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Column: Is another taxpayers’ spending spree in the offing?

by Kelly Chase

Taxpayers, get ready for round two. Another spending spree of taxpayers’ money may be in the offing from the Board of County Commissioners. By announcing their priority for the 2001 Legislature, the board seems poised to buy either that multi-million dollar county complex that was booed down years ago by public dissent or some other facility through plans that have not been made public.

You remember the county complex. The board wanted to buy Bently’s “creamery” property for $6.7 million, financed by long-term bonds. The deal was that Bently would demolish the old buildings and construct an entire new complex, all at one low, low price. County staff preferred another option and warned against impairing the county’s ability to fund necessary capital improvements in the future. Public dissent questioned the need of a huge complex when the county was able to purchase (and preserve) the historic Minden Inn at a good price. The cost of relocating a host of county departments was also criticized.

One big impediment to the Bently deal was that it was illegal. The public spending laws require a public bid process for county projects valued under $30 million. As those laws assume, public competitive bidding assures that the lowest price is paid by taxpayers for county facilities.

The Bently deal was a fixed price from one vendor for the land, engineering and new construction. Since land is unique, the taxpayer is precluded from an “apples to apples” competitive choice. The likelihood of “fuzzy math” in a combined purchase of land and new facilities eliminates the protection of the competitive public bid. The Douglas commissioners apparently don’t like this constraint.

The Nevada Legislature limits each county to two bill draft requests (BDR) per session. One of the Douglas County BDRs for 2001 requests a law to reduce the minimum threshold for Bently-like projects from $30 to $2.5 million. Why does Douglas County need this law? Does the board have purchases planned that have not been made public? Why is this law a priority?

Meanwhile, the board’s effort to protect open space is to propose increased taxes and bureaucracy. Is there any leadership on open space or the master plan, or just mere reaction to outside interests?

Where is the BDR that would allow a county to require a “super majority” vote to amend a master plan? Does the board really prefer to let the master plan be easily amended in the future by political expedience of a simple majority vote? Or does political expedience (a regard for what is advantageous rather than what is right) already govern this board? The proposed BDR and past experiences with the Slash Bar H, county complex and the recent Rancher Welfare Act of question No. 1 demonstrate the latter. Do something to prove me wrong.

n Kelly Chase is a Carson Valley attorney. His column appears monthly.