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Did anyone win war in basin?

Michael Schneider

By the time June 3 rolled around, the battle between the lake and valley for lake portions of Douglas, Carson and Washoe counties had been hyped more than most heavyweight title fights.

Had the major networks covered the Tahoe Citizen’s Committee’s push to acquire the Nevada side of the Tahoe basin as its own county in 1997, it likely would have been called “War in the Basin” or something catchy along those lines.

As it was, the main battle – and its ultimate outcome came down to the citizen’s committee vs. Douglas County – Carson City and Washoe County and their areas of the basin had less interest in the outcome than the South Shore because the money machines in those areas lie in the valley. With little industry, the fuel which drives the Douglas engine emits from the Lake Tahoe casino core.



It’s often said in sports circles that a tie is like kissing your sister. If one looks at it from the guidelines offered before the Nevada Legislature when it heard testimony on the issue of splitting counties in June, it looks like a win for Douglas County.

If one listens to the Douglas County commissioners cry about lost room tax and the services which would have to be cut in the valley portion of Douglas County, they hardly sounded victorious.



Even if the TCC believes it won the battle, its representatives would not likely admit it, as that admission would also mean an admission of solely monetary motivation, not the admirable goals of a better school district and destiny control it preached.

There are many big rooms in the new Nevada State Legislature building in Carson City. None, however, are as big as the room in which the June 3 hearing was held.

This room, even with its upstairs balcony open, could not handle the onslaught of eager green-clad banner-waving citizen’s committee members as they poured into the Legislature by the bus load.

The first undertakings a journalist will proceed with at a crowded meeting are to find a seat and commence a head count. Both were impossible at the hearing as there was not a seat to be found and far too many heads to count.

The only position available in the room 15 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin was a spot behind a pillar facing a wall.

The meeting began with comments from McAvoy Layne, impersonating Mark Twain, as he craftily pointed out the differences in lake and valley people.

The Tahoe County proponents cheered loudly and waived their banners and there was a feeling of momentum squarely on the side of a Tahoe County.

Then the theatrics ended and proponents and opponents began to speak their positions to the legislative subcommittee and the momentum shifted.

When members of the legislative committee began to ask questions, it became obvious that the hearing was, in the view of the legislators, what the citizen’s committee got for their efforts – a chance to be heard but not really to be taken seriously.

But the TCC, led by Mike Jabara and lobbyist Harvey Whittemore, kept it together. In the face of criticism and badgering from the legislative committee which caused many of the crowd’s Tahoe County banners to go limp, the committee leaders appeared undaunted by the turn of events.

After the six-hour meeting, the message from the Legislature was clear: the two feuding factions were ordered to get along. The legislators told both sides that while there were legitimate problems which needed addressing, they didn’t have irreconcilable differences.

After being shot down in its quest for a new county, the citizen’s committee, with Whittemore’s skills as a lobbyist, began to search for other means to accomplish its goals while the Legislature remained in session.

First there came the push for a creation of lake-area school districts. Despite the Douglas County School District’s deserved reputation as the best in Nevada and its attention to many lake schools needs, the South Shore followed suit with Incline Village, who really needed one, in proposing a bill for separate school districts within counties.

Due mostly to tireless lobbying from Douglas School Board members Cheri Johnson and Don Forrester, the school district remained in tact and the legislation was vetoed after Douglas was removed from the bill. Jabara said this will be a focus area of the TCC as it moves into 1998 and tries to gain control of lake schools. The group will meet in mid-January.

The TCC didn’t get control or a divided school district, but it got the money.

After the passage of Assembly Bill 616 late in the legislative session, the lake and valley portions of the county will reverse shares of Transient Occupancy Tax over the next several years so that the lake will get the roughly two-thirds the valley once enjoyed, leaving the valley to hungrily consume its scraps.

Clearly, the TCC, as well as the gaming and tourist entities, gained a lot as a result of AB 616, monetarily speaking.

Clearly Douglas County lost a lot as it now struggles to make up its increasing lost revenue while the county must now talk about a taboo subject in Nevada – raising taxes.

But if one looks at it from the standpoint that it was purely a battle for governmental control of what would have been Tahoe County and the services it provides, the spoils still belong to Douglas.

A tie? Everybody pucker up, here comes sis.


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