Letters for June 8, 2015
June 8, 2016
Editor's Note: There is only one more edition for Letters to the Editor before the June 14 primary. The deadline for that issue is noon today. Letters supporting candidates are welcome, but no new issues may be raised.
Following the money
"Follow the money." Commissioner Candidate Greg Lynn says repeatedly that there is a "stark" choice between him and his opponent. On this, he is correct.
Consider: All five of the county employee unions endorsed Lynn—yes, all five. These are unions whose adherents are net tax consumers. Their mission is to get yet more pay and benefits, and based on what Lynn said at the Employees' Forum, they have good reason to think he will deliver, even though I have heard that our public employees are the seventh highest paid in the entire nation.
Other Lynn supporters depend on county business (funding: tax revenues). I read that Lynn has voted for not less than six tax increases. Lynn seems to have never met a tax he didn't like. Is it because the taxpayers don't share that opinion that he's repeatedly said that taxpayers should have no direct say-so on taxes or bonds? His actions signal he thinks taxpayers have bottomless pockets. His supporters like that attitude. It bodes well for them.
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Nelson, on the other hand, has been endorsed by Douglas County's Assemblyman Jim Wheeler who summarizes the tax issue by simply saying, "If you want me to pay, you have to get my okay," and State Controller Ron Knecht, both vetted fiscal conservatives who seek nothing from the county and consistently fight for what's best for the people.
Nelson signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge—which is not an "irrelevant document" as Lynn contends. Look at what happened last year at the state level: all but two signers kept true to their word and did not vote for the huge tax increase. Lynn will not sign the Douglas County version, so you have to ask, what new tax or huge bond will he, without your okay, be voting for next?
Also, Nelson has been endorsed by the Republican Party of Douglas County, a party Lynn has publicly repudiated though he runs under the "R" banner. Some Republican. Made up of county-wide local members, this organization promotes smaller government and lower taxes—but not Lynn.
Now let's look at the contributors to the respective campaigns. Lynn has the county unions, a realtor PAC, a defeated county commissioner, and one couple. Nelson's contributions are entirely from numerous concerned citizens unhappy with Lynn's tax-and-spend, voters-be damned, in-your-face style of governing.
All this boils down to whether we want a commissioner who represents the tax consumers, lobbyists and special interests, and who conducts himself as an arrogant know-it-all king on high, superior to we ignorant serfs who are useful only to tax. All hat and no cattle.
It's time for a change. Dave Nelson deals in specifics, brings new ideas and accountability to a "good-ol'-boy" commission, promises no new taxes without voter approval, emphasizes infrastructure needs instead of pretty wants, and displays an abiding respect and concern for the people. He will represent all of us, not just the "privileged few" and as such is deserving of your vote.
Thomas C. Starrett
Proud of record
After 20 years of solid volunteer service and almost eight years of elected service to this wonderful community, I look forward to the opportunity of continuing to work on behalf of the county on projects already in progress. This includes road maintenance, flood and storm water management, public health and safety, and increasing government efficiency.
The United States, and by default, Douglas County, is a representative form of government, where the people elect representatives to look into the future, do the homework and apply the due diligence to make informed, though not always popular, decisions. I've made the tough calls required as your county commissioner to provide the most good for the most residents, based on that due diligence and feedback from my constituents.
Voters asked for safer roads. After extensive presentation and deliberation, the board agreed the nickel gas tax was not only appropriate but necessary to increase road safety now and forestall enormous costs in the future.
The board's decision to pay a nickel now or spend a quarter later will save the taxpayers literally tens of millions in future maintenance costs, as evidenced by a recent presentation of an exhaustive study by the University of Nevada, Reno. The county's options from this tax have the potential to extend the working life of our roads in serviceable condition for another ten years.
I'm proud of my leadership on the community and senior center. Voters were specific in their requests for the center by turning down the first two, more expensive proposals. What we have now is a culmination of input from residents and forethought by the board to include those requests that catered to the majority of citizens, and less to special interests.
