By Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer
The Storey County property tax rate could go down if the tentative county budget is adopted in May.
The budget calls for a cut in the property tax rate of 3.23 cents per $100 valuation, thanks to the strength of some of the county funds.
County Manager Pat Whitten said the indigent medical fund is adequate at current levels, so he was able to cut that fund's part of the taxes from 6 cents to 3 cents per $100.
He also said because youth services fluctuates, he could cut that fund a bit, saying that by using the China Springs Youth Facility and the Silver Springs facility, the county was able to see two successive years with small decreases.
Whitten said the county received increased revenue from personal and real property taxes at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, though overall sales taxes were down.
He said there are no layoffs in the budget this year. The county commissioners approved a tentative budget Thursday, though Chairman Greg "Bum" Hess made it clear it was just a tentative budget, with nothing set in stone until the final budget in May.
"The last three years we have taken a cautious and conservative approach to property taxes," Whitten said, adding the county also needed to be prepared for cuts in state funding.
Most county departments either kept funding as is or had slight gains for wage increases. Other increases were because of increased cost of equipment and technology, or for added security.
Among the department heads, Justice of the Peace Annette Daniels requested bailiffs because the courtroom at the county justice offices had defendants and their supporters sitting too close to accusers and theirs, and that emotions may get high.
"Our main concern is security," she said. "There is a lot of tension."
The budget for the sheriff's office rose by 12 percent, comparable to an increase in arrests and prosecutions, Whitten said.
Salary and benefits were up 6 percent.
"Times are changing; you have to keep up," he said.
The department, along with the county, will look at a fleet rotation management plan that will allow vehicles formerly used by the sheriff's department to be used by other departments which have less need for speed and power in their vehicles. Whitten said they also were looking at the option of leasing vehicles for the sheriff's department.
Other increases were in forensic lab fees, testing, recruitment and retention of officers.
Sheriff Jim Miller said the department made 600 arrests last year and the jail was at or near capacity daily.
He suggested eventually going to a dormitory-style jail to save money.
Miller said he was looking for revenue sources for the jail, such as having inmates pay for their own phone calls and looking at fees.
"Eighty percent of the people we put in jail are not residents of Storey County," Miller said.
For the fire department, the main cost is a $597,000 Tahoe Reno Industrial Park fire station.
"Without the TRI expense, the fire budget would be about the same," said Hess.
Whitten said he was looking at five different permits for the department.
Fire Chief Gary Hames said he had 1,105 calls in 2007 and was having trouble getting applications for firefighters and paramedics.
The Storey County Senior Center showed an increase, but Lockwood Senior Center's budget remained the same.
Community Chest Inc., which spends $300,000 for its programs, received less in its budget, $100,000, down from $115,000.
Piper's Opera House did not submit a request, the Fourth Ward School requested a slight increase for higher utilities costs, and other requests were for a Jeep Posse and a baseball clinic.
Whitten recommended in the future considering something in regional transportation, such as a rural program they would discuss with other rural county officials.
Some county offices showed a decrease in budget and others showed an increase.
For example, for the county clerk, salaries are down but the cost of the election is up. The budget for the recorder's office showed one less employee, who moved to the new Comptroller's Office, and a part-time employee had hours cut from 19 to 10 hours a week.
That employee did mandatory redacting of personal information from county documents.
The Public Works Department budget increased because of additional equipment needs, the new substation at TRI, needed water infrastructure and the higher cost of water by the state.
An increased number of roads dedicated from TRI also meant new costs, Whitten said.
The final budget will be voted on next month.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-7351.