A committee was announced yesterday that is tasked with finding $400 million to protect the community from future flood events. The group is expected to propose a ballot initiative for a tax increase, an idea that has been received with some skepticism.
The idea for another tax increase comes in the wake of WC-1 passed last fall, which raised Washoe County’s sales tax rate to 8.265 percent — the highest in the state. Under a newly passed Nevada law, flood project tax increases could come from room taxes, government services taxes, property taxes, and other taxes that the county may impose. Sales tax cannot be raised, however.
Presentations about the proposed increase have been met in the recent past with tepid responses from both Washoe County commissioners and the Reno City Council.
But Jay Aldean, Truckee River Flood Management Authority (TRFMA) executive director, said that the money is needed if the community wants to proactively address future flood impacts.
“It will be a community effort to provide the best solution to prevent major flooding for our region that will benefit our citizens,” he said. “Our goal is to utilize the approved federal funding from the Army Corps of Engineers along with the additional local matching funds needed to construct the flood project.
“The 100-year plan will help avoid the life-threatening and economic impacts that a major flood event could cause in the future, and is intended to benefit the community as a top regional priority.”
The committee will determine how to raise funds locally in order to get those federal funds. TRFMA may impose a fee to fund the project but this new committee “may also add a proposal for voter consideration for the implementation of taxes for the remaining amount,” according to a TRFMA press statement.
A presentation at city hall last week byJohn Flansberg, the city’s public works director, showed that TRFMA has spent $75 million on projects to date, which includes $31 million on payroll, capital purchases, and contracts, $20 million on debt service, and $48 million on land purchases. The project has been funded from part of a 1/4-cent sales tax enacted in 1998.
Flansberg said that if the $400 million is not funded, the city could create a stormwater utility.
“We’re not sure what the public response is going to be to the 2018 ballot question, and we don’t even know what that question’s going to look like at this point or what’s going to be recommended,” he said. Flansberg suggested that the city have other options available if the ballot initiative does not get funded.
“One of those … could be the establishment of a stormwater utility,” he said, adding that he’s not exactly in favor of that approach. “I am in favor of a stormwater utility if it attaches to it a large capital program — we define which projects that we would go and build and then we would … establish a rate and … build those projects.”
Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus said she was not a fan of a ballot initiative idea.
“I am very concerned when you start talking about going to the voters about a vote for taxation,” she said. “I still oppose this.”
Councilman Paul McKenzie supported the idea of going a different direction should the ballot initiative fail to get the needed funds.
But it is now up to the newly created flood control project needs committee to determine how to proceed, and the group could recommend imposing fees, taxes, rates, or other charges to fund the flood project.
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