By Mark Waite
TONOPAH — The effects of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, cuts to the community college system and the proposed relinquishment of certain roads to the counties will be issues the Nevada Association of Counties will be following closely in the upcoming 2013 state legislative session, NACO Executive Director Jeff Fontaine told Nye County commissioners Tuesday.
Commissioner Joni Eastley gave a hint how she may be spending some of her time after she leaves office in January, as NACO adopted her suggestion to create an emeritus board of outgoing county officials, who left office due to term limits or other reasons, who will help lobby the state Legislature and mentor incoming county officials.
NACO President Jerrie Tipton, a Mineral County commissioner, said 500 bill draft requests have already been filed for the 2013 state legislative session that begins in February; 100 could affect counties.
NACO talked to the congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. about impacts from the Affordable Care Act in Nevada, collecting remote sales taxes from Internet sales and continuing a program that provided $23 million of Payment In Lieu of Taxes PILT money to Nevada counties, Fontaine said.
NACO also wants to redirect revenues from geothermal leases and royalties back to counties that were seized by the federal government the last few years, he said.
“We need to extend it to other renewables, the solar projects, wind projects on public lands in your county. We want to see a minimum of 25 percent of those revenues go to the counties as well,” Fontaine said.
NACO filed comments with the U.S. Department of the Interior asking that the programmatic environmental impact statement for renewable energy being prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management include consideration of local land use plans, Fontaine said. He said NACO has been in support of U.S. Senate Bill 1175 which would allocate a portion of revenue from renewable energy projects to counties. Fontaine was confident the State Office of Energy will order audits of companies receiving partial tax abatements offered in Nevada, to ensure they comply with the conditions, he wants to limit abatements only on equipment that remains on site.
Significant cuts to community colleges and the cooperative extension service are looming, Fontaine said. A Board of Regents recommendation is to cut community college funding by 39 percent.
“You’re going to be in a situation where the counties will end up being the largest revenue source for the cooperative extension,” Fontaine said.
There was also a discussion about counties funding community colleges, he said.
“The university and community college system in this state report to an independent body called the Board of Regents. Even if local dollars were flowing into the community college system you would have no ability to govern what those community colleges do,” Fontaine said.
The Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, allows states to expand Medicaid coverage to people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, Fontaine said. That will mean counties pay less for indigent medical care, because more patients will be covered by Medicaid, but the state may grab money from the county indigent tax to meet that obligation, he said.
The Nevada Department of Transportation has a bill draft request to transfer some state roads to county maintenance, including 63.5 miles of Nye County roads, Fontaine said. That includes the road to the Tonopah Test Range, the Manhattan Road, the Ione Road, Radar Road in Tonopah,the Basic Refinery Road in Gabbs and the Duckwater Road.
“It’s roads that under ideal circumstances we have a lot of trouble getting to. They don’t want to maintain them for the same reason we don’t want to take them,” Eastley said.
NACO will introduce a bill draft requesting counties get 20 percent of the $85 million in annual diesel tax revenues paid to the state, Fontaine said. Another BDR would provide a dedicated revenue source to help counties pay for indigent defense, he said.
In the 2011 session the state Legislature passed along several programs to counties estimated at the time to cost counties $14 million. Nye County was faced with $274,528 in additional costs placing children removed from their homes and $122,427 administering Medical Assistance to the Aged, Blind and Disabled MAABD . Counties also had to pay for pre-sentence investigations, mental health room and board and consumer health protection.
Fontaine said Michael Willden, director of the Nevada Division of Health agreed to cap the county’s costs on his programs, particularly Medicaid costs for long term care. But Fontaine said some rural counties can’t pay the costs of programs shifted to them by the state.
“We had billings sent to counties that far exceeded what the state projected and what was in their legislatively-approved budget and what they told legislative committees those costs would be to counties,” Fontaine said.
Under the direction of Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman, NACO filed an amicus brief in support of a State of Wyoming appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on the roadless initiative by the U.S. Forest Service, Fontaine said. Wichman didn’t attend the county commission meeting, she was enroute to Kodiak, Alaska for a national public lands meeting.
NACO sent off a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar demanding the U.S. Bureau of Land Management keep the numbers of wild horses down to appropriate management levels, Fontaine said. NACO has also been involved with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Sage Grouse Task Force, he said.
Fontaine was looking forward to using the expertise of an emeritus board.
“We were concerned with the combined years of experience we were losing. We saw what is happening in the Legislature. We were anticipating a similar crisis in county government,” Eastley said.