Posts Tagged ‘counties’

Dual “Anomaly” Districts Likely To Disappear In Nevada’s Redistricting Process

By Andrew Doughman | 12:36 pm March 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Ask people living near the strip in Las Vegas who their state senator is and, if they know, they might say Sen. Mark Manendo or Sen. David Parks.

They would both be right on both counts. Parks and Manendo represent one of the state’s two dual districts, which each have two senators.

They are a relic from a past era, and Parks says there is a “strong likelihood” they will soon be a thing of the past.

Parks is the chairman of the Senate committee that publicly works on drawing the boundaries.

“From a personal perspective, I’d sooner have a single Senate district because I would have fewer constituents to campaign to,” he said.

The Nevada Legislature will redraw political boundaries this year using data from the 2010 U.S. Census.

“It makes sense that the double districts go away,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, a Republican who represents Clark County District Five with Sen. Shirley Breeden, a Democrat. “What’s the rationale? If double districts are great, why aren’t double districts everywhere? It’s an anomaly. … I haven’t heard a single person argue for the merits of a double district.”

Clark County Senate Districts 5 and 7 have two Senators each. Those districts could disappear in the 2011 redistricting process. Legislative Counsel Bureau

About 475,000 Nevadans currently live in the dual districts that elect two senators each. Each dual-district senator technically represents half the district. The districts are double the size of districts that elect a single senator.

In the rest of Nevada, one district elects one senator.

Double districts are double the size to keep in line with national laws. National court rulings have established a “one person, one vote” rule.

Senate districts that are double the size of other districts must then have two senators. Or, the other way around, if a district has two senators, it must be double the size of districts that have one senator.

Campaigning in a double district is more difficult than in single districts. Roberson said that candidates have to solicit votes from double the voters, pay double the mailing costs and spend double the money in order to reach double the number of people.

In this century, the districts seem odd.

“Within the context of Nevada, it may be an anomaly,” said Guy Rocha, Nevada’s former state historian. “We don’t need it today.”

But it has not always been so.

The double districts came about as the United States Supreme Court made a ruling in the 1960s that changed the old way Nevada elected its senators.

Before, each of Nevada’s 17 counties elected one senator.

But as Clark County’s population grew, legislators in the north seemed to wield disproportionate influence since they represented fewer people than the Clark County legislators.

Nevada overhauled the way it elected its Senators and Assembly members in 1965 to use population, not county, as the base.

In 1971, Nevada had many districts where one district elected one assembly member or senator based on population. But Nevada also had one seven-member and one two-member district in Clark County and one four-member Washoe County district.

After 1971, these abnormal districts began to disappear.

By 1991, Clark County had five double districts. That number shrank to the current two double-districts in 2001.

Now it seems that they will all go away.

“It would end what I call a latter-day tradition,” Rocha said. “Perhaps, it’s served its purpose and served its time.”

Rep. Heller Urges House To Restore Geothermal Royalties To Local Counties

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 4:57 pm November 30th, 2010

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., today urged his colleagues to ensure that any Continuing Resolutions passed by the House include provisions to restore geothermal royalties to local counties.

The Office of Management and Budget has determined that under current funding legislation, local counties can no longer receive their share of geothermal royalties established under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

In a letter to House leaders, Heller said counties were stripped of their 25 percent of the geothermal royalties because of a provision “hidden” in Section 423 of the fiscal year 2010 Interior Appropriations legislation.

“This section robbed counties of their 25 percent share, which they depend upon to provide services,” Heller said in his letter. “To correct this, the Nevada delegation and others successfully worked to retroactively repeal the provision that stripped counties of this vital revenue as part of the Supplemental Appropriations Act.”

Because the current Continuing Resolution for FY 2011 refers to the FY 2010 Appropriations Act for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies and not the Supplemental Appropriations Act however, counties are again going without revenue sharing, Heller said.

This problem needs to be addressed in the upcoming Continuing Resolution and/or any other longer term funding bills, he said.

“Some of our western counties have as little as 2 percent taxable land base, and geothermal revenue sharing provides a funding stream that allowed communities to fund vital services such as law enforcement, emergency health care and search and rescue,” Heller said. “The repeal of geothermal revenue sharing is yet another problem for our public lands communities who bear the unique burdens of high federal land ownership. During these difficult economic times, the addition of this language, which has already been approved once by the House, is vital.

