County roads need fixing now
June 29, 2017
After reading Terry Burnes's "County could raid improvement district funds," (June 21, 2017 R-C), I had to sit motionless for a minute just to let my ire cool off. So many flawed arguments; so few words allowed for rebuttal. Burnes conveniently "forgets" what a county government's main purpose is supposed to be, which is to provide essential programs, services and infrastructure to its inhabitants. For reasons I have been unable to determine, Douglas County has general improvement districts (GIDs) that provide a substantial portion of services and infrastructure to county residents. More recently, the county has required developers to put homeowners associations (HOAs) in place, and these provide services and infrastructure to varying degrees as well. Added to these providers are the towns, such as Minden, which also handle a variety of services and infrastructure needs.
Clever county. Because there are so many other entities doing things that the county normally would be doing, it has a much smaller list of essential responsibilities. So, naturally, it will have plenty of money to do those things left on its essentials list, right?
No. Egregiously, the county, with a majority of the Board of County Commissioners nodding and smiling, spends money on surveys, multiple outside consultants (to answer just about any question that arises), "helpful" programs, and "grand" projects that are "nice" but not "necessary" such as the much touted senior center or the upcoming entertainment venue at the lake. In addition, there never seems to be any reduction in the number of employees the county takes on to accomplish the tasks left in its basket. On the contrary, Douglas County has a higher ratio of employees per capita (one per 85 residents) than almost any other county in Nevada. Oh, and our employees are among the highest paid for counties of comparable size as well; all told, in fact, paying salary and benefits to County employees takes nearly 75 percent of the county's general fund.
The travesty of lack of road maintenance and lack of flood control comes as a direct result of what I have described above. I have to stress, especially in light of how Burnes characterizes the local roads situation, that despite the fact that much of what a county is supposed to do to serve its inhabitants is performed by other entities, Douglas County has so mismanaged the ever-burgeoning tax revenues it's received for at least 20 years that it has severely neglected a number of the needs of its inhabitants, and maintaining local roads is at the top of that list. The solution of choice by past BOCCs? TAX MORE. In other words, if the county isn't living up to its responsibilities, the miserly taxpayers have only themselves to blame. Not the county that treats infrastructure as mostly an afterthought if there's money left over from all the other pet projects.
Unless you live, for example, in Topaz, or make a concerted effort to go there and take a look at its roads (which, I'm guessing few of the commissioners do, since they seem to be perfectly content with not allocating any funds whatsoever to fix what only a blind person could not see are worse than third-world roads), you may not fully appreciate just how desperate the local roads situation is. Burnes practically boasts with pride that the Roads Task Force (over several members' objections) saw fit to recommend that the county relieve itself of its obligation to maintain local roads. And, in response, the county did. In an act of staggering incompetence, the county cut the local roads loose with no entity required to lift a finger to maintain them. EVER.
So, according to Burnes, now that the county — for decades — has not lived up to its responsibilities and has broken its promise and ignored its obligation to maintain local roads (after all, the folks who bought or built residences along those roads were rightfully acting under county's assurance that maintaining local roads was a county obligation), and after such continued neglect that many local roads have deteriorated so badly that they can hardly even be recognized as roads at all, the "right thing" for the county to do is to wash its hands of those roads, and say to the residents who have been cheated out of their rightful due — "Hey, you freeloaders. We're going to force you into a GID and shovel off the burden of what now requires an astronomical amount of money to even begin to fix on to you."
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Further regarding what Burnes calls "fairness," I have to point out here that those folks who chose to buy or build a residence in a GID or HOA (as I did) or one of the towns did so knowing that they were going to be paying additional taxes or fees for the maintenance of certain elements in their communities. On the flip side, those who bought homes not in a GID, HOA, or town did so (often deliberately because they didn't cotton to having another layer of government regulating them) relying rightfully on the county to do its job. Plus, that some folks in non-GID territory pay much higher fees for county-provided services is a fact that further undercuts the so-called "fairness" argument.
Douglas County has a dismal track record of addressing infrastructure. The people who live on local roads do not deserve to be made scapegoats of the county's past failures in planning and spending.
What is needed is a complete audit of the county to determine why it has so many employees and which ones are superfluous and a complete "refresh" on the priorities for which the county (through the BOCC) spends our hard-earned tax dollars. No money should be allocated for anything outside of absolute essential needs until the county's infrastructure is well on its way to being brought up to snuff.
Local roads need fixing, and they need fixing now.
Ginger Starrett is a Gardnerville resident.