Two of three connectivity taxes clear first turn
Minden, Nev. — Two-thirds of the taxes proposed to fund the County Connectivity Plan made it through the first turn, but the quarter-cent sales tax looks like it could come up lame in the second.
The only part of the funding strategy all five Douglas County commissioners agreed on was that they didn’t want to use the utility operator fee.
Commissioners approved the first reading of an ordinance establishing a 5-cent gasoline tax 4-1, with Commissioner Barry Penzel voting against.
Penzel was joined by Commission Chairman Doug Johnson in opposing the quarter-cent sales tax increase. Unless one of the men alters their vote at the second reading, the sales tax won’t be approved.
Nearly three-dozen residents commented on the proposal after County Manager Jim Nichols’ presentation.
Nichols said connectivity was developed through the years as the county worked on several other plans.
“None of them are made up out of thin air,” he said. “All of these projects are part and parcel of various planning documents and exercises that the county has been through in the past.”
He said $400,000 of the gas tax will go to regional road maintenance.
“The board has indicated a desire to fund local roads with local resources,” he said.
“This is not about Lake vs. Valley,” Nichols said. “It is about providing safe transportation.”
The county currently has a road budget of $2.5 million a year, much of which has gone to recover from flooding during 2014 and 2015.
“We spent last year’s road budget, this year’s road budget and part of next year’s road budget to clean up from the floods,” Commissioner Greg Lynn said.
Connectivity champion Jacques Etchegoyhen said that the program is designed to help the investments being made by the private sector succeed.
“Places with failing infrastructure are rarely successful,” he said.
Resident Joy Curtis pointed out that people on fixed incomes have enough trouble making ends meet.
Several residents asked that the county put the taxes on the ballot for a vote, particularly if the county seeks a bond.
Last summer’s flooding was also a topic for some residents, including Commissioner Barry Penzel, who also wants the tax issues placed on the ballot.
“I think quality of life means not having to sandbag your property during storms,” resident Jan Muzzy said.
Lynn Muzzy said the county’s checkbook initiative didn’t mention anything about connectivity.
“I spent time on the checkbook and I don’t remember anything about this,” he said. “We had a deal. If you’re going to change the deal put the entire thing on the ballot.”
Resident Buzz Harris said the projects included in connectivity are long term.
“If you don’t start collecting and putting money aside, this is going to be very difficult,” he said. “When I’m the age of many of the people in this room, the projects will be completed.”
The three taxes are proposed to be used to leverage federal grants to work on a variety of transportation related projects, including renovating the Stateline casino corridor once traffic is moved to a loop road, road maintenance and building a bypass around Minden-Gardnerville.
However, during their debate it sounded like county commissioners were leaning toward prioritizing road maintenance.
Representatives of both the Tahoe Chamber and the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce said their organizations supported the plan.
All three towns and the Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District, which represent many of the county’s residents, voted in favor of the proposal.
Representing the Republican Central Committee, Shawn Meehan said that commissioners promised to uphold their party’s positions. One of the positions adopted by the Douglas County Republican Party was that commissioners wouldn’t raise taxes without going to a ballot.
Three South County residents pointed out that there was nothing in the proposal that would benefit residents living there.
Some residents said they could support some of the taxes if the money was used to fix the county’s roads.
County commissioners agreed that road maintenance is critical and that money raised by the taxes should be spent there.
The taxes are far from approved. Second reading for the gas and sales tax increases are Dec. 3 in Minden. Under the current schedule the gas tax wouldn’t take effect until Feb. 1, 2016. If approved the sales tax wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2017.