Tahoe County proponents told to work it out.
Members of the select committee reviewing the Tahoe County proposal made it pretty clear Tuesday they aren’t quite ready to support creating a new county.
But they said there are definitely problems Douglas and Washoe county governments and school districts need to take care of.
After a six-hour hearing, the 14-member panel of Senators and Assembly members decided to give the counties, school districts and the Tahoe Citizens Committee until Monday to work out compromises to as many of the problems as possible.
Assemblyman Pete Ernaut, R-Reno, who represents the Incline Village area, led the questioning of the lengthy and detailed proposal presented by TCC and its lobbyist Harvey Whittemore.
“I am committed to fixing this problem,” said Ernaut referring to complaints about services and schools on both Washoe and Douglas county portions of the Tahoe Basin. “But have said many times creating a county is going too far.”
He said the proposed budgets showing that both the Tahoe school district and Tahoe County would be financially sound were riddled with assumptions that may or may not occur including that Washoe County would forgive the Incline Village from paying its share of the “fair share” tax shift or regional transportation debts.
“Assumptions can’t be a wish list,” he said. “They have to be reasonable.”
And he and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, questioned tax revenue and expense calculations presented making it clear they think Tahoe Basin residents would have to pay much higher tax rates than the supporters indicated.
“I’m hearing about a lot of tax increases,” said Raggio after Jabarra and others made repeated references to asking voters to pay for different construction and service needs of the new county.
Jabarra said if Tahoe voters reject the tax hikes needed to run the new county, “No county.”
And Ernie Adler, D-Carson City, said making Tahoe County a “guarantee” county under state tax law in effect says it will require state support to get its fair share of tax revenue and that money will come out of every other county budget.
In response to questions by Assemblywoman Vivian Freeman, R-Reno, TCC Chairman Mike Jabarra said they were also assuming that all county facilities belonging to Washoe and Douglas or to the school districts “would be transmitted at no cost.”
Jabarra and Whittemore repeated that they believe Tahoe residents are willing to pay for the right to govern their own local affairs and schools.
And Whittemore assured the select committee they have done everything possible to make sure Douglas County, which would lose upwards of $4 million a year in revenue from the Tahoe casino district, was compensated. However, under questioning, he admitted that assumes Douglas County would make major changes in its budget.
“This would allow them to phase out their over-reliance on these dollars,” he said. “We expect they would have to adjust their budgets to get their costs to go down.”
Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, said that amounts to making Douglas either cut services or raise fees and taxes.
The hearing began with a presentation more than three hours long by TCC laying out a litany of what they see as inequities. They said Douglas County in particular and both Washoe and Douglas school districts treat their basin schools like stepchildren, ignoring their needs. And they complained that much more money goes down the mountain than comes back up in services.
But Douglas County Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyan said the commission is making major changes to correct some of those inequities and provide the services at the lake.
Mary Henderson representing Washoe County said they have cooperated with TCC throughout the process without taking a stand on the proposed separation and is willing to try work out a solution.
TCC members also complained that Whittell High in Douglas doesn’t offer many programs and lacks computer labs as well as proper library space.
But Douglas School Board members said that situation is being fixed in this year’s budget which spends more than 70 percent of its capital improvement money at the lake.
Whittell will get its library and computer facility and there will be improvements at both the elementary and middle schools as well. And board members pointed out that the lake schools have very high test scores, in part because they have much smaller than average classes – less than 16 students in many classes and just five in one Whittell physics class.
Ted Harris of Incline Village said that area’s schools were also badly in need of help. He said the middle school roof leaks and it’s boiler needs work. He said a new elementary school is needed. But instead of building a new elementary school, he said the district sold the land it would have used for that purpose.
Washoe County School District, however, wasn’t there to respond, which drew a sharply worded objection from Sen. Jon Porter, R-Las Vegas.
“Washoe school district not being here is part of the problem,”
he said. “They represent 50,000 people and they’re not being here is unacceptable.”
It was also Porter who said there seems to be enough middle ground to work things out.
“It seems to me the districts and counties would really like to work something out,” he said and moved that the committee instruct them to get together with TCC and see how much can be fixed by Monday. He said everyone has agreed there have been problems in the past and that problems in the amounts and kinds of services provided to basin residents need to be upgraded.
The rest of the select committee agreed and voted to ask all the parties to see how much progress they can make by Monday.
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