FROM THE EDITOR: Broke county gives mortal enemy $4.5 million gift

I thought to myself, “Wow, Dan Schinhofen is about to stroke out.”

Sort of a dream come true, really.

Except this time, I actually agreed with him — and felt bad that he looked on the verge of joining the dearly departed.

Flailing around, the red-faced commissioner on Monday, his veins noticeably popping out of his forehead, just couldn’t believe that he was losing the vote on the raceway project. I couldn’t either.

If you aren’t aware of what that project entails, here’s the short version: Spring Mountain Motor Sports Ranch owners want to significantly expand their facilities, adding housing, retail and recreation developments sure to deliver a major economic boost to Pahrump. The nearly 80, high-dollar houses the racetrack wants to build as well as an artificial lake and the shops will all require water and sewer service.

The raceway will need to build a small utility in order to provide service to the expanded development. It wanted to donate the infrastructure, some $4.5 million worth, to Nye County, which would have operated the utility despite Spring Mountain lying inside Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada’s service territory.

County officials who were on board with the proposal pushed to have any sewage facility placed on the nearby fairgrounds property, delivering a utility hook-up that would open the door to development of the fairgrounds. Congress gave the Town of Pahrump the fairgrounds property in the 1990s, but it has remained a dust bowl, save for a new unused well, a paved parking lot to nowhere and some fencing, since.

Proponents were calling this a win-win situation — the raceway could locate a sewer facility away from its ritzy new homes and the county could move forward with developing the fairgrounds infrastructure. And a real treat — the county could thumb its nose at UICN, which threatened to sue if the county attempted to service the raceway on its own. District Attorney Brian Kunzi was confident he could overcome any legal entanglement.

Opponents of the plan argued that there was no money for Nye County to operate this small utility. Some were worried UICN could wage a costly legal battle. Others were concerned about the children — those poor, potentially fecal-matter-bespeckled children who might someday be playing soccer in effluent-sprayed fields at the fairgrounds. Still others were worried that not enough information was made available before the vote, no enterprise fund was set up, there was no idea if someone would need to be hired to operate the facility, what the miniature utility’s budget would look like, etc.

All are legitimate concerns, except for the fecal-matter-splattered soccer fields. First, there are no soccer fields, just a plan for some by the soon to be non-existent town board. The county is effectively taking over the fairgrounds property in seven months. The uniquely unqualified Commissioner Donna Cox raised the specter of soccer kids swimming in fecal material as one reason she just could not support the county taking over the utility.

Cox was joined in her opposition by Frank Carbone and Lorinda Wichman, who suggested more legitimate reasons for their opposition. Though the trio was on-board with the raceway’s expansion — including the artificial lake — they were not on-board for running the miniature utility.

I had to scratch my head at that one. Cox’s opposition is no surprise; the commissioner takes her cues from a coterie of Tea Party types who are more wrong than right on almost every single item that ever comes up for a vote.

But just as recently as April, Carbone and Wichman had voted yes on a commission resolution that supported the county taking over the raceway’s water and sewer service. What in the heck changed?

Wichman is known to dislike being the deciding vote on Pahrump projects since her mostly northern district encompasses only a sliver of the town. She said she just couldn’t support the county taking over another utility — officials like to remind people that the county already runs umpteen water systems, but apparently one more was one too many.

Carbone made the motion, in the end, to approve the raceway’s expansion, but allow the utility infrastructure to be placed on the raceway’s property under UICN management. Exasperated raceway officials accepted the vote. They were ready to move forward regardless.

UICN made out like a bandit (their president will tell you the ratepayers made out like bandits, but I call BS on that one.) Our county commission, or at least two wingnuts and “Loretta” the northerner, gave UICN a $4.5 million gift when they decided to renege on the county’s April resolution.

The reasons for their opposition made little sense: So what if there is no enterprise fund, the actual project is two years from completion. That’s plenty of time for a budget, an enterprise fund, et cetera. Even if the county had taken over the infrastructure only to find it too difficult to manage, guess what, the county has a $4.5 million asset to sell or to use as leverage in some future bout in its bloody fight with UICN.

To give that asset away as if it were nothing, not to mention reneging on the resolution, just boggles my mind. Oh, and what must the business community think after watching this? It ain’t good, I’ll tell you that.

UICN has spent almost $2 million in ratepayer funds on litigation involving this county. It doesn’t seem to have a problem spending our money fighting — us — seeing as how they threatened to do it again just a few days ago. UICN is not a nonprofit company. Its owners and investors and executives are making a mint selling our resources back to us.

Officials repeatedly blame UICN for the lack of positive development in Pahrump — it’s just too darn expensive to pay UICN its pound of flesh anytime someone wants to build anything, hence the reason some county officials desired the raceway utility in order to better determine the destiny of development in that area without having to deal with any money-grubbing poop merchants.

And the fairgrounds. That godforsaken patch of dirt actually looked like it might one day become something — in our lifetimes. Cox, Carbone and Wichman sure gave that away, too. Somebody call Congress and tell them they can have that land back.

I really would like to hurl some bad words around, call for a resignation or two over all this. But I think I’ll just flail around like Dan Schinhofen for a bit until my veins almost burst. The short-sightedness of this board is so astounding it leaves me speechless.

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