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County Commissioners hear case for new judge

ELKO – Elko County Commissioners decided Wednesday to take a closer look at what will be needed to add a third district judge.

Commissioners unanimously approved the formation of a task force to look into short-term and long-term planning for a third district court department at the Elko County Courthouse, with some voicing support for the current judges and their pleas for an additional bench.

“I’m personally convinced we need another judge,” said Commissioner Rex Steninger. “There’s two parts to this: we need it and how do we pay for it ... . We can’t break the county, [but] I don’t feel comfortable telling the Legislature, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ without knowing what it’s going to cost us.”

When asked by Commissioner Demar Dahl for the fiscal impact to the county, Cash Minor, assistant county manager, estimated a budget for operations with a staff of four to five employees would be between $400,000 and $450,000, excluding the judge’s salary which is funded by the state.

“That doesn’t address any infrastructure issues as to where you’re going to place the court, move offices around [or] remodel,” Minor said.

Commissioner Jon Karr said he wanted to look at the financing needed to fully staff the department for an upcoming meeting on Jan. 17. That would mean reviewing the five-year and 10-year plans for operations and capital expenses to see what might be adjusted.

“By then, we’ll know where we’re located on our different projects and we’ll set up these committees … [to] see what we can prioritize and then start that meeting,” Karr said.

Commission chairman Delmo Andreozzi said he wanted to try to meet the wage needs of current employees as well as meet the needs of the courts, referring to county employees who have not had a pay increase since 2015.

“How do we move forward and pay respects to employees who have gone without for a long time?” Andreozzi asked. “We know there has been a lot of shared sacrifice.”

Andreozzi said he also hoped that the renovations for the third department would remain in or near the courthouse, which is a fixture of downtown, for economic purposes.

“The Elko County campus is a huge economic anchor for downtown Elko, so for all of the attorneys … and juries who go to lunch, I think it’s imperative we keep that in mind as we go forward.”

Proposed for the upcoming state legislative session in a couple of months, Assembly Bill 43 would add an additional department to the Elko District Court and require the county to hold elections for a new judge in 2020.

The additional bench would come with the need for more staffing for that department, something that drew a response from county employees who wrote to the county opposing the third department because the county has not raised wages in four years.

District judges Al Kacin and Nancy Porter explained the need for a third judge before the commissioners, citing the Fourth District’s status as the fifth busiest court in the state.

Referring to a letter submitted to the commissioners by the district judges, Kacin said the courts handle the bulk of the proceedings from family issues to murder cases and complex civil trials, unlike Clark and Washoe counties that utilize a discovery master or probate master to sift through arraignments and civil filings, leaving those judges to hear only cases.

“I think Judge Porter said it very well in here,” Kacin said. “We are the Jack and Jill of all trades, and truly that is the case. We handle it all.”

According to the a report released on Dec. 5 by the Nevada Supreme Court, 1,146 cases are seen by each judge, which is 74 fewer cases behind the First Judicial District in Carson City and Storey counties, which have two judges covering a population of 59,922.

Porter and Kacin stressed that the intention of adding another judge would not relieve them of their workload, but instead uphold the ethical responsibility to citizens who deserve “timely justice services.”

Assemblyman John Ellison told the commissioners that although the bill is slated to be heard during the 2019 session, there are some fiscal issues that may affect the county’s funding ability, one of which is a potential removal of court assessment fees in the justice court.

“I’m sure you’re going to lose that,” Ellison said. “That’s going to be a shortfall and you’re going to have to make that up.”

Ellison also advised the commissioners to make a decision before the legislative session begins in February.

“I’m not trying to be doom and gloom, whatever you decide you want to do, I will honor that and I stand behind our county commission,” Ellison said. “I’m just saying, look out, you might have a shortfall coming your way.”

“Be careful what you’re going to do,” Ellison said, “because there’s not a lot of money out there.”

Tesla Gigafactory surpasses job creation, capital investment projections

Four years after starting its battery-making Gigafactory in Northern Nevada, electric carmaker Tesla has exceeded the expectations lawmakers had when they unanimously approved a $1.3 billion incentive package for the company.

A new economic impact report being released Wednesday by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) shows the company had 7,059 employees as of June 30, more than the 6,000 to 6,500 that legislators expected when they approved an incentive package in 2014. Those jobs involve an average of at least 30 hours a week, although not all of them are “qualified” jobs, meaning the workers have held them for at least three months.

“This is promises made, promises kept,” GOED Director Paul Anderson, who was a lawmaker at the time the incentive package was approved, said in an interview with The Nevada Independent. “These are just the hard numbers and hard facts.”