This wonderful facility's financing was vetted by independent, legally accountable bond counsel. With the recent fall-off of other bonds, this project is tax neutral except for an incremental increase in the utility operator fee costing the average residence roughly $6 a year.
With the advent of the center, we are seeing a plummeting juvenile probation rate. We also expect to experience huge savings in long-term senior care, to name just two added cost benefits of the center. Typically $1 invested in these programs results in $100 in cost avoidance down the road.
Questions have been raised as to who is more Republican than whom. Historically, this community expects its leadership to be informed by conservative and fiscally responsible principles. I have more than met those expectations by following these principals. Despite a years-long, persistent recession, we as a board have balanced our budgets, enhanced our credit rating (meaning lower bonding costs) and maintained healthy reserves despite declining or flat revenues. Additionally, we have not taken on unreasonable debt; in fact our current indebtedness is roughly 16 percent of our full bonding capacity based on our creditworthiness.
These are the outcomes our community expects and I have delivered on those expectations again and again, putting in the time, energy and attention to complex and difficult issues the voters hired me to give, and more.
I urge my neighbors and fellow citizens to choose carefully on election day. I respectfully ask for your vote to continue our county's forward momentum.
Lynn should know better
I'd like to remind Commissioner Greg Lynn about things he should have learned in the third grade.
Don't tell lies. So you had to take down one of your campaign signs because you didn't ask the property owner's permission. Who can take you seriously about such a petty matter that you brought on yourself? By the way, only a second grader would capitalize words like "alive" and "well" in the middle of a sentence.
Don't spread malicious rumors. I was sitting with your opponent's family, including Dave Nelson's mother-in-law, at the Minden Park concert Friday night. She and her husband, United States citizens of Japanese heritage, spent WWII incarcerated in Amachi, Colo. With her husband gone now, Dave Nelson moved her into their home rather than put her in a rest home. Is that what you call carpet bagging?
Run on your record. You claim you get paid for making the tough choices the voters just won't do, like the six tax increases you supported. How about telling your constituents the story about how you shifted taxes around so you could fund the community and senior center without their approval and that they had voted down twice? I don't see any of that in your paid advertisements or the letters from your supporters. Your recent mailer repeats some of the same promises you made in the 2008 campaign, promises you broke.
Why should you be re-elected when you tell falsehoods about your challenger instead of running on your record? Like a naughty child, are you hiding from your true record because you are afraid to tell the truth?
So long, county employees
Once again, Larry Walsh and Dave Nelson have expressed their disdain for county employees and their unions. (see latest The Record-Courier ad.) Having been a manager, I understand and appreciate how difficult it is to hire and retain good employees. Knowing Walsh and Nelson's attitudes towards all our county employees I would expect to see a mass exodus if they are elected. If I were one, I certainly would do the same. No one wants to work where they are considered overpaid and a burden to their community.
There is a tremendous market for good experienced county workers now that our economy has improved, especially for fire and police professionals.
There are many jurisdictions that understand it is more beneficial to hire experience than to train new staff. They can hit the ground running and ultimately cost less. So it wouldn't be long before Douglas County would be extremely short handed and understaffed in our most critical areas, i.e. fire and sheriff. The other side effect would be that the word would be out, stay away from Douglas County, they don't like you.
Soon a crisis would ensue, creating the need for emergency funding to hire replacements for our lost staff.
A special election would have to be called to get the voters approval for this emergency funding, taking 18 months and costing over $100,000.
The voters turn it down.
This is not a fairy tale and with the election of Walsh and Nelson likely would happen. Our trusted and capable county employees have been belittled and shamed and realizing nothing would change for four years, wouldn't you leave?
Working with county employees to restore their pay to pre-recession rates is not a fault but a virtue, recognizing the importance of experience and staff continuity to our community.
Thank you Greg Lynn.
Nelson, Walsh better candidates
Voters who are concerned about defending our Master Plan and preserving our rural character should support Larry Walsh and David Nelson for county commissioner. They have vowed to stand up for the letter and intent of the Master Plan. Their opponents, Lynn and Godecke, have supported many amendments which benefit special interest groups to the detriment of the general public.
