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City seeing record tax revenue

By Bob Conrad

City of Reno staff yesterday said the city is receiving record revenues. State CTAX dollars, property taxes and general fund revenues are all up, said interim Finance Director Vicki Van Buren.

Expenses, however, are also up, as the city is having to spend more to adjust for inflation.

Employee salaries and benefits account for the majority of the city’s expenditures, but the majority of those are for police and fire staff. 

Van Buren said the city’s budget will be balanced in 2023. 

Individual city departments are presenting this week their respective budgets to the city council. At yesterday’s hearing, the council heard presentations from Van Buren, Reno Municipal Court, the city attorney’s office, human resources, IT and the city clerk’s office.

Public records management questioned

City Clerk Mikki Huntsman said the city continues to see increasing requests for public records. The city clerk’s office recently hired four new employees, but Huntsman said none of them are dedicated to responding to public records. 

“We have some notable increases year over year [in public records requests], yet we don’t have any staffing set … for any department to actually respond to those public records requests within the NRS timeline that’s designated,” Huntsman said. “It does take the lion’s share of resources from my team.”

Ashley Turney, City of Reno’s Chief Innovation & Experience Officer

Ashley Turney, the former Reno city clerk, three years ago told the Nevada Legislature the same thing. She said the city at that time was struggling to keep up with records requests without designated staffing.

“Through the recession, and as it sits now, the City of Reno has no dedicated staff to respond to public records requests,” Turney said in 2019.  

Those responsibilities, she said, fall onto all city employees. 

Turney proceeded to speak against changes to the Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA) that would have ensured greater transparency and accountability from local governments. 

She said the 2019 changes would increase costs to the city. Those advocating for strengthening public records laws, including This Is Reno, however, said government failure to follow existing laws was the bigger problem.

The bill passed, but it was watered down. A major change to the NPRA that was approved was the removal of the ability of governments to charge for staff time to produce public records. Governments are still engaging in the practice, however. 

Huntsman, the current city clerk, yesterday said there are still no staff dedicated to managing public records requests.  

Council member Naomi Duerr said she was concerned about the city’s inability to respond to records requests within the legally mandated time frame.

“I feel very uncomfortable that we are not able to meet the statutory requirements,” she said, noting that Hunstman did not put in a request for new employees to manage records.

Duerr suggested bringing on somebody to help. 

Huntsman said, however, a new position would be “a really big lift.”

City Manager Doug Thornley said the city does meet legally required timeframes for public records, but Council member Jenny Brekhus disputed this statement, citing This Is Reno’s case against the Reno Police Department. 

A local judge found that police failed in a number instances to comply with the law in responding to public records requests.

Thornley said at a budget hearing today, RPD will be discussing positions to deal with records to alleviate public records demands.

Finance director “let go” before budget hearings

Deborah Lauchner, the city’s finance director, was “let go” last week after a presentation about the city incurring more debt to tackle public works projects. No reason was given, but Lauchner has repeatedly been praised by council members during meetings.

Council member Jenny Brekhus, however, yesterday mentioned Lauchner’s firing. In Lauchner’s place at this week’s hearing was Van Buren, who is now the interim finance director. 

“It came up very suddenly,” Brekhus said.

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