A bill to change the composition of the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway received its first hearing in the legislature Wednesday.
Senate Bill 57 would reduce the nine-member board to five by removing representatives from Douglas, Lyon and Washoe counties, the Virginia and Truckee Historical Railroad Society, and members appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Majority Leader.
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.
The purpose is to better reflect the current nature of the commission, said the bill’s proponents.
“We want to simply restructure and streamline the existing board,” Pat Whitten, Storey County manager, told the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. “I have to compliment the commission. They made it happen over the last 20 years. I want to make that context point clear. But we’ve moved from ‘let’s build it’ to ‘let’s operate it.’”
Storey County requested the bill and Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell and City Manager Nick Marano spoke in support of it.
“I sit on the commission and would echo what County Manager Whitten has said,” said Crowell.
The railway offers three routes, including one from Eastgate Depot in Carson City, near Mound House, to Virginia City, and theme trains such as wine tasting excursions and a Mother’s Day special.
But it operates in the red through the summer until the popular Polar Express trains bring in 16,000 riders during the Christmas season.
“We think by streamlining the board it would help get and keep the operation in the black,” said Marano.
Representatives from Lyon and Washoe counties also spoke in support of the bill.
“We believe us having a say in the V&T is useless as we have no skin in the game,” said Jeff Page, Lyon County manager.
The railway is funded primarily by Carson City, through room and sales taxes, and by Storey County.
The commission was expanded nine years ago, partly in hopes other counties would help fund it and casinos and lodging operations in those counties would help market it. That is the source of some opposition to the bill.
Candy Duncan, former executive director of the CCVB, said much of the interest in the V&T comes from visitors to Lake Tahoe and Reno so Douglas and Washoe counties benefit. “I believe they should have some representation (on the commission) and help us with marketing,” said Duncan.
Dwight Millard, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s appointment and chairman of the commission, like Duncan, said he wasn’t against the bill but wanted to see it modified.
Millard said he would like a funding mechanism included for additional construction that might extend the routes, and for the other counties to step up in getting the word out about it.
“This train is a valuable asset to the region. They still benefit from it and should at least acknowledge it and promote it,” said Millard.
After testimony, Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said the bill would be taken under advisement for a future meeting.