Usually the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Here in Elko County, the squeaky wheel might get the shaft.
Rural residents have been complaining about lack of road maintenance, particularly since the February flood that turned many residential roads into streams and resulted in at least $2 million in damage. They believe the county should do more to fix roads in unincorporated areas such as Ryndon and Osino.
When they turned out to complain earlier this month, county commissioners brought up the idea of establishing general improvement districts. This is a common funding mechanism for neighborhoods that do not pay city taxes or property assessments like residents do in Elko and Spring Creek.
After hearing that suggestion, taxpayers who showed up at the next county meeting had changed their tune. “I’m thrilled with what you guys are doing and I don’t think a GID is the way to go,” said one resident.
Commissioners also learned that setting up GIDs might not be very effective because they are not allowed to exceed the property tax cap. That assessment may be premature, however, and more research is being done on the financing option.
General Improvement Districts make sense in these rural neighborhoods. Several of them have the density of Spring Creek or even more homes per mile of road, resulting in high traffic volume – particularly on the main access roads leading to their unpaved streets.
Some residents have formed their own de facto GIDs by chipping into a pool to have one or more of them handle road maintenance. The county’s proposal would be similar, but it would assure that everyone is paying into the pool based on their property value.
We think the county should go ahead and set up some sample road tax districts, providing that the tax cap allows them to raise enough money to make a difference. Residents would still be able to opt out if a majority of them did not want to pay.
County commissioners would not need to worry about the political fallout of such a plan. They would also not need to listen to many road complaints in the future from neighborhoods that reject the tax districts. The money has to come from somewhere, and Elko County is looking at a big deficit in its general fund budget this year even without additional expenses such as flood damage.
The irony is that our county would have a significant road repair budget if voters had agreed to the fuel tax indexing question on November’s ballot, a system that makes sense because the current flat tax does not keep pace with inflation. The ballot measure would have raised more than $10 million a year for maintenance, with much of the money coming from travelers and from diesel vehicle owners who currently contribute no fuel tax revenue.
County commissioners were originally skeptical of the tax, but changed their minds after learning more about it – with the exception of Commissioner Cliff Eklund, who still rejected it because Nevadans already pay higher than average gas taxes.
The Elko Daily Free Press supported the initiative, not because we like higher taxes but because we know that you can’t maintain 2016 roads on a 1966 budget. The measure was written in a way that it cannot be brought back before voters for 10 years. By then we will be trying to maintain 2026 roads on a 1966 budget.
Unless another way is found to raise road repair funds, we might as well put billboards up on Interstate 80 saying “Welcome to Elko County. Drive carefully, our roads suck.”