A group of Pahrump residents filed a notice of intent with the Nye County Clerk’s Office on Monday, the first step in placing a question on the 2016 ballot in an attempt to move the county seat from Tonopah to Pahrump.
The group is led by Andy Alberti, who presented his plan to move the Nye County seat from Tonopah to Pahrump in July 2015, but found little support among Nye County officials.
When contacted by phone, Alberti said his idea is supported by “quite a few” people in Pahrump.
“We believe we need the county seat moved to consolidate the offices,” he said.
Alberti argued that some of the consequences of having a county seat in Tonopah instead of Pahrump include higher tax rates, higher overhead costs, opportunities for waste and corruption, less transparency in county affairs, difficulty in managing programs and ineffective utilization of county employees.
Additionally, the group also filed notices of intent for ballot questions to repeal a recently-passed gas tax and the Nye County public safety sales tax passed by voters in 2006.
“As for the tax issues, we believe the budget is a big issue,” Alberti said. “As an example, the jail in Tonopah has a capacity for 80 inmates. It has 40 beds and looking at the inmate population, it doesn’t approach one person per day. We were spending $1.2 million annually. Now we have declared it a holding facility and budgeted $400,000. We can do better when it comes to this expense.”
The public safety sales tax was enacted in 2013 and intended to raise more money for the sheriff and fire departments. It can’t cover operational expenses and has to be used for unbudgeted expenditures. Officials however weren’t able to use the collected money as they have been waiting on the district attorney’s opinion on the base year.
In October, Nye County officials unanimously voted to raise the fuel sales tax to 9 cents per gallon from the previous 4.
The fuel tax dollars must be spent on roads, which is authorized by Nevada Revised Statute 373, but Alberti said officials had never specified how they would use the tax dollars.
“They never outlined what they want to do with the money,” Alberti said.
“What do they they mean: Do they want to blacktop roads or fix potholes?”
Alberti also said that the group of petitioners believes that the county seat belongs at the location of the population density.
The first county seat was Ione in 1864 before it was moved to Belmont in 1867. Tonopah became the county seat in 1905.
“Historically this has occurred twice in Nye County,” Alberti said. “The time is nigh for another adjustment and to make Pahrump the county seat.”
Lorinda Wichman, Nye County Commission chair, declined to comment on the group’s efforts to repeal the taxes but said the county currently has duplicate services in both towns that seem to serve all “very well.”
“Moving a county seat in the past was a big deal, mostly because it involved the control of documents and the jail but Nye County is unique in size and location of the center,” said Wichman, who represents northern Nye County. “It was necessary for the seat of the government to be centrally located. Due to these historical reasons Tonopah was the logical location, being the most central town. However, since there were such long distances between Tonopah and Pahrump, as the town grew the board began the efforts of providing satellite offices in Pahrump.”
Wichman added there’s not much advantage to changing the seat.
“The distances still remain and the largest area of Nye County is serviced by Tonopah so duplicate services would still be necessary in order to be accessible to the residents.”
Commissioner Frank Carbone declined to comment.
According to state law, the group would have to get signatures from 10 percent (or 1,225 signatures) of county residents who voted in the last general election. The filings also would have to be verified by the clerk and the district attorney before going before the Nye County Commission for discussion.
-Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @dariasokolova77