Leaner public safety question could go on ballot

By Dave Frank

Appeal Staff Writer

Voters could raise property taxes under a new plan to hire more staff at the fire and sheriff's departments, though the hike is smaller than first proposed.

The board turned down a public safety committee's recommendations last month that would have asked voters if they wanted to pay for $6 million in city improvements - $4 million for the fire department and $2 million for the sheriff's department.

The new plan would raise about $2 million, with a little more than half of it going to the sheriff's department.

The board will vote Thursday on whether to put the plan on the November ballot.

The city spends close to half of its general fund on public safety, and the added 121Ú2 cent to the property rate would be used for a new ambulance team, more firefighters during wildfire season and, for the sheriff's department, a gang unit, more deputies at the jail and additional dispatchers.

The property tax increase would cost the owner of a $250,000 house about $66 extra a year. Rates, however, would still be lower than those in Reno, Sparks, Minden, Gardnerville, Yerington and Fallon.

Some supervisors and citizens wanted to get some sort of public safety question on the ballot, said City Manager Larry Werner, so departments picked what was most urgent for this plan.

"We can't really wait another two years for this," he said.

The public safety question plan should be separated into two questions, some have said, but Werner said both departments have "compelling" issues they need funded and he doesn't want to pit them against each other.

The public safety committee's study pointed out that emergency calls for the fire department have jumped during the past few years, while the time it takes to respond has increased.

The department's daily staff is smaller per capita than many Northern Nevada cities as well as the national average, according to the study.

"Medical calls are just too much," said Assistant Fire Chief Tom Tarulli.

The city also has fewer police per capita than all surrounding counties except Lyon County. Graffiti, traffic citations and problems at the jail have risen in the past few years.

Crime overall, however, dropped from 2000 to 2006.

The staff the tax increase would fund for the sheriff's department are positions "we don't believe we can do without," according to Sheriff Kenny Furlong.

"We need this and we need this now," he said.

These are all things that are important for the departments, said Ronni Hannaman, a public safety committee member, but the way they are proposed to be funded isn't fair.

"The problem I have is that businesses and homeowners should not bear the brunt of this," she said.

Supervisors decided last month to put an advisory question on the ballot asking votes if they want to raise sales taxes again to help fund the V&T Railway.

Contact reporter Dave Frank at dfrank@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.


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