The Assembly Government Affairs Committee was told on Wednesday compacting and reorganizing the V&T Railroad Commission will make it more efficient, free more money for the railroad itself and focus its efforts on generating more tourism.
Storey County Manager Pat Whitten said Senate Bill 57 removes current members representing Douglas, Washoe and Lyon counties from the board as well as the two appointed by the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader along with the Historic Rail Society representative.
The Carson City Board of Supervisors and Storey County Commission would each retain a member, and the member appointed by the governor would remain, while representatives from the Carson City Visitors Bureau (CCVB) and Virginia City Tourism Commission would be added.
Representatives from Douglas, Lyon and Washoe counties all testified they agree with the changed. Whitten said the changes reduce membership to those who “have skin in the game,” those entities that provide the V&T commission’s funding.
The commission is currently funded with an eighth-of-a-cent addition to the sales tax in the capital and a piece of the room tax along with a quarter-of-a-cent sales tax add-on in Storey County.
Gold Hill Historical Society’s Kim Fagert said taxpayers have put nearly $40 million into the railroad and “this thing is not exactly ringing with return or success.” He said contractors are making money but the railroad isn’t.
“Right now this is being operated like a fifth grader’s model railroad club,” he said.
Whitten and Storey County Commission Vice Chairman Jack McGuffey said the proposed changes in SB57 take care of most of those issues.
Whitten said adding the Carson and Virginia City tourism officials would enable the Railroad Commission to take over its own marketing efforts.
McGuffey said the railroad commission is currently paying more than $100,000 in marketing fees.
“We can do that with the convention boards,” he said.
He said the Storey comptroller has offered to take on the financial accounting for them enabling the commission to eliminate that contract as well. And he said they’re looking at reducing contract legal services to an “on call” system.
“We’re looking right now at over $300,000 that can be used on the train,” McGuffey said.
Whitten said in the past, having that broader membership was good when they were developing the V&T and building it from scratch. Now, he said, they’re moving into more of an operating mode and what they really need to do is drive tourism to the train so its ticket sales raise more money to expansion, repair and maintenance.
SB57 has already passed through the Nevada Senate, winning unanimous approval both in committee and on the floor.
The Assembly committee took no action on the measure.