The petition circulated within Ward 4 for road/street maintenance and repairs, dated Dec. 5, 2015, has yet to be addressed by the Board of Supervisors. After two attempts to have this citizen’s petition put on the Board of Supervisors agenda for action, the matter still remains in limbo. Ward 4 Supervisor Jim Shirk has requested at least one board member join with him to place the petition on the Board of Supervisors agenda.
For the purpose of this commentary, the petition requests action to address three concerns of Ward 4 citizens — develop a plan using funds already being collected to bring Ward 4 deteriorated streets and storm drains to acceptable industry standards; take action to correct nearly two decades (18 years) of misusing road tax dollars by the Regional Transportation Commission and for failing to comply with the original intent of the law; and conduct an audit to account for the nickel gas tax usage.
Redress when a wrong has been noted/suspected is a fundamental right of the citizen, and the Board of Supervisors should honor this and take a vote on the citizen’s petition.
The language used in developing the petition is taken from public records going back to the early 1990s. The gas tax was redirected, almost immediately after approval in 1997 and used on other projects the Regional Transportation Commission/Public Works felt more important. The nickel gas tax was approved only for construction of phase 1 of the Carson City freeway.
In 1991, Senate Bill 441 was passed by the Nevada Legislature. This law allowed local political subdivisions to increase motor vehicle fuel tax up to nine cents per gallon without additional approval of the voters or additional action by the state Legislature. This allowed for an override of the Dillon Rule, which required approval by the voters to increase road taxes.
On Nov. 21, 1996, the Board of Supervisors took advantage of SB 441 and approved an ordinance increasing the gas tax (Res. 1997-R-8). The increase authorized using the state’s bonding capacity, offered by it to assist in construction of phase one of the Carson City freeway. Estimated cost was $19 million, to be paid in full by 2012, or sooner with a sunset provision. This board action took to the limit the amount allowed by law. The mayor proclaimed, “Future Board of Supervisors will have to honor the current board’s funding commitment.”
This meeting set up a plan for collection, repayment, and termination of the tax. The agreement with the state of Nevada was affirmed, and collection began on April 1, 1997. It’s estimated over the 18 years, the Regional Transportation Commission has collected at least $27 million (18 years times $1.5 million per year).
On Dec. 4, 2004, an ordinance was introduced amending the agreement with the state of Nevada to take control of the nickel gas tax for Regional Transportation Commission/Public Works use, and ignoring the safeguards for the citizen in the original bill. This bait and switch will now be referred to as the “Ponzi scheme for governmental use” because nothing in the original agreement with the state of Nevada has materialized.
As of Dec. 4, 2004, Public Works records reflect only $1.5 million has been credited toward the obligation with the state of Nevada. The citizens of Carson City should be concerned about how the Regional Transportation Commission maneuvered using approved dollars for the freeway for its own use without voter approval.
From April 1997 to December 2004, the city should have collected (using the above figures) $6 million that should have been paid on the outstanding debt owed the state per the agreement of 1997. An audit as suggested in the citizen’s petition should determine where those dollars were spent. Members of this community should contact their ward supervisor and urge them to join with Mr. Shirk to bring forward the citizen’s petition of Dec. 5, 2015 at an early date. A lot of questions need to be asked about the use of their road tax dollars and the failure of Public Works to develop a maintenance plan for the entire city.
The road tax was increased to the allowable limits imposed by the state of Nevada of nine cents. The Regional Transportation Commission managed to redirect in 2004 the use of these dollars as reflected in Bill No. 121 for its use, and not addressing existing maintenance problems throughout the community. The street and drainage problems within Ward 4 and other parts of the city deserve a Public Works department who responds to citizen’s concerns and not place them on its priority list for future consideration.
In addition to contacting your ward representative, citizens should also contact the city’s Regional Transportation Commission members, Mayor Crowell and Supervisor Bonkowski, and voice your concerns over the use of their “road tax dollars” by the Regional Transportation Commission on projects that need citizens’ review.
This year, the city and Regional Transportation Commission will develop a gas tax indexing plan to increase road taxes.
A no vote on the city’s tax indexing would be appropriate until the city addresses and corrects the last road tax increase. There’s a plan B should the Board of Supervisors decide to ignore addressing this issue.
Paul McGrath is a long-time resident and former sheriff of Carson City.