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County tables sales tax increase, abatement items

County commissioners Tuesday tabled two items sure to stir debate in the coming weeks.

The first was a proposed ordinance authorizing the county to abate structures within the county that are found to be hazardous.

The second item tabled was a half-cent sales tax to fund public safety.

Also on the agenda Tuesday were an item noting that Drug Court funds are now being remitted to the county after some controversy and that a letter spelling out corrective action being as part of the county’s official audit of fiscal year ending June 30, 2012.

Emergency abatement

Commissioners tabled the proposed emergency abatement addendum to Nye County Code Title 17 because the language is not yet satisfactory.

When asked for public comment on the item, resident Kenny Bent said several people continue to work on the item.

“I know there have been several people working on the wording trying to get this cleaned up. I know the clock has probably run out on this. I don’t think it was quite ready but I think there’s been quite a bit of progress on this.

Robert Adams, a resident on the south side, said his neighborhood could use the ordinance.

“I live in the southside, many abandoned properties in that area. This is essential,” he said.

The board voted unanimously to bring the item back at a later meeting.

Sales tax increase

Also tabled was the half-cent sales tax item, the result of a 2006 ballot initiative that never got past commissioners because of allegations of bribery.

Sheriff’s detectives in December 2007 alleged that then Commissioner Peter Liakopoulos had approached then Pahrump Town Board member Laurayne Murray with a promise to vote for the sales tax increase in exchange for her supporting his wife’s bid to become curator of a proposed veterans’ museum. He was convicted in 2009 and ever since the sales tax initiative has been a dead issue.

Now it is back because of the county’s financial situation, particularly persistent budget shortfalls at the sheriff’s office.

Commissioner Dan Schinhofen made the motion to continue the item this week because there was no plan submitted regarding how the money would be spent.

“We need to have a plan with it, a plan on how to spend it,” he said.

County Manager Pam Webster corrected Schinhofen and said that any plan would be on how the money would be distributed to the various county entities based on population not on how the entities would spend the money, which would be up to their supervisors.

Before tabling the item, Commissioner Lorinda Wichman raised concerns about a three-year sunset clause Schinhofen added to the item that wasn’t there when voters voted for the tax increase.

“Before this thing is brought back, I would like this board to consider changing the sunset on this. This has an automatic sunset on the bill the way it’s currently written for three years. I don’t know why it’s there. There isn’t anything in the original vote that shows why it’s there. It’s just there,” she said.

Schinhofen said he would explain when the item is brought back.

“Back in ‘06 when I first ran for office, this was a big item that people were talking about. I said at that time that if it passed a vote, I would support it. Finally have an opportunity to bring it back, we have a need, particularly in the county jail, for more people. I believe that would be self-sustaining and will create revenue. I believe that’s a good thing. For me, it’s very simple, it was voted on, we always talk about the will of the people and if a vote isn’t the will of the people, I don’t know what is,” he said.

During public comment, Bent wondered why the item simply isn’t put back on the ballot to allow voters to vote again.

“This was done back in 2006 where pretty much money was everywhere. Things have changed, this is seven years down the road. I would consider the thought of bringing this back to the people, I’m sure there would be a very big change of heart, maybe in the ballot in November next year. I would be a little bit curious to know what the differences in those budgets were for these departments in 2006 versus to what those budgets are like today,” he said.

Drug Court

Dan Schinhofen told commissioners that he would be bringing an item regarding Drug Court funds at a future commission meeting after he was informed that the court program was now remitting some of its fees to the county.

Controversy erupted over the program when it was made public that Fifth Judicial District Judge Robert Lane, Drug Court supervisor Tammi Odegard and former District Attorney Bob Beckett were operating a nonprofit organization that was holding fees paid by program participants, which raised eyebrows among a number of officials.

The county’s independent auditor, Dan McArthur, singled out the Drug Court program as an area that required scrutiny of its finances, suggesting that the nonprofit was a curious way to operate the program.

Schinhofen declined to describe what sort of item he was bringing about the Drug Court.

“I need to get my ducks in a row first,” he said.

Asked what sort of agreement was reached between county officials and the court over its finances and fees, District Attorney Brian Kunzi replied simply that the “current drug court administration agreed the funds were public and believed there needed to be public accountability for the use of the funds.”

Asked if there was a written agreement, Kunzi wrote in an email that “Court participation fees are being paid to the Treasurer. An agreement is not necessary for the treasurer to be used for the deposit of public funds.”

Curiously, a check of records at the Nevada Secretary of State’s website shows that Beckett remains a director of the Drug Court nonprofit.

County Audit Letter

Commissioners approved a lengthy letter of corrective action to go with its official fiscal year 2012 audit, which was about 10 months late and caused friction between the county and State Department of Taxation.

The letter covers nine areas within the county’s finances that required corrective action, including reconciling the general ledger, managing capital assets, allocation of property tax, reconciling payroll summaries, closing out financial reporting periods, managing Drug Court collections, and more.

The letter lists some of the effects of not taking corrective action, namely that account information will be incomplete or that information would even be misleading. The letter lists the county’s response to finding these problem areas as well as the corrective action taken.

Under a tab stating when the actions were implemented, each one states “immediately.”

Parties who wish to read the letter can go to this website, http:// nv-nyecounty.civicplus.com/AgendaCenter, and scroll down to the July 16 Board of County Commissioners meeting.

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