White Pine County restored to fiscal health

As Wall Street wobbles and the state budget withers, it seems as if you have to go all the way to Ely to find some promising financial news.

Three years ago, rural White Pine County made Nevada history by declaring a severe financial emergency and handing control of its budget to the Nevada Department of Taxation. Now state officials are planning their exit from the county seat of Ely, where coffers are full once again thanks in no small part to the Silver State’s latest mining boom.

The rural county has gone from monthly battles with negative fund balances to a cash reserve of $4 million to help it ride out a sudden decline in revenue.

The target date for the county to resume control of its finances is July 1, almost four years to the day that the Department of Taxation took over.

“I think we’re ready,” said White Pine County Commissioner Gary Lane.

The county just hired a new finance director who is slated to start work today, and last week the commissioners created an exit committee to oversee the transition.

“I don’t want to see them go away until we are on (as) solid financial ground as we can be,” said former Commissioner Brent Eldridge, who left office at the end of August. “I think we’re there.”

So does Terry Rubald, chief of the Department of Taxation’s division of assessment standards.

With its reserve fund, new accounting policies and spending controls, White Pine County is in far better shape than it was, Rubald said.

Simply put, state intervention “prevented insolvency,” she said.

The first thing state and county officials did was clamp down on expenses, Rubald said. “We had very tight budgets.”

To quickly build a reserve fund, they levied temporary taxes on sales, hotel rooms and government services in the county. Those taxes have since been lifted.

The county’s financial recovery plan was helped to a large extent by actual financial recovery there.

“It just kind of turned around all by itself,” Eldridge said. “The local economy is what really turned it around.”

And when he talks about the local economy, what Eldridge really means is “the mine and the spin from the mine.”

“The mining business really is the root cause of our ups and downs,” he said.

Right now, for example, business is booming at the open-pit copper mine five miles west of Ely. When the county’s revenues suddenly cratered in 2004, the mine was just coming back to life after a closure.

To truly insulate itself from the boom-and-bust cycle, White Pine County needs more than a rainy day fund, Lane said. It needs other industries, other employers, and other sources of tax revenue.

At the moment, he said, the best hope for that seems to rest with a pair of coal-fired power plants proposed in the area.

The projects have stirred concerns about air quality and drawn opposition from no less than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., but Lane said the commission considers them crucial to the county’s economic future.

“That way, no matter what happens with the mining, we’ll be stable,” he said.

It was a mining downturn, and the county’s failure to react to it, that led to the financial emergency.

Eldridge refused to point the finger at anyone specifically, but he acknowledged that county officials “lost track of things” in the months leading up to state intervention.

At one point during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005, the county exceeded its $7.6 million general fund budget by more than $1 million.

A last-ditch effort was made to stop the bleeding before the emergency was declared, but after layoffs and other cuts totaling more than $1.2 million the county still found itself roughly $250,000 in the red.

When the State Tax Commission voted unanimously to declare a severe financial emergency, it marked the first time such an action had been taken on behalf of a Nevada county.

The situation has improved since then, but White Pine County isn’t immune from the larger economic troubles now afflicting Nevada and the nation. The county’s unemployment rate has ticked up to 4.5 percent, its highest level since 2001, while taxable sales have declined by about 1.7 percent since June 2007, ending a streak of steep growth dating back several years.

And local officials recently learned that the Railroad Depot Museum, one of Ely’s more popular attractions, may be closed next year by state budget cuts.

Peter Barton, acting administrator for the State Division of Museums and History, said the depot is slated to close July 1 and remain shuttered for “the duration of the economic crisis.”

Lane said the move cuts “right to the heart of tourism” in Ely. The commission voted last week to send a letter protesting the closure to the governor and others.

“It’s horrible. We’re totally against it,” he said. “Why pick on us? We’re just struggling to survive over here.”

Barton said the depot museum and nearby freight barn has a two-person staff and costs the state $600,000 a year.

The state just wrapped up $1.4 million worth of renovations at the depot, which offers seasonal train rides along the tracks that used to serve mines in the area.

Those rides are not run by the state and are expected to continue, though the ticket booth inside the depot may have to relocate.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

