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A class of its own: Carson could be only county to devote tax to tourism

By Dave Frank

Appeal Staff Writer

Carson City could be the first Nevada county to give a tourism project all the money from a sales tax that local governments can levy without voter approval.

A one-quarter cent sales tax for infrastructure is the only tax of that kind available to all counties. It was passed by the Legislature in 1997 after some counties complained they didn’t have enough control over their own governments.

Carson City would devote the whole tax to the V&T Railway project if the board of supervisors approves a second one-eighth cent sales tax following voters’ reaction to a November advisory ballot question.

The city passed the first one-eighth cent sales tax for the project in 2005. That and the new tax would sunset in the 2020s.

The use of the tax would be unique, however, with only Storey County using the infrastructure tax in some way for tourism. There, tourism is one of several things, including schools and public works, it is used for.

The six other counties that have levied the tax – Churchill, Clark, Lander, Lincoln, Washoe and White Pine – have used it for needs including jails, water projects and utilities, including an upgrade for a sewer treatment plant in Lander.

Carson City has had to delay a multi-million dollar upgrade at its sewer treatment plant because of a budget shortfall.

The state passed the law allowing the sales tax without voter or state approval as a response to counties, particularly Clark County, that said it would give them more control over their budgets.

Carole Vilardo, president of the Nevada Taxpayers Association, said there are times when counties need to raise taxes without asking voters, but those counties should examine what their priorities are and look at the tax rates of neighboring counties before doing so.

Carson City’s tax rate is lower than that of Washoe and Storey counties, but higher than Lyon and Douglas counties.

The state’s base sales tax rate is 6 1/2 cents. Besides the V&T tax, Carson City has added voter-approved one-quarter cent sales taxes to that for road repairs as well as parks and open space.

The infrastructure tax is usually used for buildings, said Warner Ambrose, a Nevada Department of Taxation analyst, but it can apply to “basically anything attached to the ground,” which includes V&T construction.

But, according to Vilardo, this excludes the actual operation of the V&T.

Using the second half of the infrastructure tax for such a specific purpose is a problem, said Carson City Supervisor Richard Staub, because it doesn’t allow the city to use some of the money if a problem, such as needed public works upgrades, unexpectedly come up.

The advisory question does lets voters tell supervisors what they think about an “issue that that has such division,” though, said Staub, who voted to put it on the ballot.

Mayor Marv Teixeira, who proposed the V&T tax idea, has said it’s important to use the infrastructure tax for a project that will generate more sales taxes and improve the city’s economy.

His plan would put an advisory question on the November ballot asking voters if the city should give $10 million to the state tourist train project through a one-eighth cent sales tax in exchange for 5 percent of the ticket sales for 99 years.

The 18-mile railroad will run from Virginia City to Carson City. It is expected to cost at least $55 million and be finished around 2011.

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

Nevada county sales tax rates

These include the base state sales tax of 6 1/2 cents per dollar (Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka,

Humboldt, Mineral and Pershing counties have this base rate).

Carson City: 7 1/8 cents

Churchill: 7 1/4 cents

Clark: 7 3/4 cents

Douglas: 6 3/4 cents

Lander: 6 3/4 cents

Lincoln: 6 3/4 cents

Lyon: 6 3/4 cents

Nye: 6 3/4 cents

Storey: 7 1/4 cents

Washoe: 7 3/8 cents

White Pine: 7 3/8 cents