Questions about questions
Only two county-level ballot questions will appear on Washoe County’s 2012 general election ballot, but both have important implications regarding the health and well-being of residents.
WC-1 asks voters if local governments should unite in an agreement to provide the closest unit emergency response to fire and medical emergencies—an arrangement known as automatic aid. If passed, WC-1 would require emergency response teams from both the Reno Fire Department and the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District (TMFPD) to disregard their jurisdictional boundaries, responding instead to the emergencies which they can reach first.
Opponents of WC-1 say an automatic aid agreement would leave the TMFPD shorthanded. According to the ballot language argument, the City of Reno relies too heavily on automatic aid from the TMFPD, habitually closing stations closest to TMFPD boundaries when strapped for money. As a result, the ballot wording argues that over the past two years TMFPD units responded to the City of Reno “550 times annually more than City units responded to TMFPD.”
County Commissioner David Humke, a member of the TMFPD Board, said that although the commission recognizes that the City disproportionately benefits from an automatic aid agreement, he believes that the public benefit of automatic aid outweighs any disparity.
“Automatic aid just makes sense—it’s a good neighbor policy,” he said.
In a Sept. 11 meeting of the TMFPD Board of Fire Commissioners, Chief Charles A. Moore said the reluctance of the City and TMFPD to reach an automatic aid agreement unnecessarily endangers the public. Because emergency units respond only to calls within their own jurisdictional boundaries, certain areas in Washoe County cannot be reached in under eight minutes—the regional standard. Automatic aid, Moore said, would provide a quick remedy.
“I believe the citizens need to know that the closest fire truck to the scene of the emergency is not being dispatched. It defies logic, in my opinion,” he said. “Jurisdictions should and even must have automatic aid if you’re going to have the best possible service delivered to your citizens.”
WC-2, the second of the two county questions, asks Washoe County voters if more funding should be provided for “essential public services such as senior services, public safety services, and public infrastructure.” If passed, the measure would increases the Government Services Tax from its current rate at 4 percent to a maximum of 5 percent of the depreciated value of a motor vehicle.
If the Government Services Tax is increased by one percent, the average additional cost to a motor vehicle owner would be roughly $43 dollars per year.
County Commission chair John Breternitz said although he traditionally does not favor tax increases, he supports WC-2. Breternitz, a Republican, said senior services are particularly under-funded in Washoe County.
WC-2 opponents fault the question for its broad focus. Instead of dedicating the funds raised through the proposed tax increase solely to senior services, it that a portion of the funds would be directed toward “public safety services” and “public infrastructure.” Last week in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Republican Jim Clark—who said he drafted the sample ballot argument against the measure—wrote that WC-2 does not actually bind the county to use the new revenue for “the purposes they are implying” such as senior services.
Republican Humke said the broad focus of WC-2 was intended, as a safeguard against wasteful taxing. He said the commission once made the mistake of dedicating a tax source to a single purpose, earmarking a $0.03 property tax rate strictly for animal control services. “The property tax raised more money than the county could spend on animal services, and that’s not a good situation,” he said. “I subscribe to the theory that in government, you don’t spend more money just because you have it.”
WC-2 not only provides much-needed funding for senior services, but allows the commission to address other manifest needs in Washoe County, such as the under-funded Sherriff’s Department. Humke said the sheriff’s department currently has 28 empty deputy positions—a serious public safety issue.
In public infrastructure, Humke said the money would be used for small, but necessary capital improvement projects such as replacing roofs on public buildings. He also said such projects create creating jobs in the valley.