Charge of tax break denied


Taking the stage Tuesday at the ceremonial groundbreaking for an industrial park outside Las Vegas, Gov. Jim Gibbons began, "Let me make full disclosure, since the press is here. One, I do not have a financial interest in this project. Two, I did not use my power as governor to get to speak up here."

The reference to his ethical troubles drew nervous laughter.

In an interview, Gibbons said the claim that he used his position to get a discount on his taxes was "baseless" and called the ethics complaint that has been lodged against him partisan.

"I cannot imagine it being anything but that," he said.

The executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party has submitted a complaint to the state Ethics Commission charging that Gibbons got a tax break he didn't deserve on a piece of vacant land in rural Elko County.

The 40 acres were part of a ranch owned by a former judge, Jerry Carr Whitehead, who has paid Gibbons more than $5,700 in lease payments to use the land for grazing.

Based on that, Gibbons said the land deserved to be classified as agricultural.

"The property had an existing agricultural exemption on it when I bought it," he said. "It still is part of that larger property. It is still used by that larger property."

Elko County Assessor Joe Aguirre has said he felt pressured by Gibbons and Gibbons' lawyer in the matter, Tax Commissioner John Marvel, to grant the agricultural status.

Aguirre has said he didn't think the parcel, which was leased for grazing cattle, merited the designation, which decreased Gibbons' property taxes from as much as $5,000 to about $40.

"I'm not going to question the assessor of Elko County's failure to do his job," Gibbons said.

He said he spoke to Aguirre only briefly when he visited the assessor's office to inquire about the property.

"I just went in to ask him what the process was to retain the agricultural exemption," he said. "He pulled the statute out, showed me, and I said, 'OK,' and left."

Gibbons said he didn't recall whether Aguirre told him at that time that the property was likely too small to qualify for the exemption.

"I don't know how he would make that judgment, because he knew nothing about the parcel itself," Gibbons said. "He had not been there. He didn't know what I was using it for."

After the visit from Gibbons, Aguirre corresponded with Marvel about the property.

"I don't believe John E. Marvel put any sort of undue pressure on him at all," Gibbons said.

Marvel on Monday called the ethics complaint, lodged against him as well, "ludicrous" and a waste of time for both the parties accused and the taxpayers.

The governor said he has no plans to develop the land.

"Down the road, I may use it for something other than agriculture," he said. "Right now it's just used for agriculture."

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

By MOLLY BALL

REVIEW-JOURNAL

Taking the stage Tuesday at the ceremonial groundbreaking for an industrial park outside Las Vegas, Gov. Jim Gibbons began, "Let me make full disclosure, since the press is here. One, I do not have a financial interest in this project. Two, I did not use my power as governor to get to speak up here."

The reference to his ethical troubles drew nervous laughter.

In an interview, Gibbons said the claim that he used his position to get a discount on his taxes was "baseless" and called the ethics complaint that has been lodged against him partisan.

"I cannot imagine it being anything but that," he said.

The executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party has submitted a complaint to the state Ethics Commission charging that Gibbons got a tax break he didn't deserve on a piece of vacant land in rural Elko County.

The 40 acres were part of a ranch owned by a former judge, Jerry Carr Whitehead, who has paid Gibbons more than $5,700 in lease payments to use the land for grazing.

Based on that, Gibbons said the land deserved to be classified as agricultural.

"The property had an existing agricultural exemption on it when I bought it," he said. "It still is part of that larger property. It is still used by that larger property."

Elko County Assessor Joe Aguirre has said he felt pressured by Gibbons and Gibbons' lawyer in the matter, Tax Commissioner John Marvel, to grant the agricultural status.

Aguirre has said he didn't think the parcel, which was leased for grazing cattle, merited the designation, which decreased Gibbons' property taxes from as much as $5,000 to about $40.

"I'm not going to question the assessor of Elko County's failure to do his job," Gibbons said.

He said he spoke to Aguirre only briefly when he visited the assessor's office to inquire about the property.

"I just went in to ask him what the process was to retain the agricultural exemption," he said. "He pulled the statute out, showed me, and I said, 'OK,' and left."

Gibbons said he didn't recall whether Aguirre told him at that time that the property was likely too small to qualify for the exemption.

"I don't know how he would make that judgment, because he knew nothing about the parcel itself," Gibbons said. "He had not been there. He didn't know what I was using it for."

After the visit from Gibbons, Aguirre corresponded with Marvel about the property.

"I don't believe John E. Marvel put any sort of undue pressure on him at all," Gibbons said.

Marvel on Monday called the ethics complaint, lodged against him as well, "ludicrous" and a waste of time for both the parties accused and the taxpayers.

The governor said he has no plans to develop the land.

"Down the road, I may use it for something other than agriculture," he said. "Right now it's just used for agriculture."

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

 

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