Carson City financially sound...for now

Carson City supervisors say they need to sell the city's fairgrounds to bring development that will generate sales taxes, enabling them to provide the kind of services residents expect.

Sales tax figures show in the last two years, city sales tax revenues came in 4.5 percent and 6.5 percent above what they budgeted.

In 2001, Carson City supervisors balanced their budget on a 2.5 percent sales tax increase. That year, sales taxes actually increased 9 percent, leaving the city with an extra $2 million.

In the fiscal year that ended in June, Carson City's government found itself with an 8 percent increase in sales taxes, roughly $1.5 million extra. City supervisors saved much of this, anticipating rough economic waters ahead.

"We're in great financial condition -- right now," said David Heath, Carson City's finance director.

But a member of the Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds, Jon Nowlin, cites those figures as evidence sales-tax income has grown much faster than the rate of inflation, leaving supervisors with extra money to fund community charities.

Traditionally, city officials save extra sales tax dollars and other unanticipated revenue to use for the city's capital improvement program. It pays for items such as new construction, cars for sheriff's deputies, fire trucks and computers.

Last year, though, supervisors pulled $1 million from the capital fund to put into savings. This year, they saved around $2 million. Combined with a $3.5 million rainy-day fund, the city has around $6.5 million in reserve.

Supervisor Richard Staub is a critic of the city's system of dealing with capital purchases. He said he's not pleased with being told the city faces a deficit every year, only to find a surplus at the end of the fiscal year.

But the conservative budgeting creating the surplus has allowed the city to keep its head above water while other local governments struggle to balance their books.

Even though supervisors fear the effect of losing Wal-Mart's sales taxes, the city's 2002-2003 budget balanced with enough money to fund nine extra dispatch positions. This year's budget anticipates the loss of $800,000 of Wal-Mart sales taxes, as well as a decrease in auto sales, which accounts for the largest portion of sales taxes in Carson City.

Supervisors balanced the budget with a combination of utility franchise fee increases -- earning $410,000 for their $45 million budget -- and an anticipated 3.5 percent increase in sales tax revenues. They declined, for the first time in the city's history, a property tax increase -- although they could have raised their operating rate by up to 14 cents. They did levy this year a state-mandated 1/1000 of 1 cent to fund a juvenile center.

They had enough money left over to support $400,000 in community charitable requests.

Heath said it is unreasonable to expect auto sales to continue to contribute 55 percent of the city's sales tax income. Supervisors further fear losing auto dealers to Douglas County. That would be a worse loss than even a Wal-Mart, they agree.

Mayor Ray Masayko said while the numbers look to be in Carson City's favor, "what goes up will go sideways and will go down."

Masayko, city supervisors and City Manager John Berkich acknowledge that selling the fairgrounds will not protect the city's budget from anticipated deficits. What most worries Berkich is not the single loss of Wal-Mart, but the potential loss of other Carson City retailers and their sales tax dollars.

If other retailers leave, that could create bigger gaps in sales tax income. And that's where city leaders fear they'll encounter budget draining problems.

"We know that sales-tax generation is the fuel that runs Carson City government's public service engine," Masayko said.

The alternative to healthy sales tax increases, Masayko and supervisors said, is to ask city departments to cut costs. The second option is a hike in property taxes.

And while supervisors said a vote against selling the fairgrounds isn't a threat of higher property taxes, revenue to keep running government has to come from somewhere.

Are dollars and cents only part of the Fuki Park ballot Question?

Will selling the fairgrounds help Carson City's economy?

"Remember, we must never forget that open space and parks and trails are to a large degree dependent on how successful we are in generating sales tax. There's an inherent link between our ongoing ability to create and maintain our quality of life and our ability and success of generating sales tax. We must keep that constantly in mind." -- Carson City Manager John Berkich

"It's hard to believe this little parcel is going to stave off the Douglas County retail threat." -- Jeanne Yapple, Concerned Citizen to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds.

"This begs the question, should municipal government, cities and counties be relying on sales taxes for fundamental services? That's the hand we're dealt. " -- Mayor Ray Masayko.

"As John Berkich said, it is not a silver bullet to solving Carson City's tax problems. Who is it that decides how Carson City develops? The citizens or out-of-state developers?" -- Jon Nowlin, Concerned Citizen to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds.

