils down to a few issues.
“We’ve taken steps to address those issues which legitimately are under county control,” Holler said. “The issues that are more philosophical in nature can be argued anywhere in the state. We have no response to those except to agree to disagree.”
Holler said that financial analysis provided to date by TCC has been inadequate.
“There are some significant gaps and questions that have not been adequately addressed,” he said.
Holler said the county commissioners “are moving forward assuming there will be one county.”
Projects in the works for the Lake portion include funding for water systems, road maintenance, including the Loop Road in the casino core, and Lake administration building improvements.
“Probably the biggest single issue is the funding for the promotion of tourism, how the room tax dollars are allocated between county programs and promotion of that industry,” Holler said.
“If you are going to take a substantial amount out of room tax for promotion, to what extent are you going to reduce other services?” Holler said.
“It’s easy to shift the money to promotion, but then it becomes politically difficult to fund those basic services, whether from a room tax, property tax , business licenses or a utility fee.
“The question becomes what are you going to do with the room tax to benefit the residents of Douglas County. We have to get out of the mentality that we’re giving tax dollars to the casinos and back into what do you get for the dollars expended,” Holler said.
Jabara said TCC members are “excited and expectant” about Tuesday’s proceedings.
“The Tahoe issue is finally going to be addressed on a basin-wide basis from the Nevada perspective,” he said.
“When we started this 15 months ago, we knew there were problems and we knew we didn’t have the right information or solutions,” Jabara said. “Over time, we have gotten a much better understanding of what the situation is. We’ve developed alternatives and the membership has made decisions which support those alternatives. We had no preconceived notion of where this would end up.”
Jabara is adamant in his belief that Tahoe County will benefit the entire state.
“I believe, personally, that this is not only good for Tahoe, but for the state of Nevada. It’s good for Douglas County in the long run because Douglas will have a life, culture and whole future of its own that has a lot of promise,” Jabara said. “This is really about Tahoe controlling its own destiny as opposed to any anti-Douglas feelings.”