Officer-involved shooting in Nye County
The Nye County Sheriff's Office gives information about a shooting in Pahrump on Thursday night after a man began firing shots outside of his home. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Law Enforcement Active Shooter Training Exercise
Multiple Las Vegas Valley law enforcement agencies held an active shooter drill at the Department of Public Safety’s Parole and Probation office on December 6, 2018. Officials set up the training exercise to include multiple active shooters, a barricaded suspect and multiple casualties. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Public memorial service for Jerry Herbst
Archiving effort hits milestone at Clark County Museum
The Clark County Museum catalogs the final item from the bulk of Route 91 Harvest festival artifacts. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Final Route 91 Harvest festival remembrance objects catalogued at Clark County Museum
The last of the more than 17,000 items left at the makeshift memorial near the Las Vegas sign after the Oct. 1 shootings have been catalogued at the Clark County Museum in Las Vegas. The final item was a black-and-white bumper sticker bearing "#VEGASSTRONG. An additional 200 items currently on display at the museum will be catalogued when the exhibit comes down. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dozier execution timeline
Scott Dozier was set to be executed July 11, 2018, at the Ely State Prison. Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez delayed the execution.
Grand Jury Indicts Constable for theft
A Clark County grand jury indicted Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell. A Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation prompted the criminal probe. The newspaper found Mitchell wrote himself thousands in checks, took out cash at ATMs and traveled on county funds. He faces four felony counts of theft and a county of public misconduct. Mitchell and his attorney could not be reached for comment.
93-year-old WWII veteran arrested during visit to VA hospital
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, 93, a World War II veteran, talks about his arrest during his visit to VA hospital on Friday, Nov. 30. (Erik Verduzco Las Vegas Review-Journal @Erik_Verduzco_
Pearl Harbor survivor struggles in her senior years
Winifred Kamen, 77, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor as an infant, works a 100 percent commission telemarketing job to make ends meet. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Metropolitan Briefing 18th street gang
Las Vegas Metropolitan briefs the media on the recent arrests made regarding the 18th street gang.
Man shot in Las Vegas traffic stop had knife, police say
Police said the man fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop in downtown Las Vegas had a “homemade knife.” Demontry Floytra Boyd, 43, died Saturday at University Medical Center from multiple gunshot wounds after officer Paul Bruning, 48, shot him during a traffic stop. Bruning pulled Boyd over on suspicion of driving recklessly at 7:41 a.m. near Sunrise Avenue and 18th Street.
Catahoula dogs rescued from home in Moapa Valley
Catahoula dogs were brought to The Animal Foundation after being rescued from home in Moapa Valley.
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses in California wildfire
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses she suffered in California's Woolsey Fire in Malibu in November. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Benefit dinner for Kerry Clasby, the Intuitive Forager
Sonia El-Nawal of Rooster Boy Cafe in Las Vegas talks about having a benefit for Kerry Clasby, known as the Intuitive Forager, who suffered losses on her farm in California’s Woolsey Fire in Malibu. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former President George H.W. Bush dies at 94
Former President George H.W. Bush has died at the age of 94. He died Friday night in Houston, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara.
Las Vegans Celebrate Big Snowfall
Las Vegans celebrate big snowfall at Lee Canyon.
Exploring old mines for denim jeans and other vintage items
Caden Gould of Genoa, Nev. talks about his experiences looking for vintage denim jeans and other items in old mines and other places areas across Nevada and the west.
Officers share photo of dead gunman after Las Vegas shooting
A little over an hour after SWAT officers entered Stephen Paddock's suite at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas police officers far from the scene were already sharing cell phone photos of the dead Oct. 1 gunman.
Frontier jet safely returns to Las Vegas after losing engine piece
Frontier jet safely returns to Las Vegas after losing engine piece. (@FlightAlerts_)
Park Service plans ahead for lower lake levels
National Park Service releases new plans to maintain access to the water as Lake Mead continues to shrink.
Women claim abuse at Florence McClure Women's Correctional Facility
Current and ex-inmates, including Merry West, are suing Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Facility, claiming abuse and inadequate medical care. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Butte County Sheriff's Office Body Cam Footage
Bodycam video from Butte County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office Deputy Aaron Parmley, who was in Paradise November 8 helping with evacuations. (Butte County Sheriff's Office)
NDOT construction blasting along State Route 106
NDOT construction blasting along State Route 160, near Mt. Potosi Road, in Clark County as part of a $59 million, 6-mile-long highway widening project that began this summer. (Nevada Department of Transportation)
Car crashes into Papa Murphy's Pizza shop
A driver crashed a car into a western Las Vegas Valley pizza shop on Tuesday morning, police said. (Joe Stanhibel/Special to Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Low-lake-level pumping station nears completion
Barnard Construction and the Southern Nevada Water Authority give one last tour before the new low-lake-level pumping station is activated.
Trailer: Valley of Fires
Sultan’s Playroom from Make-A-Wish Southern Nevada
Make-A-Wish Southern Nevada’s Scott Rosenzweig talks about granting Sultan Bouras Souissi’s wish, and what went into building it. (John Hornberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jim Marsh brings historic replica of rural church to Amargosa Valley
Jim Marsh talks during the opening of the Chapel at Longstreet, a replica of an 1874 Catholic church built in the mining town of Belmont, Nev., at Marsh's Longstreet Casino in Amargosa Valley, Nev. Chase Stevens/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas Livestock recycling Strip food waste
Las Vegas Livestock collects and recycles food from many Las Vegas Strip companies. (Nicole Raz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like