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Commentary

Our rural state representatives have sounded the alarm for funding for both K-12 and higher education in our communities. They are right to do so. However, the solution for avoiding disaster lies within the financial audit statements dated June 30, 2018 for our neighbors, Eureka and Lander counties.

The links included here document the strong fiscal positions both counties hold. Anyone living in northeastern Nevada knows the mines in our region are mostly located in Eureka and Lander counties. Those counties enjoy the huge tax royalties paid by the mining industries headquartered in Elko County. However, Eureka and Lander counties have very small populations and very little infrastructure. As a result, their revenues far exceed their expenses. They are able to enjoy millions of dollars in surplus revenue every year.

The documents show Eureka County has total net assets exceeding $118 million, with an ending fund balance of more than $24 million. Lander County has total net assets exceeding more than $278 million, with an ending fund balance of $44 million. (For comparison, the latest financial audit statements available on the Elko County website show total net assets of $68 million, with an ending fund balance of just under $12 million.)

Here are the links to the statements:

Rural legislative and county leaders from Eureka and Lander counties have always guarded their assets dearly, as they should. However, the royalty formulas were developed in the 19th century to enable remote, centralized mining communities to survive busts in the mining economy. 21st century mining practices and economics, along with the migration of workers in the mining industry to economic hubs like Elko have created an imbalance in the royalty formula.

State Senator Pete Goicochea (R-Eureka) stated in a recent interview with the Elko Daily Free Press that the result of this year’s legislative session is a “disaster” for rural Nevada. But disaster can be avoided if Eureka and Lander counties do the right thing and, as stated in their financial statements, use their unrestricted net assets to “… meet … ongoing obligations to citizens”.

Government fiscal matters are complicated and there are plenty of variances to consider when analyzing a financial statement. Still, we need to consider rural Nevada as a region, not as individual counties. As good citizens, we have an obligation to one another. Eureka and Lander counties can, if they choose to, help K-12 and higher education in rural Nevada overcome their serious fiscal challenges. Both the Elko County School District and Great Basin College are educating and training the citizens who work in the mines whose royalty payments allow sparsely populated Eureka and Lander counties to enjoy a luxurious fiscal position.

As taxpayers, the mining industry must surely desire the taxes they pay in royalty to those counties be put to good use, and for the greater good, especially in the fiscal crisis we now face.

Please contact your state representatives to encourage them to develop a system that uses the resources we already have at our disposal to rescue education in rural Nevada from disaster. We are all citizens of Rural Nevada. We need to work together to keep all of our communities strong.

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John Patrick Rice is a former Elko City Councilman.

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