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Committee members don’t like TCC’s chances

Jenifer Ragland

Legislators who will serve on the select committee for Tahoe County say they are keeping an open mind on the issue, but some remain skeptical that the proposal could ever become a reality.

“Certainly the onus is on the Tahoe Citizens Committee to show the extraordinary need of why we need a new county,” said Pete Ernaut, R-Reno. “The case will have to be extraordinarily compelling – this isn’t light stuff. Changing county boundaries is probably of a higher threshold than generally anything else we deal with down here.”

In addition, Ernaut said the impact on the remaining valleys will definitely be a key issue.

“If by chance this was created, how would they then presume to fix all the other problems it would create in what was left in Douglas County?” he asked. “I don’t think anybody thinks it’s really gonna happen. I don’t know that anyone’s giving it much thought – this is old news in Washoe County.”

Assemblywoman Vivian Freeman, D-Sparks, will also serve on the select committee. Although she has not formed a strong opinion on Tahoe County before hearing the information, she said she is anxious to hear what the impact on Washoe County will be.

Freeman has served on the Government Affairs Committee for the past six sessions, and four times heard a bill to create Ponderosa County on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.

“I was skeptical, but I was not on the subcommittee so I didn’t have enough information,” she said. “Basically, legislators will do what they can to protect the district they represent.”

Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, says his opinion about Tahoe County has not changed since the concept was first introduced.

“I’m still of the opinion they would have to prove revenue neutrality to all remaining entities – if they can do that we can take a hard look at the entire issue on a fair and even basis,” he said.

However, Hettrick said he believes refiguring the Nevada Plan – necessary in order to make a Tahoe County School District work – is an unrealistic task to take on before the end of this legislative session.

“I’m afraid it’s too late to recoup that extra school money – it would mean revamping the entire Nevada Plan … and to change that without careful consideration would be difficult.”

Still, the assemblyman said he believes that even if a new county is not created, some action will come out of the committee.

“A great deal of change will come out of this in some fashion,” Hettrick said. “You don’t get clear to a legislative hearing without recognizing that clearly something needs to be addressed.”

While much of the discussion has centered around the impacts on Douglas and Washoe counties, Carson City representatives say they should also be considered in the decision-making process.

A portion of rural Carson City is proposed to be included in Tahoe County. Only a few people live there and the land is not zoned for development, but land is land, said Assemblyman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City.

“If the folks at either end of the lake make peace with the folks in the respective valleys and that includes the formation of a new county, and that takes land away from Carson, I would sincerely hope that there would be some carrot in the deal for Carson,” he said. “We’re not part of the problem so we shouldn’t be penalized if we’re part of the answer.”

He said the land that Carson City has at the lake may not be possible for development in 1997, but no one knows what can happen in 20 years.

“I would hate to say I was the one who was guarding the fort when that land was let go for free,” Amodei said. “If it heads a direction that requires taking land from Carson City, then I think Carson City does have a dog in that fight.”

Senator Ernest Alder, D-Carson City, who will also sit on the committee, said he gets the impression that Carson City leaders would rather not see their land split off.

“We’ve never been consulted about transferring that piece of land to the new county,” Alder said. “It would affect the rest of the county in a way, because we’ve kept it as an area that is undeveloped, and I’m not sure the new county would share our concern that it remain open space.”

However, Alder said he does recognize there is a problem between Tahoe residents and the bodies that govern them, and he is willing to listen to the testimony and ponder all the options.

“The people at Tahoe really feel like they haven’t been getting their fair share of services, and that perspective is a problem,” he said. “But whether we split them off as a different county is another question.”

Morgan Baumgartner, attorney with Lionel Sawyer & Collins and TCC lobbyist, said she believes the committee will be fair and impartial, and the process more efficient than it may have been otherwise.

The status of the bill to create Tahoe County is still unknown, so the hearing, scheduled for June 3, will most likely be on the general issues rather than a hearing on the bill, Baumgartner said.

“I think they’re all open to hearing the arguments. They realize there’s a problem and they’re interested in hearing the proposed solutions,” she said. “They may not be sold one way or the other because they haven’t heard the citizens of lake and the valley and the issues they face.”


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