YERINGTON -- Lyon County voters will have the opportunity to determine if they want to pay more from their pockets to help meet county road needs.
Faced with a dwindling road fund budget, Lyon County Commissioners have agreed to place a question on the November general election ballot asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase dedicated to road improvements.
The 4-1 vote followed two hours of discussion between commissioners, members of the Regional Transportation Commission and road department personnel regarding the various options available to increase road fund revenue. Alternatives included a property tax increase, gas and diesel fuel tax increases, use of federal payment-in-lieu-of tax money, increasing the utility franchise fee, privatization of some road services and possible personnel layoffs.
Public Works Director Chuck Swanson told the board the current level of services could be maintained through the current 2002-03 budget year if there were no unexpected problems, but the road fund would be nearly depleted prior to the next budget year.
"We do have enough to keep the work force in place and to get us through this year, but we are thinking about what we are going to do next year," he said. "I would hate to go into next year and all of a sudden have to make some very drastic cuts."
As the lone dissenting vote, Commissioner David Fulstone said more information was needed to investigate the actual revenue to be generated by the various options.
"The sales tax is the most unpredictable type of tax. Let's take some time and study where the money should come from. If we need to use some PILT funds to get more graders to get us through this year, let's do it," Fulstone said. "We know there is money in certain places that can get us through this year."
Commissioner Bob Milz, noting the portion of the budget allocated to personnel costs, suggested the road staff be decreased and asked Swanson to work towards bringing it into line with other agencies.
"I am not recommending services be lowered at all. I am suggesting personnel be lowered. At this point in time, labor costs are almost equal to the amount of money we bring in," he said.
Road Department head Gary Fried disagreed with Milz assessment, telling the board, "I don't want to give the impression we are overstaffed. What we have is a shortage of funds. Our staff is constantly busy working. It is not like we have a bunch of people doing nothing all day long."
For the 2002-03 fiscal year, $1.1 million of the $1.8 million road department budget will go toward employee benefits and salaries.
To balance the current road budget, an original road department request of $3.5 million in capital improvement funding was reduced to $250,000. If funding is not available, two road graders will be returned this year at the conclusion of a three-year lease buy agreement.