By Mark Waite
The Regional Transportation Commission will ask Nye County commissioners to place a three-cent increase in the local gas tax on the November ballot again this year.
The ballot question failed miserably in the November 2010 general election by a margin of 78 percent to 22 percent.
“A large portion of it is from gas taxed from the Highway 95 corridor. We want to get money for additional work on the ground,” said RTC member Cameron McRae.
The additional three cents would hike the Nye County local gas tax to seven cents. It would raise county gas tax revenues from $810,387 to $1.48 million, an increase of $671,383, based upon the 2010-12 fiscal year gas sales, McRae said.
“We were actually getting $1.2 million to $1.3 million before the economy turned down. This will just get us back to where we were,” Public Works Director Dave Fanning told the RTC.
Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman, a member of the RTC, said that would be a good point to mention on the ballot question. But Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen, who is the third member of the board, thought 90 percent of the people wouldn’t read the arguments for and against the gas tax increase.
The request to the county commissioners passed unanimously.
McRae said the RTC doesn’t have the authority granted the Nye County Water District Board, which enacted a $5 per parcel fee last year after county commissioners balked at putting it on the ballot.
While a lot of road construction is taking place this year, McRae said there’s lots more to do.
“The roads are deteriorating. This isn’t going to solve everything, but it’s going to allow us to have 75 percent more funding to do work,” McRae said.
Nye County used $436,400 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also called federal economic stimulus money, to hire Frehner Construction to repave two miles of Gamebird Road between Homestead Road and Pahrump Valley Boulevard. Commissioners used $3.17 million built up in the impact fee fund to sign a contract with Wulfenstein Construction to reconstruct and widen Homestead Road between Highway 160 and Gamebird Road.
The county is using RTC money to pay Wulfenstein Construction $1.057 million for the reconstruction and widening of Dandelion Road between Highway 160 and Calvada Boulevard, which is currently underway. Wulfenstein will also be digging up and replacing sewer line trenching and repaving portions of Blagg Road using a $2.36 million contract, costs the county hopes to recoup from litigation.
Other roads can’t be addressed without gas tax money, McRae said.
Improved vehicle mileage and a depressed economy have resulted in a decline in gasoline sales in Nye County from 23.28 million gallons in 2005, to 20.96 million in 2009 and 15.5 million gallons by March 2010.
Fanning told the RTC the advisory committee working on the capital improvements plan met for the first time in over a year March 27. They’re reviewing future streets for repair, but Fanning said the top priorities will be Manse Road, Charleston Park Road and a section of Bell Vista Avenue. He added Pahrump Valley Boulevard is falling apart between Highway 160 and Gamebird Road.
The usual chip seal program hasn’t been renewed this year, in which a list of streets are addressed with a simple paving program that involves spreading oil, dumping type II gravel and rolling over it with a grader. Much of that work is done to comply with dust control regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, crews for Valley Slurry Seal chip sealed 20.9 miles of Pahrump roads and 3.9 miles in Amargosa Valley, with a $1.3 million contract. The county has now chip sealed 285 miles of Pahrump Valley roads.
Nye County has 2,690 miles of maintained roads, the second longest in the state behind Clark County.
Nevada counties are allowed to impose a local gas tax of up to nine cents per gallon. McRae said Clark County imposes the maximum nine cents per gallon plus a five cent per gallon tax override. Nine other counties out of the 17 counties in Nevada — Carson, Churchill, Humboldt, Lander, Lyon, Mineral, Pershing, Washoe and White Pine counties — also tax gasoline at the maximum nine-cent rate.
The last time the Nye County gas tax increase was on the ballot in 2010, the language for passage said the improvement in the quality of life would counteract the increased cost of gas. Inaction to repair roads could put driver safety at peril.
Arguments in opposition said it may encourage people to buy gas in Clark County where it’s often cheaper. It added Nye County residents already pay a combined 52 cents per gallon in federal, state and local gas taxes.
Actually, the cheapest Pahrump gas prices are now about a dime less than Las Vegas. The Maverik Market on the intersection of Homestead Road and Highway 160 in Pahrump Thursday morning advertised regular unleaded gas priced at $3.64 per gallon. The cheapest prices in Las Vegas listed on line Wednesday were $3.74 per gallon, which includes a handful of ARCO gas stations, a Pilot gas station in North Las Vegas, Costco and Sam’s Club.
Nye County residents have generally resisted ballot questions proposing tax increases. In 2004, they voted down by a margin of 65 to 35 percent a suggestion to impose a one-time tax up to $650 on new single-family dwellings and up to 65 cents per square foot on commercial development, to be used for the Regional Transportation Commission.
That same year they rejected a tax of five cents per $100 of valuation for the Pahrump Library District by a margin of 74 percent to 26 percent.
But in 2006 Nye County voters by a margin of 55 to 45 percent supported issuing general obligation bonds for schools and very narrowly, by a margin of 18 votes, approved a half-cent increase in the sales tax for firefighters and the sheriff’s department that was never subsequently passed by the county commission.