Lyon and Churchill county officials asked lawmakers Tuesday for the ability to build and operate a joint juvenile detention center.
SB146 would allow the county commissions in Churchill and Lyon to impose up to 8 cents more on property tax bills to raise the estimated $1 million a year it will take to run the center.
Under existing statute, they can't raise the money without legislative approval because of the revenue cap imposed on county property taxes by the 2005 Legislature. Mary Walker, representing the counties, said counties can raise their property tax rate but the revenue cap prevents them from actually collecting the extra money.
She said the detention center is badly needed because the existing Western Nevada Youth Facility, which serves Churchill, Lyon and three other counties, is a drug-treatment program and isn't a secure operation. The proposed center would operate more like a jail for juvenile offenders.
Lyon Juvenile Probation chief Devere Karlson told the Senate Taxation Committee there are many times when existing centers in Douglas County and Carson City can't take their youthful offenders, and that too often, she or another officer has had to keep them overnight at the juvenile probation offices. And she said she has been told many times that "kids in Churchill County know you can't detain them so they're not scared."
She said with the growth of the two counties, they badly need the 24-bed juvenile detention center.
Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, asked why the Senate committee should put its members on the line supporting what amounts to a local tax increase when rural Assembly members in the 2003 session joined those trying to block tax increases needed by Nevada's big counties.
"Are your assemblymen willing to come in and tell us they are willing to support taxes? When the big counties needed money, they weren't here," he said.
Walker told Schneider the legislation doesn't ask lawmakers to increase taxes, it only enables the county commissions to impose up to 8 cents for support of juvenile detention centers.
"We do not want legislation to do that for us," she said.
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, agreed the center is badly needed but questioned whether Gov. Jim Gibbons, who has said he will oppose tax increases this session, would sign the bill if it passes. He asked Walker and the county officials to answer that question.
Walker reiterated that SB146 doesn't increase any tax, it simply allows local authorities to do so in a public meeting with the public participating in the debate.
The committee took no action on the bill.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.