“Again, I strongly urge you to include language related to geothermal revenue sharing in the final version of the continuing resolution that the House will consider this week,” Heller concluded.

Budget Director Says Major Changes Needed To Fund Government Services

By Sean Whaley | 4:12 am August 10th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada could find a way out of its $3 billion revenue shortfall next year without raising taxes, but only if the Legislature looks at restructuring the way the state and local governments provide and pay for services, the state’s top fiscal officer said yesterday.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger, interviewed Monday on the Nevada NewsMakers television program, said the Legislature would also have to consider changes to the state’s collective bargaining law to get a handle on local government salaries, which he called “unsustainable.”

“I think there is a way to do it without raising taxes but you’re talking about some radical changes,” he said. “And I think the only way . . . to do it without raising taxes is you need to look at not only state government but you have to look at local government.”

Clinger said Nevada state government spends less money on its programs than other states. But when local government is added into the mix, the state falls into the middle of states on spending on government programs per capita.

The budget discussion in the upcoming legislative session would have to involve the potential shift of services between the government entities along with the revenues that would pay for them, he said.

In Nevada, property taxes pay for public education and local government but not state services. Sales and gaming taxes, along with the modified business tax and several other levies, are the revenues that fund state general fund government operations.

Clinger did not offer any specifics about what types of programs might be shifted as part of any realignment.

But Clinger said he does not see how the state’s potential $3 billion shortfall, which would approach 50 percent of what Nevada government needs to operate, from education to prisons, could be addressed solely with cuts at the state level.

The only program he mentioned during the interview was Nevada Check Up, a program funded by the state and federal government that provides health insurance to just under 22,000 low-income children who are not eligible for Medicaid. The program is costing the state general fund about $10.8 million this year. Another $25.4 million is coming from the federal government, funding that would be lost if the program was eliminated.

Clinger said the state’s collective bargaining statutes would also have to be part of any discussion by the governor and Legislature with local governments.

Clinger said the last surveys he reviewed showed state salaries about 7 percent ahead of the private sector, while local government salaries were running about 30 percent ahead of the private sector.

“You would have to open up the collective bargain statutes and make some changes there that could help sustain government moving forward because at those salary levels it is not sustainable,” he said.

State employees do not have collective bargaining rights in Nevada, although local government employees and teachers do.

Clinger said the $3 billion shortfall out of a two-year, $6.5 billion general fund budget can be partially addressed by actions the governor and Legislature can take on their own. State employee furloughs and benefit reductions, for example, could be continued for two more years at a savings of about $500 million, he said.

Much of the state budget shortfall is due to tax increases approved by lawmakers in 2009 that will expire unless extended, and the loss of future federal stimulus funds.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said she has heard concerns expressed by local government officials that there might be an effort to transfer state services to the local level.

“I have talked to several county commissioners who are quite concerned,” she said. “I think those discussions should be happening now if they are going to happen. I haven’t seen anyone organize a formal discussion.”

Leslie, who is running for an open seat in the state Senate, said she has heard there might be a list of programs that could be eliminated entirely or that could be potentially transferred to local government. But the counties do not have any surplus funds they could infuse into state programs if a transfer occurred, she said.

With a new governor coming in January and the two leading candidates for the job rejecting any call for new taxes as a solution to the state’s budget problems, not to mention a major turnover in the Legislature with the departure of long-time leaders, “we’re in a very tenuous spot,” Leslie said.

Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, a former state lawmaker, said a discussion of which level of government should provide what services is worth having, but she questioned whether it would deliver enough savings to make a significant difference in the state’s budget shortfall.

“I don’t think you can cost shift your way out of the budget problems,” she said.

Giunchigliani said the Legislature should take a look at the study on broadening the state’s sales tax base by the Nevada Policy Research Institute as a starting point for a conversation on the state’s revenue structure.

While not in support of taxing food or medical devices, the study looks at spreading the sales tax over a wider base while at the same time reducing the overall rate, she said.

“It gives the Legislature something to take a look at, and local governments should weigh in,” Giunchigliani said.

Ben Kieckhefer, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, which operates the Check Up program, said the trend his agency has seen is counties transferring programs to the state when possible due to funding concerns.

One recent example is the state having to pick up elder protective services from Clark County, which occurred on July 31, he said.


