Informed at the Polls: Senior Services Ballot Question
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As voters head to the polls, KUNR is explaining the numerous ballot questions you'll have to decide. Next up is Washoe County Ballot Question Number 2, which deals with raising taxes to fund senior services. KUNR's Michael Hagerty explains the pros and cons.
Washoe County has a rising senior population and spends millions a year on services for them, such as meals for homebound seniors, nursing visits and legal protection.
And a rising senior population means rising costs for the county. So how do you bring in more money to cover that? You raise the government services tax, which is collected through motor vehicle registrations.
Right now, the Washoe County Commission already has the ability to raise the tax by as much as one percent if it chooses. So, Washoe County Ballot Question No. 2 simply asks voters if they think the commission should. It's advisory only - meaning the question's meant simply to gauge the support of citizens.
So what are the pros and cons? Well, proponents argue an increase would allow the county to put more funds toward what the question deems as "essential public services such as senior services, public safety services, and public infrastructure."
But there are two words in that sentence that are causing some concern: The words "such as."
Those against the measure argue the phrase makes the question too vague, leaving open the possibility the county commission could raise the tax without a dime ever going to senior services, but instead to public safety, infrastructure or even something else. That was a concern several City Council and County Commission candidates expressed at a candidate forum for seniors in mid-October. Here's Ward 5 council candidate Neoma Jardon.
"It is so broad in its language and it doesn't allocate the dollars specifically to the seniors," Jardon said. "It could fall in the chasm of the general funds. And we'd never know where those dollars went."
County Commission candidate Andrew Diss is in favor of the ballot question, but - speaking at that same candidate forum - said he feels it's unnecessary.
"This is something we should've done a long time ago," Diss said. "And it's too bad that it has to go in front of the voters because the county commission has the authority to do this already. But they have not had the political will to stand up and do what's right and stand by our seniors and take care of them and get them the that money they need."
And that raises the question: Why is this ballot question even needed, especially if the commission could raise the tax without it?
Commissioner Kitty Jung - who's running for City Council - explains the commission couldn't get the votes it needed to implement the tax without adding that other language to the question - the language mentioning public safety services and public infrastructure. She says that verbiage could get more people on board.
"The reason why this is an advisory vote is because we can't get the commission to the majority vote to implement this," Jung said. "That's the way this works. And I agree as well that putting in these two other issues not only sweetens the pot, we get other lobbyists to help us get the message out."
And she added public safety and infrastructure are issues that affect seniors too.
Another argument in favor of an increase: The tax hasn't changed in 25 years, despite plenty of growth in the senior population in that time. Plus there's the argument that senior programs save the county money in the long term by avoiding hospital stays or the need for nursing homes.
And then there's the other language in the ballot question that's likely to get voters' attention the most: increasing a tax. That term is usually political poison, and some of the measure's opponents have argued any sort of tax increase during a recession is a bad idea. The average vehicle registration would go up $43 with the new tax, according to a study done by the county. But that's a fee City Council At-Large candidate Hillary Schieve she's willing to pay.
"Absolutely. I'd be happy to pay the extra $43 on my car registration. I would pay five times that because I feel so strongly about it."
Whether voters feel as strongly - we'll find out Nov. 6th. But, again, even if Washoe County Ballot Question Number 2 is voted down, county commissioners - many of which will be new after the election - still have the ability to raise the tax regardless - as much as one percent - which could generate as much as $9.4 million a year.