Property tax raises sought in rural areas


CARSON CITY -- Some rural Nevada county officials will ask the Legislature in February to give them the authority to raise property taxes above the caps set by the Legislature in 2005.

The intent is to raise additional tax revenue to protect what they view as critical programs and services.

The bill draft request submitted by the Nevada Association of Counties would give a county commission the authority, with a two-thirds vote, to raise property taxes by up to 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation beyond the current caps to generate revenue to offset potential budget cuts in the areas of public safety, health and welfare services. Public hearings would be required.

The current tax caps of 3 percent for owner-occupied homes and 8 percent for other properties were established by the Legislature in response to accelerating property values and corresponding jumps in tax bills in much of the state.

Any tax increase approved under the legislation would be assessed against the actual value of the property and not based on the property tax revenue now generated under the caps. The additional new revenue would then, after the first year, be subject to the caps.

Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the association, said the proposal comes from some rural county representatives where declining tax revenues are having a significant impact on programs and services. Neither Washoe nor Clark counties has sought the legislation, he said.

"This proposal would provide the counties the flexibility to raise revenues to pay for these vital services which are currently being jeopardized," says the explanation for the bill draft request submitted by the association.

Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, chairman of the Senate Taxation Committee and a representative of several of Nevada's rural counties, said counties are always asking for home rule and the ability to make their own decisions, so they are welcome to bring the measure and take a shot.

A $50,000 reduction in a rural Nevada county budget could mean the layoff of a sheriff's deputy or the closure of a park, he said.

But lawmakers will be in a tough position with the bill, since there was widespread support to impose the caps in the first place, McGinness said.

He added it's likely that Gov. Jim Gibbons, who vetoed a bill in 2007 giving two rural counties permission to raise property taxes to build a juvenile detention center, will not "look kindly on this proposal either."

Gibbons vetoed the 2007 measure saying it would permit commissioners to raise property taxes without going to a vote of the people.

The proposed bill would also allow tax increases without a vote of the people.

Erik Pappa, director of public communications for Clark County, said the measure isn't being sought by the state's most populous county.

"We've committed to living within our means," he said. "We're having to tighten our belts, given the current economic downtown, just like our citizens, the state and the cities.

"The County Commission hasn't weighed in on this matter, though staff isn't recommending increasing property taxes," Pappa said. "Our strategy has been to reduce spending. Nonetheless, we respect that the other counties have a different perspective."

Sharron Angle, a former state lawmaker who is trying to get a California-style Proposition 13 property tax cap on the November ballot, said the proposed legislation is exactly why her proposed constitutional amendment is needed. Putting a tax cap in the constitution would mean it could not be tampered with by lawmakers, she said.

"The way I read it, it is a precursor to removing the 3 percent and 8 percent caps all together," Angle said. "It's what we've said all along. The caps are temporary as soon as government needs the money."

Angle's amendment was certified for the ballot by Secretary of State Ross Miller.

But senior Judge Charles McGee ruled on Sept. 9 that the tax cap measure was flawed. The decision, which was appealed to the state Supreme Court, was sought by the Nevada State Education Association over the issue of affidavits required to be submitted with the signatures by the circulators. The affidavits are required to prevent voter fraud.

Angle has tried for years to get a property tax limit into the Nevada Constitution.

Nevada's secretary of state has told county election officials to remove the plan from their Nov. 4 ballots now that McGee has ruled against it.

Joel Hansen, the attorney for the tax cap group, filed an appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court and also asked for an emergency stay pending outcome of the appeal.

Angle's proposed constitutional amendment would limit property tax increases to 2 percent per year for all property until it is sold.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775 687-3900. The Associated Press contributed to this report.