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Tim Burke: Looking at Yucca Mountain’s economic impact on Nye County

One of the key discussion points in favor of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository has been the potential economic benefit to Nye County and the state.

Much of that focus has been on future job creation but the Yucca Mountain project directly benefited Nye County for several years until federal funding ended in fiscal year 2010.

The payment equal to taxes started in the mid-1990s and Nye County received over $140 million for capital projects and rainy-day funds (endowment funds for health care, education and emergencies).

It was later renamed payments from the Settlement Agreement because it became a percentage of the project budget.

Those funds became a critical part of keeping Nye County operating after property tax income plummeted during the recession. House prices peaked in 2006 and then during the recession in 2008 declined rapidly reaching a historic low point in 2012.

Before the recession, when property values were booming, property owners were afraid property tax bills would boom as well.

So, in 2005 the Legislature wrote a law that said no matter what happened to tax rates or assessed values, property owners would never have to pay an increase larger than 3 percent (compared to the previous year) for homes people own and live in or 8 percent (compared to the previous year) for other properties such as apartment buildings, stores, warehouses, etc.

The Legislature didn’t just put limits on the size of the increases. It also wanted to slow down how fast property-tax bills could rise even before they hit those limits. So, it created two other caps based on two economic measures:

■ A 10-year average percentage of change in assessed values of homes.

■ The average percentage of increase in the previous year’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) multiplied by two.

The larger of those two numbers becomes a cap on how much bigger a property tax bill can grow compared to the previous year’s unless either one reaches 3 percent for homeowners or 8 percent for commercial property.

During the recession, home values dropped so steeply that the 10-year average number remained very low. In some counties, it was lower than the CPI number. And that meant the CPI number, not the 3 percent cap, became the real ceiling on property tax increases.

What that meant for Nye County was that property tax revenue in the general fund peaked during fiscal 2010 at $16.4 million and declined each year thereafter reaching a low of $11.8 million in fiscal 2014. For fiscal 2019 it is still under the 2010 levels and much of the increase has been from new housing that is assessed at the current value.

During the critical years between 2006 and 2010 Nye County received $48.64 million from the federal government for Yucca Mountain.

Without Yucca Mountain, homeowners and local businesses will be the primary source of income to maintain the county budget and services.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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