By Mark Waite
Nye County commissioners agreed to place a question on the November ballot asking voters if they want to revert the Pahrump town board to an advisory board. Organizers of petition drives with four other ballot questions Monday wanted to know, what about the others?
Petitions circulated by the Concerned Citizens for a Safe Community in front of the Ian Deutch Justice Facility during early voting were turned in to the county clerk’s office June 29. Commissioners have to decide whether to place the questions on the ballot by next Monday, July 16.
There was some talk at a special county commissioner’s video conference last Monday about scheduling a special meeting to meet the deadline; County Manager Pam Webster agreed to meet with the group.
Don Cox, the husband of CCSC Chairman Donna Cox, a candidate for a new Pahrump county commission district, complained his group could’ve been notified sooner about District Attorney Brian Kunzi’s decision that the petitions were initiatives, which require more signatures than referendums.
“If they believe they’ve been aggrieved by that decision, they can file a court action to place it on the ballot,” Kunzi said.
Judith Holmgren, the head of Referendum 2012, asked commissioners if they’d voluntarily place all five questions on the ballot. Kunzi said they weren’t allowed to take action at last Monday’s meeting, the request was made under public comment.
Nye County Clerk Sam Merlino said the raw count of the petitions showed 1,657 asked for a ballot question on Yucca Mountain; 1,678 wanted a question on whether the U.S. Bureau of Land Management should be denied authority to round up wild horses; 1,876 wanted a vote on whether to deny attempts by the Pahrump Town Board to incorporate the town; 1,655 wanted a question to require a public vote before removing a 50,000-foot or 9.5-mile buffer zone between correctional institutions and residences; and 1,744 wanted a question on reverting the Pahrump town board to advisory board status.
The petitions were intended for countywide circulation. A referendum requires the signatures of only 10 percent of the voters in the last election, or 1,445 signatures; an initiative petition requires 15 percent, or 2,168 signatures.
A referendum seeks to change the law, while an initiative attempts to create new law, what the district attorney claimed the petitions were attempting to do.
Donna Cox said she’s been trying to get a clear definition of referendum versus an initiative. She recited the definition of a referendum from the dictionary, “vote by whole population on an issue; a vote by the whole of an electorate or a specific question or questions put to it by a government or a similar body.”
“I think this could go either way. I would like to make a request you deem them a referendum not an initiative so we could follow through and continue on where we are going now,” Donna Cox said.
Holmgren said she could submit the petitions directly to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office.
Catherine Lu, a spokesman for the Secretary of State, said the petitioners could file a complaint with the Election Integrity Task Force.
Otherwise, Lu told the Pahrump Valley Times, “We’re going to be letting the county courts handle the situation.”
CCSC members felt the county could’ve accommodated their shortage of time better.
“One of my questions is why we weren’t notified when these were given to the district attorney’s office?” Don Cox asked.
“A referendum is a referendum. We’re not asking for any law to be changed, we’re asking for it to go on the ballot so everybody can vote,” he said. “There was a lot of work put into this and a lot of money to be told mid-stream we didn’t do this right. We felt we did. Nobody’s given us anything in writing.”
The petitions had a deadline of June 29 to be turned in; Merlino didn’t receive the petitions fleeted up to Tonopah until July 2 and completed the raw count last Friday. Kunzi announced his opinion that they lacked enough signatures at a commission meeting July 3.
“I didn’t make any opinion prior to receiving the actual petition signatures,” Kunzi said.
The one petition that will be on the ballot, reverting the Pahrump town board to advisory status, means the county commission will be required to ratify their decisions including the budget. It will be a binding question, Kunzi said, that means if voters approve it in November, it becomes law.
The present Pahrump town board will exist for two more years, while present members serve out the two years remaining on their terms, Kunzi said. The two new elected town board members this November would only serve for two years, he said.
County Commissioner Butch Borasky suggested amid all the hoopla, they postpone a joint workshop between the county commission and Pahrump town board scheduled for next Monday.
“We will try to put that together at a later date. I don’t want to totally throw it out the window, but I want a slight pause here to let some hard feelings cool down,” Borasky said.
Another question that will appear on the November ballot asks voters to approve a three-cent increase in the local gas tax, after board action Monday. A similar question failed miserably in 2010 by an almost 80-20 vote.
Kunzi said the same questions for and against the question will be used as the last time, but there needs to be some updated figures.
Webster said the increase would result in $300,000 more revenues for the county. Borasky noted the price of gas is 30 cents per gallon cheaper in Pahrump than Las Vegas.
Kunzi said the gas tax increase would be an advisory question.
Commissioner Dan Schinhofen, who said he was against raising the gas tax last time, is a strong proponent for it this year. He said the newest ballot question would allow the increased gas tax to sunset after three years.
“The money needs to be used for roads that are past their used by date. We have 30, 40, 50-year-old roads,” Schinhofen said.
The ballot question was approved 3-0 by the Nye County Regional Transportation Commission April 17. It would raise the local gas tax to seven cents.
The explanation is the improvements in fuel economy of new vehicles resulted in fewer gallons of gas being sold in the county. The tax hasn’t been increased since its inception 25 years ago.