Saturday, September 24, 2005

Column 50 - City

I’ve been a part of the Independent Incline movement from its inception. The tax impact of various options has been almost the singular focus of the group today. Because the group has focused primarily on Incline’s becoming a county through legislative action, our activity has waxed and waned with the legislative/election cycle.

For many of those on the IIC the issue is taxes, but that may be too narrow a view. To be sure, the disparity between what we pay and what we get back, which I have detailed in earlier columns, makes my blood boil, and nothing but becoming a county will cure that completely. The possibility of incorporating as a city as an interim step has never got very far, particularly since such analysis as was done indicated it would probably mean an increase in taxes for residents.

A number of recent developments and conversations have led me to reconsider my skepticism abou the city option and I have proposed the committee meet to re-look at our position. Right now we have a situation where not less than three groups are looking at plans that will materially affect Incline’s future. The County is encouraging Crystal Bay to go its own way in economic planning, and that is clearly of interest at least to the casino owners there, if not to the residents, to do so. Secondly, TRPA’s Pathway 2007 is in a planning process that has only just now, after almost a year, realized it might be a good idea to engage local input, and IVGID and the CAB began the Incline Vision process a few months ago

I see no reason to trust that the County, in conversation with the casino interests in Crystal Bay have IV/CB residents’ interests in mind. While TRPA’s effort has not realized my direst trepidations, and I am not sure where they are going, their area of interest is the lake as a whole, not just Incline Village. Finally, I have the highest regard for Bea Epstein and the Incline Vision group, but in the end, they will have only as much power as the government of Incline has to implement their plans. In addition, at least one candidate for Governor, Senator Beers, has propsed a 3% cap on budget increases, which would cut back on our public services such as roads, sheriff, etc.

In researching further the powers a city would have, I have learned that there is more to it than I thought and that we as a committee have discussed. Chief among these are land use powers. A city has powers over land use, land use planning, zoning, building codes, eminent domain, etc. that are close to absolute within its borders. For example, we are dependent now on help from TRPA and maybe the County if we don’t want a new Post Office built where the USPS plans to build it – as a city we would have the power to control our own destiny. Given the recent Supreme Court decision on eminent domain powers, this should be of great concern to us. In addition, as a city we would be included on public boards such as the RSCVA, the Airport Board, and others where we would have our own voice.

I am not prepared at this point to raise the “Incline City” banner – a lot more research needs to be done. My call to the committee to reconvene and reconsider the city alternative was made on this basis. I do think, though, that the issue needs to be considered from a broader perspective than taxation alone – from a business perspective any prospective expense should be reviewed against the potential benefit, and ways to offset those expenses should be considered. For example, as a city what would we be entitled to in terms of returns on our taxes from the County, what could we realize in city taxes on resort and transient accommodations, etc. Again, I’m not recommending we do any of this now, but rather that we study the matter fully and see whether the return on investment in terms of local control and protection might not be something that would make some small increase in taxes worthwhile to Incline residents. Make your voice heard.

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