Water, economy hot topics in Minden town hall debate
A debate in the race for county commission pitted incumbent Nancy McDermid against challenger Lawrence Howell, and Dave Brady against anti-government sentiment at the CVIC Hall in Minden on Wednesday night.
Brady’s opponent, Lee Bonner, was missing from the panel, but appeared after the commissioners portion was completed. All four candidates are Republicans.
Howell asked McDermid why the commissioners voted to limit competition among businesses by approving the 100-room threshold to obtain a nonrestrictive gaming overlay when there is only a 41 percent occupancy rate in Douglas County.
McDermid said the 41 percent occupancy rate in Douglas County included RV parks that were closed in the winter.
“I believe that Indian gaming is a serious challenge to our casinos at Stateline,” she said. “There are three approved casinos in the Valley. We are overbuilt.”
She said that casinos who want the privilege of increased gaming in Douglas County should have to invest in the community.
Howell said adding hotel rooms would not help the county, but having a list of options for larger gambling operations to contribute to might.
Howell’s was the only vote against the ordinance when it came before the Douglas County Planning Commission.
McDermid asked Howell what he would do differently when dealing with high water rates in the county water systems.
“Water rates in Douglas County haven’t always been high,” he said. “It is falling on current users to fix issues. Consolidating the water systems came up as a plan, but the board backed away. Where were the back-up plans?”
Howell said he supported physically linking the different water systems.
“We need to consolidate the water systems for real,” he said.
McDermid said she also wanted alternatives to consolidation.
“I was in favor of forming a water advisory committee that included the water users,” she said.
McDermid asked Howell what he would have done differently in the Douglas County budget process.
Howell said the problem with the Douglas County budget process was that people didn’t understand it.
“It needs to be open, transparent and fair,” he said. “Every department head needs to come before the county commission. Government should not be more expensive than private business.”
McDermid said the county manager implemented an improved budget process this year.
“The process worked in down times and it will work in up times,” she said.
Howell asked McDermid why Douglas County is involved in a public transportation system that’s in default.
She answered that the South Tahoe Area Transit Authority, which operates BlueGo, has not filed bankruptcy. McDermid served on the 11-member board .
“Rather than defaulting, the billing is in dispute,” she said. “The authority hired a bankruptcy attorney who recommended that we move forward with Chapter 11 reorganization. The authority continues to provide public transportation services at the Lake and in the Valley.”
Brady said two issues were key in the election, experience and momentum.
“In the country there is a mood to change the present leadership,” he said. “At the county level that is short-sighted and dangerous. As leaders, it’s important that we make bold decisions.
“We may not be able to control our revenues,” he said. “But we can control our expenses.”
He pointed out that the county workforce was cut 15 percent.
“But once the Legislature is in session, we are in danger,” he said.
The Legislature was an issue for Howell as well, who said the county needs to fight to keep the state from raiding county budgets.
Brady was appointed to the Douglas County commission in 2005 by Gov. Kenny Guinn. McDermid, who was chairwoman of the planning commission, won election to her seat in 2006.
“I’m a small business owner,” Brady said. “I know what it means to make payroll.”
He said Douglas County was doing reasonably well when compared to other jurisdictions.
“You’re not reading headlines that we’re having real funding problems like Sparks or Reno,” he said.
McDermid said approving the master plan was her last act on the Douglas County Planning Commission and her first act on the county commission.
“Douglas County residents enjoy a quality of life above anyone in Nevada,” McDermid said. “I’ve worked hard to enhance that.”
She said approval of the sustainable growth measure in June 2007 was a step in that direction.
“Remember back then when growth was the big issue,” she said. “Now our main concern is the economy.”
McDermid said the county is implementing an economic development plan that should help it remain stable for the next 30 years.
“We are looking at new tourism,” she said. “Everyone has coming to Tahoe on their bucket list. I want them to come to the rest of Douglas County.”
In his closing, Howell said he believed that things in Douglas County could be better.
“I’m the challenger and I don’t think things are fine,” he said. “I don’t think the county is where it could be or should be.”
Bonner said later that he had some commitments he could not miss.
“Renea Louie told me that if I made it there in time, I could get 4 minutes to speak,” he said. “But the county commissioners went first, which I understand. I made it in time to talk to a few folks.”
Bonner said he and Brady will have other chances to debate.