By Mark Waite
TONOPAH — Nye County received almost $119 million in Payment Equal to Taxes from the U.S. Department of Energy since 2000, Comptroller Susan Paprocki told county commissioners Wednesday.
The report requested by County Commissioner Frank Carbone listed bottom line figures, but didn’t itemize what projects the money was used for. Carbone said he’d like a follow-up report after the budget process is completed, in a couple months. The funds are now referred to as endowment funds.
The lucrative payments were negotiated in five-year agreements with the DOE while the Yucca Mountain project was in the planning stages, according to a section of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
The agreement in 1999 called for annual payments starting at $8 million annually, increasing up to $10 million. The next five-year agreement increased PETT fund payments gradually from $10.25 million in fiscal year 2003-04 to $11.25 million by fiscal year 2007-08, the peak year of payments.
In 2009, Congress agreed to set PETT fund payments at 4.5 percent of the budget for the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, which dropped the payment to $8.9 million. Then President Obama announced he was going to zero out funding for the project, but in January 2012 Nye County was able to bank $3.8 million in PETT funds after Congress approved a continuing resolution in 2011 with nuclear waste disposal funds.
Paprocki’s report noted $87.5 million of the PETT funds was put into the special projects fund since 2000 and $85.7 million was spent.
“We’ve used that for debt service, to pay medium term debt,” Paprocki said. She told Commissioner Donna Cox that the figure includes the building commissioners were sitting in. The special projects fund has $4.9 million in active, ongoing projects, Paprocki said.
When Carbone asked for specifics on the debt service, Paprocki said it went to purchase equipment and other things outright instead of using general fund money.
Another $10.5 million in PETT funds went to the emergency fund, $7.95 million of that was spent. The county allocated $10 million in PETT funds to the capital projects fund and spent $5.6 million; another $10 million was allocated to the education endowment fund, from which the county spent $4.1 million; and $1 million was allocated to the health services fund, where $120,024 was spent.
Paprocki explained the health service fund was established later than the others, in 2006. Those funds were used only sparingly, she said, like when there was an outbreak of the West Nile virus or when residents of Manhattan had to be provided drinking water due to stricter new arsenic standards while the county constructed a new water system. The uses by Nye County code may include emergency medical transportation equipment, public clinics and hospitals, required long term care facilities and health related educational programs.
Chapter 3.28 of the Nye County Code spells out the uses for the funds. Emergency fund money can be used to mitigate the effects of a natural disaster and pay expenses in responding to an emergency, it defines an emergency as any unforeseen circumstance that significantly endangers the health, safety or welfare of the county. The board has to issue a formal declaration a natural disaster exists. It can be used to repair roads, public buildings, utilities and parks.
The capital projects fund can only be used for the construction, extraordinary maintenance, repair or improvement of Nye County governmental facilities and for capital projects and capital expenditures. The annual budget must identify the facilities and/or capital projects along with the money to be spent.
Interest from the educational endowment fund may be used for educational purposes but the principal shall be maintained at all times.
The county realized $4.12 million in interest in the special projects fund, $3.45 million in the emergency fund, $3.8 million in the capital projects fund, $3.56 million in the education endowment fund and $1.46 million in the health services fund, Paprocki reported.
The peak year of PETT fund spending was in fiscal year 2010-2011 when the county spent almost $14.1 million, followed by FY 2009-2010 with $12.9 million and $11.5 million in 2007-2008.
The special projects fund has a balance of $5.87 million, the emergency fund $6 million, the capital projects fund $8.17 million, the education endowment fund $9.4 million and the health services fund $2.4 million, Paprocki reported. All told the county has $31.9 million left in all the PETT funds.
For this year, the county allocated $7.69 million in PETT fund spending, $4.9 million for the special projects fund, $2.78 million for the capital projects fund and $72,000 for the emergency fund.
Since the 2006-07 fiscal year, when the county began tracking PETT funding for projects, Nye County used $17.6 million for debt service on medium term obligations; $16.1 million for roads and other infrastructure; $7.48 million for contracts and other projects; $6.8 million for facilities; $4.87 million for equipment; $2.25 million to match impact fee money; $1.17 million to support other funds; $1.06 million for parks and recreation; $832,953 for grant matches; $750,000 for Great Basin College; $160,000 for educational trips and $133,127 for land.
Out of $59.3 million in expenditures spent since fiscal year 2006-07, $35.1 million was spent on debt service and other projects that didn’t have a specific location, Paprocki reported. The county spent $19.6 million of the PETT funds for projects specific to Pahrump, $2.45 million in Tonopah, $558,000 in Manhattan, $547,900 in Gabbs, $528,094 in Amargosa Valley, $293,932 in Beatty, $99,000 in Rhyolite, $73,000 in Belmont and $61,265 in Smoky Valley.
Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said the breakdown on the geographic allocation of funds disputes a misconception that Tonopah was getting much of the money. County Manager Pam Webster said some expenditures, like the purchase of the Harris microwave system and the sheriff’s department communication system, are used throughout the county.
Carbone asked, “any possible way we can go back in time and figure out what we’ve actually spent with this endowment?”
Webster said it was a settlement agreement the county accepted for the acreage of Yucca Mountain. But Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said Payment Equal to Taxes is really a misnomer.
“It never has been equal to taxes,” she said. “Our tax rate makes no difference to them.”
A county negotiating team had unsuccessfully requested a doubling in PETT fund reimbursements from $23 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year increasing to $29 million by this fiscal year. They pointed to other communities surrounding nuclear facilities which received much more government funding.