Tahoe County: Breaking up is hard to do, part 1
With a legislative discussion on the proposed Tahoe County fast approaching, questions abound. Residents of the Lake Tahoe Basin who soon may find themselves in a new county likely have questions about schools, representation and basic services they expect local government to provide.
Those in the Truckee Meadows and the Carson Valley may have questions about tax rates and the impact of a lake breakaway.
Legislators want to know how a new county will affect the rest of the state. They are concerned about sales tax distribution, the Nevada Plan governing school districts and the issue of precedence.
Soon, all the players will sit down at the same table for the first time since the Tahoe Citizens Committee launched its movement in October, 1996.
The legislation to create Tahoe County is expected to be introduced to the Legislature this week. The bill will be a broad framework of the government, the bulk of which was taken from a previous unsuccessful proposal to form Ponderosa County in Incline Village.
The details – from the finances to where the county seat would be located – will come out in legislative hearings, which could start as early as next week.
Tahoe Citizens Committee members have done their research, prepared their reports and hired their lobbyists. They will try to convince Nevada lawmakers that a separate county within the Lake Tahoe Basin is the only way to solve many problems they claim face their future.
They say stagnant growth in the basin compared with rapid development in the Carson Valley will, by the year 2000, cause them to lose representation on the Douglas County Board of Commissioners. They contend that while they make up 46 percent of Douglas County’s tax base, they receive much less back in services.
What proponents of Tahoe County really want is local control over where their money goes and how it is spent. They want more money for tourism promotion, consolidated management for snow removal and street maintenance, and more attention to the small schools they claim are neglected by the Douglas County School District.
At the same time, Douglas County officials will tell legislators that a split with Tahoe will be detrimental to the future of the valley.
Property taxes likely would have to be increased to the state cap in order to make up for the revenue loss under the TCC’s proposal. Bonds to pay for a growing school district would become nearly impossible to pass.
County politicians will say they don’t want to see their county, to which they have historical and emotional ties, cut in half. Officials will argue that the new county has little chance of surviving if a split takes place.
The TCC last year hired Lionel Sawyer & Collins – Nevada’s largest law firm – to study the financial feasibility of forming a new county. That report reveals a budget for Tahoe County could be balanced, based on a number of assumptions.
However, Douglas County Manager Dan Holler has challenged many of those assumptions, saying the revenue projections are as much as $3 million off.
What sales tax distribution formula will the new county use and how will that affect the rest of the state? What will happen with the issue of debt in both Douglas and Washoe? Because forming a new county will cause a tax hike in the valley, will it require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature?
These questions, which Holler feels are unanswered, are what leave him confident the measure will fail.
“Unless I am missing something big time, I just don’t see how it pencils out in the long term.”
Despite the monumental task before it, the TCC, made up of 930 residents and business owners in the basin, say it’s confident it will win the battle. It believes its argument, and particularly its supporting evidence, is one that will be difficult to ignore.
“We are more confident now than we were before,” said TCC Chairman Michael Jabara. “For the first time, the Legislature is getting a true understanding of the problems we face at Lake Tahoe, including an economy in crisis.”
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