Likewise, voters who want a county government that is fiscally responsible should support Walsh and Nelson. Mr. Walsh has a degree in accounting and has spent nearly his entire career in finance and taxation. Mr. Nelson has degrees in accounting and business administration. Their education and experience would be invaluable to county government.
Mr. Lynn, a developer, filed for personal bankruptcy not long ago. Mr. Godecke, a rancher, has admitted that he wants a Master Plan Amendment on his land to make it Receiving Area, so that it can be turned into dense residential development. Mr. Lynn has recently supported the gas tax increase, as well as a sales tax increase to pay for the ill-advised Connectivity projects. What happened to the county's highly touted priority-based budgeting?
Do you wonder why the county's employee associations have supported Lynn and Godecke? It's because they want their salaries to just keep growing at unsustainable rates. Transparent Nevada shows that total compensation for Douglas County employees is over $100,000 each for the 196 highest-paid employees, and over $75,000 each for the 335 highest-paid employees. And we are now seeing the return of so-called "merit raises," where large numbers of employees get raises of up to 5 percent, sometimes annually, in addition to cost-of-living increases. This is exactly how salaries got so out of control in the early parts of this century.
It should be noted that Mr. Lynn voted to hire Jim Nichols, our recent County Manager, at a nearly 40 percent pay increase over his fine predecessors. Nichols' short, failed tenure ended up costing the county nearly $400,000 for his 15 months of service. That's not being financially responsible. And that's why other county employees now think they deserve a raise.
We all support and appreciate our county employees, but the claim that they are underpaid just doesn't seem to hold up. Their desire for ever-increasing pay, however, seems to be the main reason they support Lynn and Godecke. Larry Walsh and David Nelson would balance that against other crucial needs, such as roads and flood control – that is the true nature of priority-based budgeting. Mr. Lynn just seems to want to raise more and more taxes for supposed "needs," the classic "tax and spend" approach.
Douglas County will be better off if Larry Walsh and David Nelson are elected as county commissioners. They will preserve the rural character of our community, and do so in a fiscally responsible way. They deserve your support.
Voting for Lynn and Godecke
Dave Nelson and Larry Walsh present themselves as self-appointed watchdogs; proud to denigrate and condemn while hoping to be elected so they can draw a salary for their efforts. Having held positions on the Douglas County Republican Central Committee as well as being founding members of the "Good Governance Group," they've mired themselves in the ever-narrowing dogma of what constitutes a good Republican and the thinking that problem-solving involving cooperation, flexibility and consensus-building is flawed and weak. Their highest qualification is they already have an answer to every question; sadly the answer is no. They'll listen to you, but their obedience to the Taxpayers Protection Pledge dictates they shirk the difficult decisions of governing, triggering special elections that cost around $100,000 but rarely pass. The result will be money wasted and problems that remain. Nelson and Walsh aren't concerned about the inevitable gridlock as they'll claim clean hands; "the people have spoken". We need to elect people who aren't afraid of the hard work of governance; aren't afraid to step away from the politically-pious ideology the central committee demands (I say this as a life-long Republican). We need to elect people who'll take on the job of governing, not just the title. Greg Lynn and Frank Godecke are such men.
Lynn and Godecke have shown they can examine issues and find solutions even when it's unpopular or difficult. They've also shown they understand the true foundation of a community is the first responders, educators and support personnel who supply the safety, order and stability a community needs to survive and thrive. Nelson and Walsh believe our public servants were sheltered from the recession and still need to make concessions. The truth is they were battered just like you were; they saw lay-offs, wage cuts, years of wage freezes and benefits slashed yet still got up every day to protect and serve this community. Nelson and Walsh target these people because the TPP gives them few other options. The fact that we're the richest county in the state per capita with the third lowest taxes, yet have the lowest paid sheriff's office in Northern Nevada falls on deaf ears. Does this mean I'm for raising taxes? No, it means I believe the whole story is important and resent being fed a skewed view that fits a driven narrative. Demeaning and demoralizing our public servants while plotting another blow is shameful.
