City cuts into deficit

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Carson City supervisors Monday managed to nearly eliminate a $790,000 budget deficit by questioning the assumptions upon which their $44.4 million budget is based.

The budget deficit for the 2002/2003 fiscal year was based largely on the loss of an estimated $1.2 million in sales taxes with Wal-Mart's move to Douglas County late this spring. Mayor Ray Masayko challenged that number as too high, an amount that made the city's budget problems look worse than they are likely to be.

"I will characterize it as one of the worst case scenarios," Masayko said.

He asked for the loss to be listed at $800,000, which pushed the deficit under $400,000. Also, Masayko asked to cut an $80,000 subsidy of the swimming pool as well as a $33,000 fee for the Aurora Pines Juvenile Facility. That amount can be funded with a nominal property tax increase.

Masayko also argued an estimated 12 percent increase in employee medical benefits was "significantly overstated."

He suggested supervisors use some of the $1 million savings they set aside last year to deal with this year's budget problems. Supervisors needed to agree to trim the deficit now, he said, so as not to waste the time of city officials pleading for well over $2 million in extra resources.

City supervisors seem recalcitrant to raise taxes this year, whether it be through increased utility franchise fees or property taxes. However, Board members have raised property taxes the maximum amount allowed every year excluding last year. City officials are renegotiating franchise agreements with Sierra Pacific Power Company and Southwest Gas and may only have this window to raise franchise fees 1 percent, which would raise $900,000 a year. The budget for the coming year assumes no property tax hike.

Carson's two district judges, Bill Maddox and Michael Griffin, asked supervisors to levy a legislature-approved, four-cent property tax to fund the Western Nevada Regional Youth Center in Silver Springs. Carson City is the only member of the five-county coalition that fund the Silver Springs center that hasn't levied the tax to support the facility, which will cost Carson City more than $500,000 this year -- $250,000 more than its bill for the center this year.

"Carson City is taking the Frank Sinatra approach, and we're doing it our way not imposing that tax," Griffin quipped.

"I think the mechanism exists to fund this," he added. "It's a tax, and I realize it's not looked upon favorably by anybody. It can take the stress off the other pressures you face in the budget. "

Maddox said he was willing to stake his reelection this year on the importance of the youth center issue.

"Here the legislature gives you the ability to fund this," he said. "It's something we desperately need. I don't know what more justification you need to raise taxes. It will help save taxes down the line. It is an investment that will someday pay the taxpayer back."

While Supervisors Pete Livermore and Richard Staub appeared to support the youth center tax, Supervisor Robin Williamson and Masayko challenged the rising costs of the facility.

"We're in sticker shock right now," Masayko said. "We have only so much in the way of resources. We will do the best we can. Are we going to put a tax on? I don't know. We will fund our share. We have limited resources to fund this."

Williamson and Masayko argued that most youth programs make a case for having long-term positive effects on children.

"As wonderful and ambitious as this program is, there has to be some fiscal restraints on responsibility," Williamson said. "I am sensitive to people crying out for help, but I would be remiss in saying there is a limit to what any community can spend on this type of effort."

Today, supervisors continue their two-week budget session with a public safety workshop to discuss nearly $2 million in requests for extra equipment and personnel. Many of the requests, including five extra dispatchers at $239,446, were delineated in the city's public safety master plan. Budget hearings continue today, Monday, March 25 and conclude Thursday, March 28.

If you go:

What: Carson City Board of Supervisors budget hearings

When: 6 p.m., today

Where: the Community Center's Sierra Room, 851 E. William St.


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