Elko County Courthouse

A portion of the 75-cent tax used to fund school construction could go to projects at the Elko County Courthouse when the measure comes back on the ballot in 2020.

ELKO – Could pay-as-you-go funding cover both school district and courthouse capital improvement projects?

That’s the question Elko County Commissioners are asking as they seek a way to fund building and maintenance projects for the 108-year-old courthouse and still keep the bulk of the tax going to the Elko County School District for its building and maintenance needs.

Commissioner Jon Karr has proposed reducing the 75-cent tax to 65 cents when it comes back on the ballot about two years from now.

That would free up 10 cents that the county could apply toward a capital improvements fund specifically target to the courthouse.

One reason for the proposed change is that the Nevada Supreme Court has proposed a third district judge position in Elko County, which would require an additional courtroom. Karr said because of a cap on property taxes, and the unfunded mandate that requires the county to assume any costs for the new bench, the pay-as-you-go proposal is the only solution.

“That’s truly the only thing we could find,” he said in a Feb. 7 phone interview.

The change would have no impact on taxpayers.

“The property tax won’t see a difference. It frees it up for any county entity to apply for it,” Karr said.

However, the Elko County School District is concerned that the 10-cent decrease may impact construction projects already scheduled, said Superintendent Todd Pehrson.

“This will push back the opening of any needed new schools or facilities directly related to the education of our students,” Pehrson wrote in a statement to the Elko Daily Free Press. “It will also impact the necessary federally mandated ADA upgrades.”

Among the larger projects planned in the next five to 10 years are a STEM facility at Elko High School and a new elementary school within the city of Elko. Maintenance for roofs and mechanical systems are also slated for older schools in the district.

If the 10-cent reduction is approved, the district will need to reassess its capital improvement plan, Pehrson said.

Karr, who was on the school board for 12 years prior to his election to the County Commission in 2016, said he believed the schools “are still important,” but when pay as you go was established 20 years ago, there was a population boom that has since cooled down.

“The mines are still productive, but not bringing in as many people. We’re still growing, but not by leaps and bounds,” he said.

Karr told commissioners on Feb. 6 that the push for courthouse funding is necessary whether the third judge is approved by the Legislature or not.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to support the addition of a third judge on Feb. 6, but discussed their concerns about finding revenue to pay for remodeling costs that become the county’s responsibility.

The judge’s salary will be paid by the state, according to Assembly Bill 43. The measure is supported by Elko district judges Al Kacin and Nancy Porter.

“This is separate from the third judge,” Karr said about the pay-as-you-go initiative. “If it doesn’t happen in two, three or four years, it needs to happen in 10 years. Elko’s not shrinking [in population] and not reducing cases.”

Karr said he, Commissioner Delmo Andreozzi, along with Kacin and Porter, planned to discuss the issue with the school board of trustees at their meeting on Feb. 12 and invite them to tour the courthouse to get a firsthand look at the building.

“I’m not trying to take money from the school district,” Karr said. “I’m proud of pay as you go, and because of this third judge we want to explain why [we need this].”

Elko County School Board meets at 5:30 p.m. in the conference room of the central office at 850 Elm St.

Commissioner Jon Karr said the push for courthouse funding is necessary whether a third district judge is approved by the Legislature or not.

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Courts, K-12 schools & Spring Creek reporter

Staff writer for the Elko Daily Free Press

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