Storey residents discuss need for five commissioners
Storey County residents urged county officials Tuesday to provide more information about a proposal increasing the number of county commissioners from three to five.
Several audience members at the board of commissioners meeting said they are under-represented with the current system, but are uncertain how adding two more commissioners would affect them.
Charles Chisolm urged the officials to go slowly and carefully with the proposal.
“A few years ago, the county was scraping the bottom of the barrel for revenue. I think there could be a lot of hidden costs,” Chisolm said.
“I’m not opposed to having five commissioners; I just think we need to keep our eyes wide open as we’re getting there.”
But Ray Carmaga of Mark Twain said he thought more commissioners would help that community’s residents.
“We don’t ask for much in Mark Twain, but we give a lot of taxes,” he said. “One thing we don’t get much of is representation.”
Dave Thomas of the Virginia Highlands saw another possible benefit in having five commissioners.
“Now, two commissioners cannot speak together about anything regarding the county without violating the open meeting laws. This would help solve that, said Thomas, who said he does not believe the Highlands are getting adequate representation now.
No vote was taken by the two commissioners present, Chairman Charles Haynes and Commissioner Greg Hess. Haynes said Commissioner Carl Trink was absent because he was not feeling well.
“I’m in favor of getting it on a general election ballot, but we need to discuss it more. I think Commissioner Trink was in favor and he’ll be here at the next meeting,” Hess said.
Virginia Carrington said she was concerned that the commissioner districts be determined geographically, not arbitrarily.
“There should be one for Lockwood, the Highlands, Mark Twain and VC and, of course, an at-large seat,” Carrington said.
Haynes pointed out, though, that there could not be a combination of district and at-large seats. Either all the commissioners would be elected by the voters within their own district, or they would be elected by all voters in Storey County.
“I’m neither for nor opposed to five commissioners. I’m just giving the pros or cons,” Haynes said. “It’s our responsibility as commissioners to give the information out and let the voters decide.”
Hess also said he was neither for or against the change, but thought it needed to be considered. He warned that many people’s expectations are inaccurate.
“There’s lots of hidden costs – more than we thought at first,” Hess said. “The $60,000 some folks have said it would cost is not right.
“The first year would cost $106,000 for pay, benefits and travel for two commissioners.
“When we first looked at this a month ago, I thought it was possible that we’d get two commissioners from Virginia City, one from the Highlands, one from Lockwood and one from Mark Twain.
“But it’s a jigsaw puzzle. We could have more from Mark Twain and none from Virginia City. You could start thinking you’ll get better representation and end up not getting any.”
Two legal issues effect that. First, the districts must be as equal in population as possible, so less populated areas would be teamed with more populated ones in each district. Storey County’s tiny Mark Twain population could actually be divided in two, each paired with half of Virginia City, for example. Storey’s Mark Twain residents could not make up a district by themselves.
Second, the same election ballot that asks to increase the number of commissioners will have another question asking voters to choose between at-large or district voting for the seats.
Haynes warned, “A very easy scenario that could occur if the elections are at large is that, say, the Virginia Highlands would not get the person who would be naturally elected by the voters of that district.”
On the other hand, Hess said, “I think that, if you are elected on a district by district basis, you’re totally alienated from the other districts’ voters.”
The questions could go on either the primary or general election ballots later this year. Haynes said he felt the general election would be better because more voters participate.
But if a larger board of commissioners was approved this year, the county would have to get all the new districts set up and approved in advance, then face the costs of reapportioning them after the 2000 U.S.
Census numbers are released in March 2001, Haynes said.