Lynn and Godecke have acknowledged the hard work and important role our public servants play. They've lauded them as exemplary rather than putting a target on their backs. They've made no promises to restore what's been lost, but at least they've shown their appreciation for a job well done. This explains why, for the first time, all of our first responders, teachers and county employees have joined together to endorse the same candidates for county commissioner– Lynn (District No. 1) and Godecke (District No. 3). Please show your appreciation for these important assets of our community by doing the same.
Godecke supports gravel pit
At the Nov. 10, 2015, meeting of the planning commission (of which Frank Godecke is a member), more than 350 residents attended. The vast majority of them voiced their opposition to the gravel pit, and offered more than 50 different reasons. Apparently none of the reasons resonated with Godecke — he voted in favor of the gravel pit. In doing so he ignored the master plan requirement that the East Valley remain rural. Mr. Godecke recently told me he thought the gravel pit was "a good project."
Mr. Godecke does not listen to the residents he purportedly represents. He also ignores the law. Larry Walsh will listen to us and has pledged to enforce the law. He is a better choice for county commissioner.
Walsh better candidate
In making a choice in the upcoming election between Frank Godecke and Larry Walsh, it seems to me that the issue boils down to one of management.
On the one hand we have in Mr. Godecke a proponent of development, development and yet more development. From his seat on the planning commission Mr. Godecke has repeatedly voted for everything – solar farms, gravel pits and much more besides. Sustainable development is one thing but there seems to be nothing at which Mr. Godecke would draw the line and all too often the projects in question seem to stand to benefit the few at the expense of the many. Less democracy, more oligarchy. A vote for Mr. Godecke as county commissioner will drive Douglas County and the Carson Valley down the slippery slope of ever more people, houses, roads and congestion. Mr. Walsh, on the other hand, has emphasized how he would seek to manage and preserve our resources and our way of life.
I grew up in a small country – the United Kingdom – half the size of California with twice the population. And over the years I have lived in a lot of crowded places – London, Hong Kong, Shanghai and San Francisco. I am now a naturalized U.S. citizen and fortunate to be able to call Nevada my home. Trust me – there is nothing that great about millions of people camped on top of each other. We are lucky to live in an unspoiled part of the world – why be in such a hurry to spoil it?
Community center timing not best
There have been numerous letters and ads in The Record-Courier arguing for and against requiring voter approval of new taxes and general obligation bonds. Current and former government leaders and business representatives support that authority to remain in the hands of elected commissioners, as it's simply easier to persuade five commissioners to open the public trough for a noble cause than to reach taxpayers at large.
Some arguments appear self-serving. Most public spending projects seem to be favored by business groups who visualize in them some potential for revenue growth, thereby justifying taxpayer-voter fear of five elected officials being empowered with almost unlimited taxing and general debt.
Businesses are rarely slow to see a public benefit in almost any public spending project. An example was the solid business and political support for the remarkably expensive pie in the sky county connectivity program, which clearly elevated wants over county needs. Only the requirement for a super-majority of commissioners' approval saved the county from massive debt burden while unable to fund road repairs, flood control, and resolving severe financial instability in county water and sewer utilities.
Community leaders positively salivated over the prospect of putting up multi-millions of taxpayer money as matching funds to attract state and federal grants. Some projects proposed were so silly it seemed as if obtaining massive government grants was the primary objective, not what it was spent on.
One argument repetitively put forward is that "we're a republic, not a democracy". The argument for a republic is practical at a national level, also for states and cities like Las Vegas and even Carson City, where true democracy is simply too awkward for taxpayer initiatives on tax and borrowing measures. It is feasible in small communities.
Where we do function as a republic, we could argue whether the people's representatives in congress or legislatures have earned taxpayer trust, given the $20 trillion national debt, and the passage by Nevada 's legislature of the so-called Commerce Tax after voters previously rejected it. Just as county commissioners voted for a community center after voters previously rejected it. That violated state law, but our district attorney opted to place the letter of the law above the spirit.