Average hourly wages at the factory are $25.78, which is above the current average wage in the state of $22.54. Tesla’s original projection was that it would create 6,500 jobs at an average wage of $27.35 an hour.

Wages paid out by the factory are about $379 million a year, about $9 million above where it projected it would be by now. The taxes Tesla employees are paying to state and local governments from their own purchases is estimated at $58 million a year.

The agreement required at least 50 percent of “qualified” employees are Nevada residents; Tesla has reported a 93 percent in-state residency rate for its qualified employees.

Construction has also fared better than predicted. An estimated 17,000 construction jobs were created from 2015 through 2018. The total economic impact of construction so far is estimated at $3.2 billion — well over the projection of $2.4 billion.

The deal was designed on the assumption that Tesla would invest $5 billion, but the report says the actual capital investment has been just over $6 billion so far. The project has a $3.56 billion economic impact in the Washoe and Storey county region annually, it says.

Report authors estimate that the Gigafactory is responsible for creating 15,300 jobs, counting direct jobs at the factory, those at vendors and “induced” jobs created by the consumer demands of the workers. An estimated 34,000 people — including families — rely on the wages from those jobs.

Nevada has abated $240.3 million in taxes for Tesla so far, including state and local property, sales and modified business taxes. The abatements will continue to mid-2024.

“This abatement represents a longer-term investment in a company that will fundamentally change the regional economy and will ultimately generate significant state and local tax revenues after 2024,” the report says. “It is important to emphasize that the incentives offered to Tesla were based on abatements or reimbursement of actual taxes paid by the company.”

The package also includes $195 million in transferrable tax credits, but those were not new — they were diverted from tax credit programs that were incenting film production in Nevada and trying to lure insurance companies to place their headquarters in the state. Tesla has claimed all but about $22 million of those credits.

“Although Tesla does not generate sales, property or MBT taxes in the short term, the project has resulted in significant new transportation and utility infrastructure, as well as employee spending that generates sales and property taxes at the full unabated rate,” report authors wrote. “Furthermore, investing in attracting this high-profile company to Northern Nevada has successfully seeded significant additional economic development activity locally and throughout the region.”

Nevada landed the Tesla Gigafactory amid intense competition from other states. At the time the package was approved, Gov. Brian Sandoval estimated it would inject $100 billion into the Nevada economy over 20 years.

Not a single lawmaker voted against the deal, although some detractors panned it at the time as a corporate giveaway on a shaky foundation and were critical that it temporarily gutted a film tax credit program.

Tesla founder Elon Musk has since acknowledged growing pains that have come with the Gigafactory, including a housing shortage and strain on the region’s infrastructure.

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Elko County jail visits to be done online

ELKO – People will soon be able to visit jail inmates from anywhere in the world – but not in person – as the Elko County Sheriff’s office launches a video visiting system.

The new procedures eliminate face-to-face visits at the facility. All inmate visitations after Jan. 7 will be done by way of video, the sheriff’s office announced Wednesday.

“The changes being implemented are necessary due to increased inmate counts, officer safety and modernization of the inmate visitation process,” said Sheriff Jim Pitts.

Visitors will be able to come to the detention facility and visit with an inmate via video connection within the facility, or they make a video visit from anywhere online.

Information on how to set up an account to participate in an inmate visitation is available in the jail lobby, by phone at 888-729-4326, or online at

“We apologize for any inconvenience and ask for the public’s patience during this transition,” Pitts said.

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Mining Quarterly highlights

ELKO — Venture underground to see a gold mine through the eyes of Nevada leaders, browse winning photos in the Mining Landscapes photo contest and peruse industry news in the winter 2018 issue of Mining Quarterly, published with today’s Elko Daily Free Press.

The cover story journeys into Barrick Gold Corp.’s Turquoise Ridge mine with guests of the mining company and the Nevada Mining Association. The tour aims to educate Nevada women leaders about mining industry values so that they can take the lessons back to their spheres of influence.

Top stories in this 96-page magazine highlight happenings that affect the mineral extraction industry around the state and beyond. Articles include a description of a proposed expansion to Coeur Mining Inc.’s Rochester silver mine; visit a lithium project preparing to break ground; provide an update on how the Elko Railport serves mining; and describe Democratic Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak’s views on the industry.

Readers can also learn about Franco-Nevada Corp., a gold-focused royalty company with its sights set on Nevada, and take a peek into mining history at the Marzen House Museum in Lovelock.

Standing departments include briefs about business and people, columns by industry experts, major mining companies’ quarterly financial results, and news regarding operations, safety, community and the environment.

The 20-plus-year-old magazine is available at newsstands in northeastern Nevada, inserted in the Elko Daily Free Press and by subscription. Open up this issue to gain a better understanding of how the mining industry affects the state.