Final Reno, Sparks and county budgets get around severe cuts

Brian Duggan
Reno Gazette Journal

The three local governments in the Truckee Meadows are expected today to consider their final general fund budgets for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

While all three are still feeling the effects of the housing bust and subsequent recession, the proposed budgets won’t include the dramatic cuts that have defined local government finance since 2007, Reno, Sparks and Washoe County officials report. All three governments must submit their budgets to the state by June 1.

And as part of the efforts to balance the municipal books for the next fiscal year, the governments have been forced to consider a series of options, including a raise in taxes, cuts in services and holding out hope for a better economy.

Reno

The Reno City Council will consider adding a dozen police officers to city payrolls next fiscal year with a tentative property tax increase for city residents. The city also is considering increasing its right-of-way toll on Reno water customers to help pay for street repairs.

The property tax revenue would raise about $1 million and pay for 12 police officers. The water fee increase, from 3 percent to 5 percent of a customers’ water bill, is expected to generate about $900,000.

City staff had recommended the property tax increase go toward replenishing the city’s budget reserves, which are as low as they’re allowed to go before the city winds up in hot water with state taxation officials. But earlier this month, City Council members indicated they wanted the new revenue to pay for the extra police protection.

The proposed property tax increase would bring Reno’s tax rate to the capped rate of $3.66 per $100 of assessed value, up from $3.64.

Washoe County

Despite a smaller decline in property values over the next fiscal year than previously predicted, county commissioners still are considering a budget that includes eliminating 51 vacant positions throughout the county government. This includes 28 vacant jobs in the sheriff’s office.

Tim Ross, the president of the Washoe County Sheriff Deputies Association, called the $2.4 million budget reduction for the Sheriff’s Office a “significant and unacceptable cut to county law enforcement.” Less than a month ago, the sheriff’s office was preparing for a $3.9 million cut.

Other potential cuts on the table include shuttering two small Washoe County library branches, as well as $3.5 million for capital projects like building, road and other infrastructure repairs.

The county must also set aside $14.5 million pay off a portion of the Incline Village property tax refunds, which stem from improper property tax assessments about a decade ago. In all, the county owes the affected Incline Village homeowners about $40 million.

By and large, the proposed budget will mean a continued reduction in response times and services for Washoe County residents, said Sheri Mendez, the county’s finance director.

Sparks

Sparks Finance Director Jeff Cronk said the city will balance its budget next year by drawing down on its reserves by $1.9 million. Even with that, the Rail City’s reserve fund still will be about twice the the state-mandated minimum level, which is two weeks’ worth of cash to cover expenses throughout the year.

“This next year we’re looking to be stable,” said Cronk, who expects challenges for the 2013-14 fiscal year and beyond.

For example, a $725,000 grant that’s paying for six police officers is expected to expire next year. Also in 2013-14, Spark’s general fund may be forced to start covering redevelopment bond payments to the tune of about $500,000 each year through 2017.

“We’ve got those storm clouds that we’re expecting,” Cronk said.

Property values may start to rebound, or at least stop falling, and sales tax collections may continue to improve, increasing from the 1 percent jump officials in all three governments are expecting next year.

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