By Mark Waite
If ballot question No. 2 passes, Pahrump voters will be doing the opposite of what petitioners in Amargosa Valley asked for and got last year.
Ballot question No. 2 would revert the Pahrump town board from an elected board with its own decision making powers to an advisory board, with decision making powers in the hands of the Nye County Commission.
A group of Amargosa Valley residents circulated a petition that was presented to the county commission with 126 signatures in May 2011 — well in excess of the 47 that were required — asking to upgrade their town board from an advisory board to an elected board with the ability to hire employees and pass ordinances. The 47 signatures represented 15 percent of the 307 people who had voted in the last general election.
County commissioners, instead of letting the question go on the ballot during this coming election, decided in July 2011 to enact an ordinance amending the county code giving Amargosa Valley an elected town board.
John Bosta, one of the leaders of the petition drive, referred to issues where the recommendations of the Amargosa Valley advisory board were disregarded by county commissioners. They included a petition opposing the expansion of the Ponderosa Dairy; an ordinance addressing the dumping of bio-solids from Orange County, Calif., at the Funeral Mountain Ranch; planning applications that were approved over their objection; a dispute after Nye County emergency services took over the Amargosa Valley Volunteer Fire Department; and, a hesitancy by county commissioners to appoint two town board members.
So given that experience, you would think Amargosa Valley leaders would suggest Pahrump voters reject the ballot question and preserve the autonomy of the town board, right?
Wrong. Two local leaders didn’t express any sympathy for the travails of the Pahrump Town Board.
Bosta said the main impetus for their petition was the Amargosa Valley town dispute with the county EMS department. That led to the firing of Amargosa Valley Fire Chief Lon Fuller, the resignation of numerous firefighters and after that, the resignations of four of the five Amargosa Valley town board members concerned over the town’s liability.
The first ordinance passed by the newly empowered Amargosa Valley Town Board was the creation of its own town fire department.
“When we went to the county and brought up items, the county didn’t agree with what we wanted,” Bosta said. “We decided to form the elected town board form of government so that we would have some power. Now the problem that you have in Pahrump is they have had a town elected board for years but that elected board has got to the point that they no longer serve their constituents. They’re going now and doing what they want to do as a group of five.”
“If I were able to vote, I would vote to change it to an advisory board. When you serve the public as an elected official I think you should listen to your constituents,” he said.
Bosta said financially the Pahrump Town Board used reserve funds and tax increases to balance its budget.
Amargosa Valley Town Board Chairman Joe DeLee said since they became a newly empowered town board Nye County has gone through a major administrative change, removing EMS Director Brent Jones and County Manager Rick Osborne, who were major sources of friction.
“That was the biggest reason why we decided to try to get into the elected status because of county administration that existed not that long ago. If it hadn’t have been for Brent Jones and Rick Osborne and the way they dealt with our town clerk and our fire department and us in general, we probably wouldn’t have tried to become an elected town board,” DeLee said.
But DeLee sides with the argument for passage of the ballot question that there is too much taxpayer money in Pahrump spent on redundant services. He offered some advice from over the hill, down the Bob Ruud Highway.
“If the Pahrump town board were to become a little fiscally tighter, maybe not quite so antagonistic toward the public, which I’ve heard some of their board members are, that they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in,” he said.
DeLee said when he took office five years ago he instituted public comment at the start and end of board meetings to get input before making policy, the same thing the Pahrump Town Board is being criticized for today. Previously the Amargosa Valley Town Board only received public comment at the end of the meeting.
When the county commission decided to give Amargosa Valley town board the elected form of government in July 2011, County Commissioner Joni Eastley questioned the town board’s financial ability to govern itself. Amargosa Valley is already at the maximum property tax cap of $3.64 per $100 of valuation and has very little commercial business.
DeLee said Amargosa Valley was able to save part of its town budget this year as he himself sat in as volunteer town clerk until the recent hiring of Mike Cottingam. Volunteers filled in after Larry Levy left as the town fire chief.
But Bosta said 92 percent of Amargosa Valley is public land and the town doesn’t receive any share of the Payment In Lieu of Taxes PILT given to Nye County by the federal government. Other than that, Bosta and DeLee both applauded the good working relationship they now have with Nye County. Bosta said the county and the town both came up with $75,000 to keep the Amargosa Valley clinic open.