Storm drainage should be utility fee

Question 1 on Carson City's ballot asks, in effect, who will be paying for improvements to the city's storm drainage system - not whether taxes should be raised.

At issue is a one-eighth of a cent sales tax. It will raise about $1 million a year to pay for a 20-year project to greatly lessen the damage done by floods like the one in January 1997 that turned streets on Carson's west side into raging rivers.

We agree with the need for the long-term effort. We also agree with the original analysis that said the cost of those improvements should be borne by property owners.

In fact, that's what's happening now. Homeowners this year started paying $1.70 a month on their utility bills for stormwater drainage, while businesses pay more - potentially a lot more.

City supervisors decided a better way to pay for drains and detention ponds would be to increase the sales tax a tiny fraction, thereby spreading the cost across all the population, as well as tourists who spend money here.

Described as $1.25 tax on a $1,000 purchase, it's seen as almost imperceptible to the consumer and therefore a relatively painless way to pay for the storm drainage.

But a tax is still a tax. It makes more sense to pay for utilities through user fees, putting storm drainage in the same category as sanitary sewers and water lines - even though that means the monthly homeowner's bill will probably go to $3.40 to raise enough money to pay for the project.

One argument against the utility fee is that it makes Carson City seem unfriendly to business, because businesses pay more than homeowners on the monthly fee. But that's an argument for adjusting the fee structure, not for shifting to a sales tax.

We're recommending a no vote on Carson City ballot Question 1. Just remember that it means a difference in philosophy over how to pay for storm drainage; it's not a vote against the project, which Carson City residents will pay for one way or the other.


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