(Jim Clark) – Last summer, by a split vote, the Washoe County Commission authorized advisory ballot question WC-2 for November’s election asking: “Should the separate local governments of Reno and Washoe County pursue a consolidation of the two governments if such consolidation can be shown to save money and/or improve services?”
In the July 22, 2010 Bonanza I wrote in my column: This “brought back memories of Reno’s proposal in 2002 to unincorporate and add their 7 council members to the Washoe Board of County Commissioners. Then as now Sparks wanted no part of it. One Reno city councilperson was heard to say that Incline property taxes would immediately be increased to the statutory maximum.”
“So is this latest proposal a revival of earlier Anschluss attempts by Reno or is this to open the door to real economies and efficiencies in government? Incline’s former Commissioner, Jim Galloway, called to express an opinion that this proposal could make the Incline Tax Revolt look like chump change. He said that the appropriate way to do this would be for Reno to first file for municipal bankruptcy to deal with its crushing $619 million debt load and to restructure some overly generous public employee contracts . . . otherwise the entire county will inherit Reno’s financial woes. Then, he suggested, voters in the unincorporated county and Sparks should insist that any new additional county commissioners represent specific districts instead of being elected at large. He said that if possible the ballot question should require independent approvals by voters of Sparks, Reno and county areas.” His suggestions were not implemented by the County Commission.
In November Sparks voters rejected WC-2 by 53%; unincorporated county voters (including Incline/Crystal Bay) rejected the proposal by 54%; however Reno voters approved by 62% so countywide the measure passed. The Reno City Council lost little time pressing the advantage.
At their recent meeting Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza proposed that consolidation start with the County Commission and the City Council serving as one board. Councilman Dave Aiazzi suggested it could be an 11 member board. Reno City Manager Donna Dreska had proposed a deliberate process involving hiring a financial consultant to see if money could be saved, study other merged governments such as Carson City and then look at required legal and legislative actions. The council would have nothing to do with any such measured approach, Sferrazza saying that studies were done 8 years ago and “we got nowhere, and we go around in circles.” Aiazzi asked for a letter notifying the county that the city is willing to work with the legislature.
To paraphrase a line from an old Humphry Bogart movie: “Study? We don’t got no study! We don’t need no stinkin’ study. We’re the city council!” I am unclear on why the city leaders want to proceed headlong without even giving lip service to the part of WC-2 that says: “if such consolidation can be shown to save money and/or improve services.
We know from media reports that Reno has had problems paying its bills. Is this all-fired hurry because the council and mayor can see the end of their cash flow? Bloomberg Businessweek recently wrote: “Public officials shouldn’t even think about filing for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy to solve mounting labor costs and pension liabilities. Even talking about it will invite an inquiry from Fitch (municipal bond) Ratings.” So, we’re not likely to hear any explanation from the city.
The next joint meeting for Reno and Washoe County is February 1.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee)