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Nye County Commission poised to nullify 600% parcel fee hike

Updated December 20, 2019 - 11:40 am

The Nye County Commission is poised to overturn the 600% per parcel fee increase recently approved by the Nye County Water District Governing Board, following the commission’s Dec. 17 meeting where there was an inundation of area residents unified in their anger over the increase.

The reversal of that fee hike appears to be a given outcome, with a majority of the commission offering statements during the meeting that made it clear they were not in support of the increase either.

The per parcel fee is a charge that appears on every Nye County property owner’s property tax bill and that funding goes toward the operation of the Nye County Water District.

The water board voted unanimously to raise the per parcel fee charged on Pahrump properties, roughly 50,000 lots, from $5 to $35 at its Dec. 9 meeting, in order to fund an exploration project intended to determine if there is additional water available in the deep carbonate aquifer of Pahrump’s Basin #162 that could support continued development in the valley.

That decision sparked immediate backlash from the community and Nye County Commissioner Debra Strickland, obviously frustrated by the move herself, took action to have the issue placed on the Dec. 17 agenda so the commission could discuss the water board’s decision in a public forum.

Nearly two dozen area residents took the opportunity to express their thoughts on the matter. A vast majority of the statements made that morning were staunchly against the parcel fee increase, although a water board member was in attendance to voice his support for the action.

Amargosa resident John Bosta, who has been following the water board and local water issues for many years, started things off by declaring that in his interpretation of the law, the water board did not have the authority to impose any kind of fee in the first place, let alone raise it. He argued that a fee is charge for a specific benefit to the payer and he felt that the water board did not provide any direct benefit to him or other parcel fee payers throughout the county.

Private Well Owners Cooperation Association President Matt Burg and director at large Helene Williams spoke as well, reading into the record a letter prepared by the cooperative which included a request for the commission to, “Deny this project completely as an irresponsible and cumbersome project that has no benefit to the property owners within Basin #162 and the matter be closed with no further action.”

Williams also made sure to enter a “grievance” into the record, stating, “I, Helene Williams, under Nevada Revised Statute Chapter 542 section 9.3, am aggrieved by the decision of the Nye County Water Board on Dec. 9…”

Pahrump resident Dwight Lilly asserted that while he would support a deep carbonate aquifer exploration project, he simply could not agree to a project that proposes to look for water over the county border in Clark County. His fear, he said, was that Clark County would attempt to take control of any water that might be found, leaving Pahrump residents high and dry after paying out millions.

It was a point with which Ralph Hushbeck seemed to concur. He stated that the valley does need to find additional water but he too did not think the exploration should be done in Clark County, nor that the funding portion had been done to the satisfaction of the citizens.

The complaints and criticisms just kept on flowing, with Greg Dann, a former water board member himself, proclaiming his belief that the increase was criminal and Kenny Bent, who has also been following local water issues for many years, contending, “There is still this contention that you can take and put a straw at the bottom of the glass and suck down there and the top’s not going to go down. It’s just amazing, the fraud.”

“Who exactly is it who benefits from this $30 increase? In my opinion, it’s developers,” resident Vince Clark said. “I have absolutely no interest as a parcel owner in this county to have my pocket picked for the benefit of developers. I have no animosity toward developers but I do object strongly to the concept of me paying, in part, for the construction of new housing …”

Another former water board member, Michael Lach, who owns hundreds of Pahrump parcels, slammed the fee hike as well. He remarked that if the water board wants to redistribute pumping in the valley, it should look to the valley fan where water levels have been rising, not over the border in Clark County. Or, Lach said, the water board could use the $4 million proposed for the exploration project to purchase existing water rights and remove them from the books.

Wade Hinden, Sam Jones, Robert Adams, Mike Darby, Teresa Moran, Elaine Baumstark, Walt Turner, Nye County Treasurer John Prudhont and former water board member Dr. Ken Searles all expressed opposition to the increase, too, with Adams asserting that Pahrump property owners were being asked to make an expensive bet that wouldn’t benefit current area residents even if water is found.

Current water board member Walt Kuver was the only person to speak for the fee increase, telling the crowd, “The 8,000 acre feet of water is mandatory if Pahrump is going to continue to grow. Period.”

Kuver also attempted to correct what he felt were misunderstandings by the public, stating that the exploratory project would take place in Basin #162 and he did not believe Clark County’s Southern Nevada Water Authority would be interested in any water found there. Finally, Kuver said he felt the $35 per year parcel fee, which breaks down to $2.92 per month, was not a big deal.

Once the public had its say, the commissioners took a few minutes to air their thoughts as well. Koenig said although he understood that a solution must be found, he couldn’t support the parcel fee increase. Commissioner Donna Cox said she didn’t support the water board’s existence at all and also couldn’t support the fee increase while commissioner Leo Blundo called the increase “egregious”.

The commission plans to address the possibility of overturning the increase at a special meeting set for Tuesday, January 14, 2020, set to begin at 10 a.m. in the Nye County Commissioners’ Chambers, 2100 E. Walt Williams Drive.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

Author’s note: This article has been updated to reflect a change in date for this meeting.

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