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Commissioner’s Corner: An interesting mixture of fact and fiction

by Don Miner

In a recent letter to the editor, Al Walker once again exercised his First Amendment right by expressing his biased insights into the government of Douglas County, bent on, in his words, “keeping plenty of people employed” and “irresponsibly” taxing residents (R-C Sept. 2.).

Not that you shouldn’t give him some credit. For, Al Walker is, in fact, very good at inserting just enough factual material to make his tainting of a subject appear somewhat credible. He will, on occasion, interrupt Douglas County staff to gather the factual material. Then an amazing thing occurs. As he retires to thought processes, something goes amuck. While in his creative state, he usually fabricates a wicked prose, a tantalizing mixture of fact and fiction, then flings it forward as the final authority for those gullible or to the sufficiently “uninformed” reader intending to infect and spread the virus of his deep-seeded bias against county government and the community in which he lives. One wonders, “Al, if living in Douglas County is so bad – property taxes are so high and the government is so fiscally irresponsible as to raise taxes inappropriately – why do you continue living here?”

Perhaps it is because Douglas County tax rates when compared to just about every other county in the state, to all bordering states, and to the rest of the United States, are about the lowest he can get and still enjoy the excellent quality of life Douglas County offers.

Not that Al is going away, but here are some real facts offsetting Al’s perspectives:

n Douglas County’s average overlapping tax rate for FY00-01 is $2.3583 – still considerably under the $3.64 state maximum tax rate or cap. Further, our average overlapping tax rate is the third lowest among all Nevada counties – only Eureka at $1.7029 and Humboldt at $2.2510 are lower – with a few already taxing at the maximum allowed by state law.

My point: the average property tax burden in Douglas County is comparatively lower (better) than most other Nevada counties. In other words, Al would hate it more if he lived somewhere else.

n The total county assessed valuation rose 15.8 percent over the 5-year period of FY96-97 to FY00-01. However, the total county assessed valuation rose 41.3 percent over the 5-year period of FY91-92 to FY96-97.

My point: Al implies that the current county commission is bent on raising the county’s general fund tax rate yet the prior commission effectively reduced the same tax rate. Because of the 41 percent assessed growth of the previous 5-year period, the commission did not have to raise the general fund tax rate.

n The State of Nevada is ranked 35th in the nation for property tax revenue per capita.

My point: Nevada’s property tax burden is among the 15 lowest in the United States.

n The combined Douglas County tax rate rose only 4.5 percent over the 5-year period of FY96-97 to FY00-01.

My point: Al isolates the general fund tax rate. However, Douglas County provides a full range of services (not just services paid by the general fund) that all county residents enjoy, benefit from and pay for through a combined property tax rate regardless of where they live in the county. The average resident has seen only a 4.5 percent increase in the combined Douglas County tax rate in five years.

n The State of Nevada is ranked No. 1 in the nation for sales tax revenue per capita. Douglas County receives approximately 50 percent of its revenue from tourism related sources (i.e. taxes on gaming, gas, lodging, sales, etc.).

My point: Tourists are paying 50 percent of the cost of government, or our residents are paying only half of what the actual services cost.

n The State of Nevada is ranked No. 1 in the nation for economic growth. And like it or not, Douglas County is growing. Growth means an increase in activity at all levels of government. In other words, it costs more. Here’s just one general fund example: the general services budget rose $450,000 or 130 percent over the 5-year period of FY96-97 to FY00-01, from $351,000 to $809,000, respectively. This budget is for essentially non-controllable costs, such as insurance.

My point: Al’s recent article does not address the expenditure side of the budget. The county has to raise the revenues it can in order to support those services desired by the public. As Al well knows, the county has a growing demand for enhanced and new senior services with no identified new revenues to offset the costs of these services. When costs are increasing, revenue sources must rise or the service is eliminated. Sales tax, property tax, and charges for service revenues are carrying the brunt of the expenditure increases while other revenues are generally flat.

n The number of employees working for Douglas County per 1,000 population has actually decreased from 12.2 to 11.3 over the 5-year period of FY96-97 to FY00-01. Further, the state of Nevada is ranked No. 45 in the nation for employees per 1,000 population.

My point: Al suggests that the county’s goal is to keep as many people employed as possible. The fact is that we employ as many as are necessary, we provide services to an increasing number of residents, and we have comparatively fewer employees per 1,000 population than most other counties in the state and nation. This ratio would be even lower had not this commission and the previous commission supported the sheriff’s request for additional officers on the street.

Readers of Al’s concoctions are welcome to call or stop by any county department being accused and simply ask for the facts. All too often when Al’s diatribe sounds too bad to be true, it is usually is.

Douglas County, as we all know and understand, is a very nice place to live, primarily due to our natural beauty, but also in part to the high quality services provided by our towns, general improvement districts and county government, and for comparatively less cost than neighboring communities.

Just think of how much nicer Douglas County would be if people like Al expended their ample energy on making a positive contribution to the community instead of playing the role of Chicken Little, crying the sky is falling. Al is stirring the pot of discontent while taking pot shots at illusionary targets for self gratification. Think about it.

n Don Miner represents Commission District 4.