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County backs down on water levy

For more than six decades, the Nevada State Engineer’s Office has collected revenue from a special levy on all taxable parcels in the Pahrump Valley but last year, Nye County officials took a stand against the assessment and declined to approve a resolution necessary to authorize the collection of that special levy.

Their reasoning centered on the fact that the special levy for Pahrump’s sole-source aquifer, Basin #162, was assessed in a different manner than others throughout the state, with property owners bearing the burden rather than those who hold water rights permits.

This situation has not altered in the 10 months since that decision was made but Nye County commissioners seemed to feel that there was little point in continuing to withhold the special levy. It was emphasized that Nevada law requires it to be paid and the Nevada State Engineer’s Office would be able to take legal action if the county refuses to make the payments.

Commissioners first began to question the special levy, which is used for the administration of the water resources in Basin #162, in 2020. Those questions apparently remained unanswered in 2021, when members of the board voiced much the same concerns that they had previously. It wasn’t until last year, however, that the county decided to forgo what many believe to be an unfair assessment of the water levy.

As discussed during the commission’s May 3, 2022 meeting, the special levy for Basin #162 is collected in a different manner than other basins within the state. In Basin #162, the levy is applied to all properties within the Pahrump Valley, while in other basins within Nye County, the assessment is paid for by those who actually hold water rights permits.

When a motion was made to adopt the 2022 resolution authorizing the special levy, it died for lack of a second, leaving the county in a clear position of opposition against the levy.

It was a different story last month when, although little had changed in terms of the commissioners’ attitudes, the majority of the board concurred that the assessment must be paid.

“I have a prejudice against this,” commissioner Frank Carbone stated as the discussion got underway on Feb. 22. “Hopefully we can eventually fix this because I believe that property owners who do not have water rights shouldn’t be taxed. Again, it should be the water purveyors to be the ones being taxed.”

Regardless of his stance on the matter, Carbone said the county’s hands were essentially tied by the law. Commissioner Debra Strickland agreed that Nevada Revised Statute would need to be amended in order to effect a change in the special levy.

“Unfortunately… this is what the law says,” Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi added. “You can’t avoid the assessment. If you don’t put the assessment on the properties, you still have to pay that assessment. And I think right now we are delinquent with the state, so that is something we have to address. Again, it’s not something you can walk away from, as far as the actual payment of the assessment.”

Commissioner Donna Cox was dead set against the item, stating that in her opinion, the special levy was a “mandate”, not a true law, and therefore should be disregarded. “I have never liked this to start with,” Cox declared. “And I don’t see where anything has changed. I feel the same as did last year.”

She asked if the county could simply keep postponing the payments until the Nevada Legislature gets the chance to address the issue but her fellow board members did not want to take that path.

“None of us think this is fair, that each and every one of us as property owners have to pay this assessment, when not all of us own water rights,” commission chair Bruce Jabbour asserted. “However… we are mandated by NRS (Nevada Revised Statute) and if we don’t like the NRS, or any NRS for that matter, then we go to legislation and we push to have it changed. That’s the only way to do it.”

Carbone said he hated to, but he made the motion to adopt the resolution authorizing the special levy. Strickland offered a second and the motion passed 4-1 with Cox the dissenting vote.

The special levy is assessed as a fee of $2.65 per taxable parcel in Pahrump, for total revenue of $136,000 for fiscal year 2022-2023. The Nevada State Engineer’s Office uses this funding to conduct studies and produce reports on the water resources in Basin #162, with reports dating back to 1959 available for public review. Those reports can be found online at www.water.nv.gov.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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