(Jim Clark) – Will Washoe County have a happy new year? The portents are ominous.
First of all, there are the remaining lawsuits by the Village League to Save Incline Assets still on appeal. According to the League, there is one due to be handed down shortly in which the county’s liability to Incline/Crystal Bay property owners could be as high as $125,000,000. This would be on top of the $43,000,000 judgment they are slowly paying off right now. Plus there are several other suits in which the potential cost to the county is off the charts . . . no one will hazard a guess.
If the county had a risk manager, he/she might recommend getting an independent legal opinion and perhaps trying to settle the outstanding cases, but there doesn’t appear to be any danger of competent judgment being exercised by anyone at the county level.
Then there is their ongoing fight with the City of Reno over real estate taxes. The city alleges that the county has under-reimbursed it for taxes collected on properties within its redevelopment districts. The Nevada rule is that city redevelopment agencies are entitled to taxes attributable to any increase in values conferred by such agency by making improvements in run down areas. The dispute turns on interpretation of a 1987 law as well as assessed valuations. The city has already obtained a favorable interpretation from the Nevada Attorney General and has appropriated $100,000 to hire former Judge Mills Lane’s law firm.
Next, there is the issue of the current year’s property assessments. Washoe County property owners have already received notice of their assessed values for the 2012-13 tax year. In almost every case, the value attributable to the improvements has increased 7% to 10% (although in the current slump, land values have been lowered to absorb the increase). That is because Nevada law requires assessors to use replacement cost estimates promulgated by Marshall-Swift, a national construction valuation engineering firm.
What? Construction costs going up in an industry where half the work force is unemployed?? That is apparently what Marshall-Swift has said, but Washoe is the only Nevada county that is increasing improvement assessments based on this counterintuitive information. The Board of Equalization should be busy next year with tax appeals.
Finally, Washoe County will have to create a new fire district. They recently gave a one-year notice of termination of the fire services contract with the City of Reno. The reason was Reno’s inflexibility over the issue of fire crew size, the county figuring it could provide services cheaper with smaller crews. This will put the county smack in the middle of a fight with public safety employee unions.
For the year 2010, Reno’s fire battalion chiefs were at the top of the pay and benefits scale, above lawyers and managers, ranging from $207,000 to $296,000 per year plus overtime, vacation and sick leave. Multiply that by overstaffed fire crews and you can see there is something they need a union to protect.
Politically speaking, the unions can pour thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of candidates they recruit to run against any “union-busting” county commissioner. We have seen in Ohio and Wisconsin that public employee unions have lots of money and shoe leather; they have people to occupy capitol buildings, overturn legislation by public referendum, recall GOP state senators and maybe even recall a state governor.
All in all, 2012 is shaping up to be another challenging year for Washoe County
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and a member of the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees.)