County decides to pick all of our pockets |

County decides to pick all of our pockets

by Jack Van Dien

Grab your wallets folks. Douglas County commissioners just voted to pick our collective pockets. A 1 percent fee on our utility bills and another 1 percent in two years, maybe more after that. Plus a business tax on top of licensing fees businesses already pay.

We don’t get to vote on it. It’s the only way they can think to balance the budget. Is that “growth paying for itself?”

We just had five unprecedented economic boom years. Property values soared, property tax collections surged over 8 percent annually, popped another enormous 36 percent in 2007. Sales taxes increased 7 percent annually until this year. Other revenues kept pace with population and inflation, except for room tax and gas tax which have been flat. Population grew. But who got the money? Do we have a community center? Senior services and library expansion keeping pace with population? A parking garage? Roads keeping up with traffic?

Assembly Bill 489 assures property taxes continue growing 5-to-6 percent annually for several years even if property values fall. Mainly because the 3 percent cap on owner-owned residential tax increase is supplemented by a rich 8 percent cap on residential rentals and commercial property.

Yet incredibly, in the first year of slight economic easing, county commissioners scream “poor” and slap on new fees and taxes. Without taxes they threatened to cut all the services residents like most like library, senior services, parks, recreation, etc. Yet in 2008, property tax collected will rise more than 11 percent while sales taxes have topped but are still 10 percent above 2006 actually. So who got all that money?

I looked into their books. Three cash drains do absolutely nothing for taxpayers. First, personnel costs climbed from 75 percent of general fund expenditures a few years ago to 83 percent in 2007, headed for 86 percent by 2012. Employees swallowed $3.2 million more in 2007 while revenues rose only $2.7 million. Employees get $1.7 million still more in 2008 while revenue increased a mere $96,000. For several years county employees have been swallowing all revenue increases and more. It is reason No. 1 why growth has not paid for itself.

Secondly, redevelopment grabs $1.7 million of county property taxes to subsidize developers. Of that, $1.2 million comes from county residents. Redevelopment has been a $14 million boondoggle.

Thirdly, licenses/permits and service charges appear under-budgeted by over $1 million, apparently so commissioners can justify new fees and taxes. If I’m wrong and those revenue cuts are correct, then county expenses including payrolls should decrease by that same amount. Either way, this is a case of gross county mismanagement against taxpayers. It looks like Douglas County taxpayers exist only to support government employees and developers.

Utility fees hit low wage earners and those with large families most. Successive county commissions have destroyed the fiscal integrity of Douglas County. The much ballyhooed casino on redevelopment property will likely take from the county more than it gives. Just as the north county development on the west side of 395 clearly has.

To her credit Commissioner Nancy McDermid suggested an operation audit of all county departments, as Commissioner Brady has previously. Other commissioners did not applaud. Remember how commissioners are running the county’s finances in next year’s elections.

Commissioners could take to heart these excerpts from Gov. Gibbons:

“…I will not raise taxes on the people of this state. … I do not believe the citizens of our state should be required to shoulder the burden of paying for growth through higher taxes. …We have existing revenue streams that can and should fund our needs. We can and will use those revenues, not create new ones.”

— Jack Van Dien is a Gardnerville resident.