Audio clips:

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger says local governments would have to be involved in plan to balance state budget without new taxes:

080910Clinger1 :31 to other states.”

Clinger said a shift of services and funding between state and local government would be needed:

080910Clinger2 :24 sorts of things.”

Clinger says the state’s collective bargaining law would have to be part of the discussion:

080910Clinger3 :30 it’s not sustainable.”

Delay In Federal Payment Not Expected To Cause Hardship To Strapped Nevada Counties

By Sean Whaley | 1:57 pm June 21st, 2010

CARSON CITY – A delay in federal payments to Nevada’s counties is not anticipated to cause any financial problems for the cash-strapped local governments, officials said in interviews last week.

Nevada and other western states were notified last Wednesday that Payment in Lieu of Taxes funds from the U.S. Department of Interior for fiscal year 2010 will be delayed until July, a move that was criticized by Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

The payments to Nevada’s 17 counties, meant to provide compensation to offset the amount of land controlled by the federal government and thus not contributing to the tax base, are an important source of funds to the counties, said Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties.

“The most important thing is they get the money and they get the full amount appropriated,” he said.

Fontaine said he has not yet heard of concerns from any of the state’s 17 counties that the delay in the payment from June to July will cause any cash flow concerns.

Churchill County Commissioner Norm Frey said the delay is not expected to be an issue. The payment is expected by July 16, he said. The county received just over $2 million in payments in fiscal year 2009.

“If it is a couple of weeks delay it is not going to create any problems for us at this time,” he said. “We should be in pretty good shape.”

But the county has other financial problems, including sales tax revenues that are expected to be $2 million lower than projected by the end of this fiscal year, Frey said.

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said he does not believe the delay will be an issue for the counties, as long as the payment coming next month is the full amount. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., worked to get full funding for the payments, and any delay raises concerns about whether the full amount will be provided, he said.

If a county was relying on the payment to make it through the 2010 fiscal year that ends June 30 it could cause a problem, but Goicoechea said that would be an example of bad budgeting practices.

Fontaine said the payments can be substantial to rural counties with limited revenues. Humboldt County received $1.6 million in payments in 2009, Lyon, just over $2 million, Mineral County, $728,000, and Nye County almost $2.9 million.

While the delay should be only a minor convenience, it comes on top of another financial hit to several Nevada counties that have been receiving royalties from the Department of Interior on the sale and lease of BLM lands for geothermal development, Fontaine said.

In what he said was described by the agency as an oversight, the payments that have been made since 2005 are instead going to the U.S. treasury, he said. Nevada’s Congressional delegation is attempting to restore the funding through legislation but it has not yet happened, he said.

Despite the change, some payments had already been made to counties and now the Interior Department is demanding repayment of those funds by the end of the year, Fontaine said.

Payments were being made to 31 counties in six states, with Nevada having five of the top 10, he said.

“For some of the counties it is a huge amount of money,” Fontaine said.

Frey said Churchill is one of those counties getting a repayment notice, having been asked by the Interior Department to return $180,000.

“It was paid to us and we figured it was committed,” he said.

The royalty payment is worth about $4 million annually to Churchill County.

Frey said the county has seven operating plants in the county now.

Heller and several colleagues have asked that the royalties be restored in the tax extenders bill now under consideration.

“Some of our Western counties have as little as 2 percent taxable land base, and geothermal revenue sharing provides a funding stream that allows communities to fund vital services such as law enforcement, emergency health care and search and rescue,” the lawmakers said in their letter. “During these difficult economic times, the retention of this amendment in the final version of the bill is vital.”

Frey said the royalty payments, established in 2005 with the help of then Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., have totaled about $40 million and have helped the counties through tough times.

Goicoechea said he is concerned that the size of the federal deficit could mean a new and growing effort to eliminate programs and revenues to the counties.

“I’m afraid this is just the start,” he said. “I’m very concerned in the end they are going to have to take a lot of this money back.”


Audio clips

NACO Ex. Direct. Jeff Fontaine on delay not expected to be a problem:

061810Fontaine :34 something about that.”

Assemblyman Goicoechea on concerns about delay:

061810Goicoechea1 :26 to be for.”

Goicoechea on potential loss of federal funds:

061810Goicoechea2 :8 $13 trillion dollars.”

Churchill Commssioner Frey on value of geothermal payments to counties:

061810Frey :26 like that, so.”