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Will county support tax or lose services?

Michael Schneider

In the 1996 Douglas County general election, the voters decided acquisition of open spaces for preservation was not a good enough reason for a quarter-cent sales tax increase.

On the Sept. 1, 1998 ballot, there is question asking for a similar increase.

But this time, the stakes are higher.

Although they didn’t want to split up Douglas County in 1996, Nevada legislators were pressed into some action when hundreds of flag-waving Tahoe Citizen’s Committee members showed up for a hearing on a proposed Tahoe County in Carson City.

The action was a shift in room tax dollars from Carson Valley community services to Lake Tahoe tourism promotion.

Before the passage of Assembly Bill 616 – The Tahoe Douglas Visitor’s Authority Act – the valley got about 70 percent of the room tax collected at the lake while the remaining 30 percent went to promotion. In a few years, when the gradual phasing process initiated by AB 616 is complete, the split will still be 70-30 – but the recipients will be reversed.

Room tax money has been used previously in the county to fund senior services and parks and library operations.

With a significant portion of their budgets going away, county residents need to decide if keeping existing services is worth another quarter-cent of sales tax, or an extra dollar of tax for every $400 spent on taxable items.

If the question doesn’t pass, it is likely county services will have to be eliminated based on prioritization from the county commissioners and citizens. It is forecast by County Manager Dan Holler’s office that the Senior Center, library operations, child care, recreation programs, and park facilities, such as the fairgrounds and Kahle Park, will see service reductions. Some operations may cease completely.

Patty Timmens, Lake Tahoe branch librarian, said she doesn’t know what will happen if the question fails, but she does know the commission has said it will look hard at funding any services for which the public is not willing to pay.

Room tax funds about 97 percent of library operations, according to Timmens. The remaining tidbit is from overdue book fines.

Timmens pointed out that those services paid for by Transient Occupancy Taxes have been a donation from guests to the area.

“We provide a wonderful service, but the people in Douglas County don’t know it’s a gift,” Timmens said. “I don’t know why people are crying about all the tourists in town when we should have been thanking them.”

Douglas County also has used the room tax money to match federal grants for upkeep at the Minden-Tahoe Airport located in the Stephanie Way area of Carson Valley.

Holler spoke of recent runway improvements at the airport for which the six percent county matching funds came from TOT.

The county estimates a passage of the question would generate more than $1 million annually, offsetting the loss in room tax to Lake Tahoe tourism promotion.

Currently, sales tax in the county is at 6 percent, or six-and-a-half cents per dollar spent. The increase would raise it to 6 3/4 percent, making the county’s taxes higher than neighboring Lyon County, but still lower than Reno, Carson City and South Lake Tahoe.

“Without it, the county will be in a difficult position,” Holler said. “Where do you start cutting back?”

Holler said it would be up to the citizens to decide which services should have county support and which ones will have to be cut.

The question has received support from, among others, the county’s various chambers of commerce, all five county commissioners, the Business Council of Douglas County, and the Douglas County Building Industry Association.

Editor’s Note: Attempts to find any organized opposition to the ballot question were unsuccessful.

According to County Manager Dan Holler, there is no organized opposition to Question No. 1.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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