Another Douglas County-Tahoe battle may be brewing
Yet another battle may be brewing between Lake Tahoe residents and Douglas County Commissioners.
This time the controversy surrounds the Douglas County Water District – an assessment district that, along with a 7-cent property tax, was repealed after strong opposition by the Tahoe Citizens Committee last year.
While still in the midst of the TCC’s movement to secede from Douglas County, the board today will consider re-creating the water district, which would have otherwise been eliminated on July 1.
An ordinance before the board assumes the countywide district would have continuous existence, so the previously approved repeal would not take place.
For the 1997-98 fiscal year, the tax rate would remain set at zero, said Scott Doyle, district attorney. However, the existence of a district opens up the possibility for the board to impose a property tax – up to 7 cents – in the future.
“This ordinance does not implement the tax we are authorized to impose, but it is a method to protect the fact that we suspect, in the future, there may be a need for the district,” said Jacques Etchegoyhen, board chairman.
Mike Jabara, chair of the TCC, said the group is still against the water district because he believes the board would eventually levy a tax.
“Forty percent of the taxes will be paid by us, and I doubt that 40 percent will be returned to us,” he said. “We are opposed to re-creating the tax if it is applied to us. We fail to see how it’s going to benefit Lake Tahoe.”
The TCC is a group of more than 1,000 concerned Tahoe Basin citizens who are trying to form Tahoe County, which would stretch from Stateline to Crystal Bay.
One of the driving arguments behind the movement is the lack of representative government in Douglas County. According to Jabara, re-creating a district that the TCC obviously opposes is just one more example of it.
Etchegoyhen said he can appreciate the TCC’s concern, but feels the water district will benefit Lake Tahoe as its infrastructure deteriorates.
“Our past track record has not been the best, but I think the current commission is bending over backward,” he said. “If anything, we are catching heat down here because the perception is we’re overcompensating.”
The dispute over the water district stemmed from lake residents’ dissatisfaction with the board’s policy regarding expenditure of the fund, which allowed money to be spent only on efforts that had countywide benefit rather than for individual projects.
“We have spent millions of dollars in our GIDs building water systems, and the county didn’t contribute one nickel out of that fund,” Jabara said. “If they bring it back, the likelihood is that it’s going to go to subsidize valley water systems because our water systems are already built.”
But Commissioner Don Miner said the new board has adopted the policy that any area in the county could apply for a grant from the water district fund.
He said dividing the county into three separate taxing districts – a plan discussed by the previous commission – is no longer the favorable option.
“In the practical world of countywide water districts, chopping it up doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Miner said. “I am personally leaning toward a consistent revenue source to provide the necessary water infrastructure throughout Douglas County on a priority-needs basis.”
But it is clear that even with the ability to use the funds for specific projects, the water district will face strong opposition from Lake Tahoe taxpayers.
“We’re done building our water systems, so we’re through with the need for such a district. I would look at it now as they want to take more money from Tahoe and spend it in the valley,” said Bruce Kanoff, former Douglas County commissioner and member of the TCC executive board. “To impose a countywide tax would, to me, be political suicide.”
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