If this is such an important community issue, why is one member of the Board of Supervisors running unopposed in this election?

"People are disillusioned. Voting levels are low, and this is where it starts. The attitude is that it's a done deal, that they didn't have any power in government. People feel if they don't hear me in Carson City, they won't hear me (at the federal level.)" -- Susan Hoffman, Concerned Citizen to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds

"I was shocked I didn't have an opponent. I take it as a compliment, but I didn't take it as an endorsement of my stance on anything. Because of this Fuji Park thing, I thought someone from the (Concerned Citizen) group would run." -- Supervisor Robin Williamson

"The key theme is disillusionment. The local yokels feel they have the power and they don't have to listen to anyone but the crony sitting next to them. We're disillusioned. I don't want to be one of them. There's no way we could make a change even if we were elected to that board." -- Charlie Kuhn, Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds

"A real vocal minority has made an issue over something that is not an issue in Carson City," -- Supervisor Jon Plank.

Do you regret any part of the process that brought this issue about?

"I regret not having an open process that once we were going to develop that property (the Costco parcel) we didn't open it up to all developers. Once we made the redevelopment decision, we weren't going back." -- Mayor Ray Masayko

"I support the sale (of the fairgrounds) and what we did with Costco." -- Supervisor Robin Williamson

"Fuji Park and the fairgrounds in my two years has not been driven by the dictates of the Board. I think city staff should have asked for guidance on Costco." -- Supervisor Richard Staub

What message does this advisory question send?

"That we listened. We want you to know the reality. Fuji Park is staying. The issue is the relocation of the fairgrounds." -- Supervisor Robin Williamson

"That will tell the supervisors what the people want. That's what I've been looking at for all this time. That way they have the vote of the people in town. If (voters) don't want the fairgrounds there, we'll work with other alternates." -- Jack Andersen, president of the Fuji Park Users Association

"The people do have a right to voice their opinion. Not all decisions should be made by elected bodies. There are some decisions of such concern that should be made by a wider decision. I support the public decision part of it." -- Supervisor Pete Livermore

Does voting "no" on Carson City Question 1 equal voting for a property tax increase?

"One thing we like in Carson City is low property taxes. Certainly, we're not making that a threat. We will have to generate additional revenues if we're not (competitive.)" -- Supervisor Robin Williamson

"(Carson taxes) have increased every year in the past decade. So, although one could say with considerable truth that property taxes probably will go up if the fairgrounds are not sold, equally truthful would be the statement that property taxes probably will go up if the fairgrounds is sold, or if it rains tomorrow, or whatever. What controls property taxes is city expenditures, not revenues." Jon Nowlin, Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds

"We must do whatever we can to compete with surrounding counties ... to attract development to keep the community healthy so that we have a strong tax base and can keep low property taxes." -- Supervisor Richard Staub

Why is a yes vote on Question 1 good for Carson City?

"First of all, it will give us a new and improved fairgrounds. The property at the fairgrounds is an important parcel to be developed for sales taxes. We know that sales tax generation is the fuel that runs Carson City government's public engine. We can't keep stoking the engine without coal." -- Mayor Ray Masayko

"It will provide some opportunity to provide sales taxes to Carson City instead of letting it go to Douglas County. We'll start a better fairgrounds that would attract bigger and better events than what we are now hosting. The ultimate would be the state fair." -- Supervisor Jon Plank

What does a yes vote on Carson City Question 1 mean?

"Go ahead and develop." -- Supervisor Jon Plank.

"The people will have spoken. We won't be happy with it, but we can't fight it." Charles Kuhn, Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds

"It tells the Board of Supervisors to exercise their best judgment. It sends a message on this that we will do what we need to to balance the budget ... It's a win if we can make (the fairgrounds) a bigger, larger facility." -- Mayor Ray Masayko

"The economics have changed. The issue still remains: is selling 12 to 14 acres in a creek area the best decision for the community? The ballot just authorizes them to market it. That still isn't selling it. There are still a lot of issues that will remain to be addressed before this is sold." -- Jon Nowlin, Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds

What does a no vote mean?

