In a recent exchange of "fact or fiction" ads neither of two candidates for Carson City mayor laid out the whole story in an argument over property taxes.
While an Aug. 16 ad from candidate Tom Tatro appeared to slam Ray Masayko for raising the tax for the city's operating rate, Tatro said Tuesday that was not his intent.
Part of Tatro's ad referred to a Masayko campaign flyer where Maysako wrote, "We're financially sound, growing wisely and we still enjoy the same property tax rate as when I assumed office four years ago."
Tatro said he felt Masayko was trying to take credit for something he had no control over.
"It was like taking credit for the sky being blue," Tatro said. "It was no action by the Board of Supervisors that (the property tax rate) remained the same.
"It's five people who have a vote on the issue. Five people didn't take credit for the sky being blue. There's only one place where the city has an influence over the tax rate. The operating rate did change. He took credit for the tax rate staying the same."
In an Aug. 20 reply ad, Masayko countered Tatro's rising operating rate ad with one that examined the overall property rate, which is about 1 cent lower this year than in 1997. Masayko did not address the operating rate. Masayko said Tatro's ad was "deceptive and misleading" and appeared to accuse him of raising property taxes by $80.
"At least in my view, it misleads folks," Masayko said. "Any piece of the tax rate could be seen as costing people money. It's almost deceptive to say who's paying $80."
The other two candidates for mayor, Tom Keeton and Neil Weaver, both said this is classic politics between two career politicians.
"They're both telling the minimum truth to enhance their own positions," Keeton said. "That's what I would expect of career politicians."
Of the city's current property tax rate of $2.52, about 89 cents of it, called the operating rate, is controlled by the city. City supervisors have the ability to raise the operating rate, which the city uses to pay for everything from personnel to light bulbs, a maximum of 6 percent a year.
Tom Minton, city deputy controller, said the city's yearly tax hike is usually around 5 percent based on a formula which takes into account changes in property value in the city from year to year. Minton said property taxes make up about 20 percent of the city's general fund revenue.
"Without that rate, we couldn't make up the revenue with sales tax dollars," Minton said. "If you stop growing one of them (property or sales taxes), it's all over but the shouting. If we didn't do that for one year, (over time) the loss is in the millions."
The operating rate, the rate Tatro referred to in his advertisement, has been raised the maximum amount every year since at least 1984, said Assessor Kit Weaver.
"Speaking politically, when we have millions of dollars of public safety needs, it's hard to say we're not going to take the property tax we're entitled to," Kit Weaver said.
The alternative would be broad cutbacks in city services.
While Tatro's ad appears to criticize Masayko for being involved in raising the operating rate almost 27 percent in his four years as mayor, the operating rate rose about 64 percent in the nine years Tatro served on the Board of Supervisors, from 46 cents in 1989 to almost 76 cents in 1998. The operating rate decreased only one year, in 1995.
The overall property tax rate has stayed almost the same since 1996 because the school district's debt rate continues to go down, which means the city's increases in the operating rate are offset by people paying less to retire school district debt.
Tatro pointed to the school district's lower debt rate as being the reason the city's property taxes are so stable.
"The mechanism (to raise the operating rate) is there. It has been used many times, but that's not the problem," Tatro said. "The problem is he took credit for things he had no control over. Fiscal integrity means telling the truth about finances."
Masayko said the mailer didn't take responsibility for the city's condition.
"I said we're growing wisely, I didn't take credit for it at all," Masayko said. "We have had some challenges, but the tax rate is actually lower than when I assumed this position. That's just a fact. Did I say my astute, financial management skills made this happen? No. Tell me how truthful it is that we had an $80 raise in property taxes.
"I didn't believe it was (an issue) until I saw the ad frightening people. Carson City enjoys a very low tax rate. We get a lot of services for one of the lowest tax rates in Nevada."
The base of Tatro's argument, he said, is that nothing has changed since Masayko became mayor in 1997. Almost everything he takes credit for, the public safety complex and jump-starting the freeway, are things Masayko inherited, not things he started, Tatro said.
"Those things didn't happen because he was there," he said. "They would have happened regardless. I don't see where much has changed. Not many new initiatives have taken off. I don't like having someone who wasn't there take credit for things I worked on. I didn't do it alone, but I helped. It's not the function of what one person does, it's how one person leads the team."
Keeton said the property tax argument "is almost a non-issue."
"The really important issues are public safety, transportation and congestion, not how much we raised taxes over a certain amount of time. If they want to cat fight with each other, great. Maybe people will listen to me. There is a lot of arrogance between the two thinking Neil and I aren't in the race. One of them, I think, is in for a surprise come Sept. 5."
Weaver said Tatro was trying to make people closely scrutinize Masayko and not Tatro.
"They've been perceived by the special interest groups as the front runners," Weaver said. "My candidacy is still viable. The people supporting us think we're the answer."