Get ready to pay the piper
Sometimes it’s got to suck to be an elected official. Once in a while, an issue comes along that is so messed up that even the most entrenched incumbents start to feel a growing thundercloud of electoral vulnerability. I imagine this is what the Washoe County commissioners are currently feeling. During a recent meeting, they voted unanimously to comply with the Nevada Supreme Court ruling that has compelled them to pay 8,700 Incline Village homeowners $40 million in property tax refunds.
In January 2006, Judge Maddox ruled that the methods used by the Washoe County assessor to appraise values of lake views and beaches were unconstitutional since the rules were not approved by the Nevada Tax Commission. It’s important to note that the rules were in line with federally accepted standards, but they were not approved by the tax commission, hence, they were found to be unconstitutional. The county was right, but they didn’t obtain the necessary approvals. A costly mistake.
Of the $40 million owed, $6 million is in interest costs, and $32 million is in tax refunds. Both of these amounts will get larger as time goes on and as each parcel is reviewed. It is estimated that Washoe County’s share of the tax refund bill, including interest, is $17 million.
The Washoe County School District officials estimate their pound of flesh is approximately $13 million, while the North Tahoe Fire Protection District estimates their share at $2.2 million. The Incline Village General Improvement District and the state of Nevada will also share in the remaining liabilities.
Fasten your seatbelts, kids. because now we have to pay for this. The county’s anticipated solution? A massive increase in our car registration fees for all Washoe County residents. The commissioners will tell you this is only a 1 percent fee, but understand that’s 1 percent of the total appraised value of your car, not 1 percent of what you currently pay. If your fancy new car costs $30k, you’re on the hook for almost $300 more.
Cheryl McKinney, a local bookkeeper and owner of a late-model Honda Ridgeline SUV, was none too happy when she heard this proposal. “That’s ridiculous! I live in Sun Valley. The county couldn’t pay for the upkeep of the pool in our area so the General Improvement District put up the funds. We have had to pay for ourselves. I think Incline Village has to have their area pay to fix their problem. I am not in charge of Incline Village, and lord knows their income bracket is way above mine. My Honda cost almost $7oo to register when new. I shouldn’t have to pay more for someone else’s screw up.”
This idea is receiving an equally warm reception from the transportation industry, as well.
“This proposal will harm any business that relies on an engine” says Paul Enos, CEO of the Nevada Motor Transport Association. “I represent a company in Washoe County with 85 trucks who would face a tax increase of $102,000 per year if this tax is raised. What will happen to Washoe County jobs if they decide to move to avoid this new tax?”
Enos is right. Should the rest of Washoe County have to pay higher cab fares, increased fees to rent a car, or anything else because county government screwed up? Do we deserve to pay 25 percent more to the DMV to register our cars since the county made a grievous mistake? The answer is no. It is unfortunate that Washoe County has to deal with this huge bill, but ultimately the responsibility doesn’t fall on the shoulders of the hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who don’t reside in Incline Village.
The Washoe County Commission contact phone number is (775) 328-2005.