"We'll adjust. We'll get by." -- Supervisor Pete Livermore

"If we vote no, does this mean the park is not going to be improved?" -- Jon Nowlin, Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds

"A no vote means we maintain it the way it is. We would attempt to improve the facilities. It wouldn't prevent a future board from doing something different." -- Supervisor Jon Plank

Where it would go, what would go on it

By Amanda Hammon, Appeal Staff Writer

Mike Hoffman looks at the Carson City Fairgrounds and Fuji Park and wonders how city officials could trade it for a shopping center.

"Why would you not want to have a green belt there?" said Hoffman, president of the Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds.

Hoffman and his group are lobbying for a no vote on Carson City Question 1. They hope Carson City residents won't want to trade the current fairgrounds site for a shopping center and a relocated fairgrounds in the city's desert-like east side.

"This is a unique property. There's no place like it in Eagle Valley," said Concerned Citizens member Susan Hoffman. "It has the only year-round, running creek in Carson City. Look around you. Do you know any place like it, a park where you can be near a creek under shade trees?"

If Carson City voters vote yes on Carson City Question 1, city officials will begin looking at commercial development of the fairgrounds.

It doesn't mean officials will slap a "for sale" sign on the fence posts Nov. 6, Mayor Ray Masayko said. It simply means the city will continue to look at whether it's feasible to offer the site for development.

"We owe it to the community to look at the fairgrounds for commercial development," Masayko said.

If the Carson City fairgrounds were developed, a preliminary plan from October 2001 shows 190,000 square feet of retail development straddling Clear Creek. The conceptual project would include more than 1,100 parking spaces and would be required to have landscaping. The plan shows development at least 100 feet away from either side of the creek.

"Is this what quality of life means to us? Do we look on big box stores as progress?" said Concerned Citizens member Eileen Cohen. "It's changing the character of this community."

City supervisors paid $25,000 to David Gates and Associates of California for the conceptual plan.

The city has spent just shy of $2 million, all from money set aside after the sale of city land to Costco, preparing land next to Fuji Park for the Costco development and studying the fairgrounds' development potential. Much of the rest of the $3.7 million the city set aside from the Costco land sale is set aside for two phases of improvements to Fuji Park, the first of which is under way and should be completed in January.

The money the city spent includes $24,735 on a plan to move Clear Creek to make more land available for development, plans to prepare the fairgrounds for a Super Wal-Mart (which went to Douglas County instead) and environmental surveys.

Carson City supervisors await the outcome of the Nov. 5 vote to determine if they should market the fairgrounds for commercial development. City officials argue the fairgrounds would be better used as commercial property, considering its location in the city's most-active area. They also argue selling the fairgrounds would keep retail stores in Carson City, generating sales tax dollars necessary for government operations.

"It's hard to believe this little parcel is going to stave off Douglas County retail threat," responded Jeanne Yaple, a Concerned Citizen member. "I find that disingenuous."

If the fairgrounds were relocated, city supervisors chose in May a 300-acre site off Flint Drive directly north of the city's landfill. The Carson City Parks and Recreation Commission rejected the site and two others in an initial 2001 search.

"The site we chose isn't a perfect site; it's a site that can work and it is a site that we can certainly look at," Masayko said.

The pi-on- and sage-covered site offers easy access to the Pine Nut Mountains, but it sits within direct view of operations at the landfill. The Flint Drive site is owned by the Bureau of Land Management and is available for recreation purposes.

Jack Andersen, president of the Fuji Park Users Association, said he doesn't think the Flint Drive site will work simply because the cost to bring utilities there would be exorbitant. City officials estimate the cost of development of the Flint site at $5 million to $7 million. In their most recent estimate, city officials expected to receive between $3.8 million and $4.8 million for the fairgrounds property.

Members of the users group don't want to leave their current site anyway, Andersen said.

"We're still hoping we're going to stay at the fairgrounds," Andersen said. "We don't know where we'll go. There won't be enough money to build at Flint."

Supervisor Richard Staub was against the Flint site from the beginning and requested city staff take a look at the so-called County Line site. Directly east of Eagle Valley Golf Course, the property is protected by the Bureau of Land Management as permanent open space.

"I asked city staff to look into securing the County Line site," Staub said. "I still felt it was an option. I don't believe staff made any contacts with the BLM to change that zoning. I find that very unfortunate. To me, Flint is square footage that is available."


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