A spokesman for Nevada's local governments reacted sharply to Regent Mark Alden's plan to use local property tax money to pay for higher education, describing the plan as "absurd."
Alden pushed the idea at Thursday's Board of Regents meeting in Reno, saying he believes the university and community college system should act to get a statewide piece of the property tax money which now goes to local governments so that colleges can meet growing student needs.
He said the system needs about $24 million a year to start.
Bob Hadfield, director of the Nevada Association of Counties, said Friday that Alden doesn't understand how little local governments have to give.
"I think it's another absurd assault on local governments," said Hadfield. "He doesn't understand the extent to which the state already reaches into local government. We can't raise taxes. We can't raise fees, can't raise revenues, but the state and federal governments are pushing all these unfunded mandates down on us."
Hadfield said not only does the state completely prevent local governments from increasing revenues without its specific permission but the state - as well as federal programs such as the federal Clean Water Act - are costing counties, cities and improvement districts millions of dollars.
Too many small local governments in Nevada are already financially unable to meet those growing demands, he said.
"He feels education is at the bottom of the food chain and it's not," said Hadfield. "Local government is at the bottom of the food chain. We are the providers of last resort."
Everyone who wants public money eyes local property taxes, but cities and counties have none to give, he said.
"We have lost our property tax base over the years to the needs of school districts and for badly needed infrastructure such as jails."
He said there isn't enough money left under the state's property tax caps to build schools that are needed, let alone start paying for community college and university operations.
And he said he resents the fact that Alden didn't discuss his scheme with local officials before bringing it to the regents.
"It's unrealistic, unfortunate and I don't think Regent Alden understands the effect it would have on local governments," he said, adding that the small districts with declining populations that are already at their tax cap would be most severely hurt by any loss of property tax revenues.