The government that governs best is the government closest to the people. Such as in the towns where water and sewer rates are less than half county rates. County water and sewer utilities might be more financially efficient if they reported to a board of ratepayers, instead of county commissioners.
Sure the community center is nice to have, but was the timing appropriate for some 40,000 Valley residents? When there were under 10,000 residents they had to make do with CVIC hall. Should a community center have waited until the Valley population reached 60,000? Or 80,000? Statistics presented to commissioners indicate it's being used by 5 percent of residents. Was it appropriate to force a $15,000 burden on 46,000 residents for 5 percent of them?
Jack Van Dien
Lynn and Godecke against people's will
"What do you think of all the mudslinging?" my neighbor asked me. She said she's gotten turned off to politics with all the negative political ads, letters and mailers.
She was referring specifically to the Douglas County Commissioner campaign and I can understand the tendency to treat it all as just a big mess. But, I told her, you've got to realize what's happening here.
There are two county officials, Greg Lynn and Frank Godecke, who have public records that they and their supporters want to avoid talking about. There are two challengers, Dave Nelson and Larry Walsh, whose campaigns consist of performance reviews of those records.
Greg Lynn has voted for a half-dozen tax increases, passed two, and unethically redirected a bond issue the voters approved for one purpose and diverted it to another. Frank Godecke has voted multiple times as planning commissioner to put solar panels, considered by zoning laws as an industrial use, on land zoned for agriculture.
The public record is clear: Both Lynn and Godecke have governed against the express will of the majority of the voters they need in this election.
Uh-oh, what to do? Lynn and Godecke have decided to distract my neighbor and every other Douglas County voter, and knock their challengers' campaigns off message, by making up stories – vicious, nasty untruths – about Nelson and Walsh.
Will it work? If you're like my neighbor and all you see is a spray of negativity in the public discourse, of course it may. You might even just stay home rather than vote for anyone for county commissioner.
But discerning voters should be able to differentiate between Godecke's and Lynn's mudslinging and a vigorous effort by the Nelson and Walsh campaigns to defend themselves against the lies and re-focus the political dialogue on their opponents' public records.
That perspective seemed to help my neighbor and I hope it helps you.
Douglas has significant assets
Do not forget the reserves. Whether tax and/or debt increases are passed by the public or the county board, the voter should be made aware of county unrestricted reserve liquid assets, which historically, little to nothing has been publicized or said.
Nevada law allows county governments to pass tax and bond debt increases without voter approval. This places a trust in the board of commissioners that they will use prudence in their financial guidance of county affairs. When this trust is violated, even though legal, they are no longer deserving of that trust.
Not only does Douglas County increase taxes and bond debt without voter approval they have done so against actual voter disapproval and with a lack of transparency.
At the end of fiscal year 2015 the county financial statements listed in excess of $87.5 million in unrestricted investments, cash and year end fund balances that was at the complete discretion of the board.
According to a recent The Record-Courier article the county's total major road repairs and ongoing road maintenance needs spread over five years would have mixed costs of $10.79 million. This apparently is to be paid for by using a significant portion of a new bond issue supported by the recently increased, without voter approval, 5 cent gas tax.
It is now in the works to seek approval to raise the sales tax to provide funding for $10 million in bonds for school repairs over the next 11 years. All of these project funds would not be needed immediately. If the unrestricted fund reserves increase at the same rate as the average of the last three years and the increases alone are used for funding these projects, they would be fully paid for in less than four years versus the five year need for the roads and 11 year need for the schools. This would leave the year-end balances and investments unchanged with no increase in taxes or bonds.
In fiscal year 2012-2013 the county issued $14.55 million in bond debt, against the disapproval of voters, for the construction of the community center. At the end of FY 2013 the county financial statements listed in excess of $91.7 million in unrestricted investments, cash and year end fund balances that was at the complete discretion of the board. The community center could have been paid for in full without raising the county's debt 1 cent.