Supervisors, assemblyman clash over Quality of Life funds
Carson City supervisors voted unanimously Thursday to send formal notification to freshman Assemblyman Pete Livermore respectfully requesting that he withdraw Assembly Bill 263, which he introduced in the Legislature a week ago.
The bill proposes a change to the city’s charter – which can only be made at the state level – which would limit the board’s ability to spend funds collected under Question 18 Quality of Life.
AB263 states that the proceeds from the 1⁄4-cent tax, approved in an advisory question by voters in 1996, must not be used to pay any administrative costs, regardless of whether those costs are associated with the projects outlined in the question.
Officials argued that the cost allocation process was appropriate, but Livermore, a former city supervisor, appeared before the board to say that the intent of the voters was not being honored.
“Can these funds be used for other purposes? No,” Livermore said.
According to Question 18, the funds need to be kept separate from the city general fund and used exclusively for open space and a list of specific recreation projects, Livermore said. The money collected is divided into three accounts: 40 percent for open space, 40 percent for parks and recreation projects, and 20 percent for the future operation and maintenance of those recreation projects.
“The absolute intent was that the 20 percent was not to be used for anything other than new facilities,” Livermore said.
City Manager Larry Werner explained that in the cost allocation process, a number of departments charge certain funds, such as the V&T, Regional Transportation and Quality of Life, for the services the department provides to those funds.
Allocated costs for Quality of Life went to a number of places in 2010, such as the board of supervisors, clerk, treasurer, district attorney, city manager and finance department, for a total of $135,333.
“We had our cost allocation study done … using time and attendance sheets,” said Finance Director Nick Providenti. “This is the way every government does this across the country. The process is not arbitrary or capricious. We spend a lot of time, and feel they are appropriate.”
Livermore said the process has only been implemented in the last three years, and that he opposed it while still on the board of supervisors.
Supervisor John McKenna asked Livermore whether he would consider withdrawing his bill if the board of supervisors promised to discuss the cost allocation process further.
“It’s a local matter, and not something (63 lawmakers) should have to deal with,” McKenna said.
“I tried to discuss this with the board, and I won’t withdraw my bill,” he said.
“What you’re doing smacks of micro-management,” McKenna said.
Several people who worked on Question 18 gave some historical perspective to supervisors – none of whom were involved in the process in 1996.
“I think that we’re in trouble nationwide if this is the way government works,” said Mike Fischer, who has been on the Open Space Advisory Committee since its creation.
And Donna DePauw, who chairs the city’s Charter Review Committee, said she was one of five founders who worked on Question 18. After having worked on the California lottery for many years before moving here, she said she became extremely frustrated that the money was going to teacher salaries rather than to children.
“I requested that the district attorney put the right language in this so that the same thing wouldn’t happen here,” DePauw said. “I was adamant that it not be used as general fund money. It kills me that an advisory question goes to public salaries. I’m asking you to stop the madness and find a way to pay back the $350,000 that has already been taken.”
McKenna called it a basic philosophical difference, and wondered if opponents believed that only “dirt-
moving” should come out of Question 18.
“I expect the district attorney and finance director costs should come out of the general fund. Isn’t that why we have them on staff?” DePauw asked.
Mayor Bob Crowell said that kind of thinking basically amounts to “subsidizing the cost” for Quality of Life projects.
Steve Hartman, who is also on the Open Space Committee, agreed that the issue was tricky, but that the board needed to stick to the intent of the question.
“All employees are paid a salary for the job they do year-around. You have to stay within those bounds or go back to the community” with the question.
“Where is this best dealt with, locally or at the Legislature?” McKenna asked.
“There were attempts to solve this locally, but it never got any traction. There’s a time when you can’t do it locally,” Hartman said.
“Government workers are hired to do all that (cost-allocated) work anyway. They get paid to do whatever comes in front of them,” he said.
Supervisor Shelly Aldean said the question is what the voters intended.
“We have a contractual right to do what we’re doing by charter,” she said.
Crowell said the projects that create the costs should be the ones which pay for it, otherwise, the city would be subsidizing Question 18 projects with general fund money.
McKenna, clearly upset that the matter had been taken to the Legislature, spoke out against the action.
“Excuses that ‘I was not listened to,’ and ‘I tried for years and failed,’ and that ‘a few people do not agree with what has been done,’ does not justify the abandonment of local government,” McKenna said.
Livermore said there would be plenty of time to work the issue out locally “long before this gets to the governor’s office. (Bill passage) is a long process.”
Aldean said she wanted Livermore to table the bill.
“I’m trying to avoid an adversarial position with you. You’ve always resented the state meddling in local affairs,” she said.
Crowell said the cost allocations were approved in February, and that was the time to have had this discussion.
“We’ll get another shot during the budget process,” Crowell said. “We should not be having a local discussion in front of the Legislature. If the bill passes, those costs will be assigned to Parks and Rec, and if not there, to the general fund.”
AB 263 will be heard by the Assembly Taxation Committee at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Room 4100 of the legislative building.