Audit: Agriculture Department missed $200,000 in fees

The Nevada Department of Agriculture failed to collect more than $200,000 in fees during fiscal 2004 because of billing problems and errors.

Legislative Auditors said the two biggest problem areas were failing to collect nursery licensing fees from up to 800 businesses in the state, and not collecting the livestock tax that owners of horses, cows, sheep and other farm animals are required to pay annually.

State law requires livestock owners to pay a minimum annual tax on each head of livestock they own. The minimum per animal is $5. If the law had been properly enforced, auditors say the department could have added $50,000 to the $131,000 it collected in fiscal 2004.

Agriculture Director Don Henderson said one problem with that estimate is it is based on USDA estimates of how many cattle are in Nevada. He said the 510,000 total was produced by a formula based on a survey, not by an actual head count. He said the department could definitely do better at finding and taxing livestock owners, but that it will never have a fully verifiable head count.

Auditors say 300 landscaping and related businesses were licensed by the department, but that as many as 800 other businesses should probably pay for licensing. They estimate finding just half of them would add $50,000 to revenues each year.

Henderson said, however, the department has taken steps to find unlicensed nurseries. He said he has hired a retired landscape contractor to track down unlicensed nurseries in the Reno area and has a similar position in the Las Vegas area.

Auditors also found two companies they say owed the state $113,000 for inspections of potatoes and garlic being shipped to market. Henderson said those companies have since paid those bills.

In addition, auditors said department staff improperly waived brand renewal and transfer fees, costing the state $32,200. Brands expire by law every four years and owners must pay to renew their brand. Henderson agreed the department needs to develop a policy for when a fee can be waived.

The Legislative Audit Subcommittee agreed to accept the audit and Henderson's response to the recommendations.

-- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

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