By Nicole Barde
The agenda looked like it would be a short meeting but it went past noon. County Manager Pat Whitten’s meeting summary is HERE ( when available). To listen to audio of this or other Commission Meetings go HERE.
There were two staff updates. Community Development Director Dean Haymore gave a brief update on the commencement of the Gold Hill Depot and Sharon House repairs. Austin Osborn, Planning Director, announced that the next planning commission meeting would be at the Highlands fire station on March 3. He said that they were holding meetings in each community to allow for inputs to the Master Plan update which he says is almost done. Additionally, Austin stated that the county is in the process of reviewing the Benefits plan for county employees and that costs are going up nationwide.
The Board update consisted of a brief update by Commissioner Jack McGuffey about the NACO meeting in Washington D.C. that he, Commissioner Marshall McBride and Pat Whitten went to a few weeks ago. It afforded them the opportunity to meet with our state officials (Heller, Amodei) to follow-up on the zip code issue. There is a bit of progress but in effect the county has to submit an application to the Post Office and it has to be accurate or……you have to wait 10 YEARS to resubmit another application. I can’t even imagine what the reason for this “rule” is….but then……..it’s the Post Office. Marshall also noted that they spent the majority of time in workshops and classes.
Item #9 was an update on WNDD update on Economic Development by Ron Radil.
Item #10 was the review of the external financial auditors (David A. Pringle) recommendations based on what they found in the 2014-2015 audit and Comptroller Hugh Gallagher’s noted responses to those recommendations. Hugh read the 5 recommendations from the agenda packet–page 27. During the discussion it came up that this was the third year that we were late in filing the audit with the state. A number of reasons were discussed but Pat Whitten said that we can’t continue to be late regardless of the reason and that he wanted to have it in the next contract with Pringle that they ensure that we submit our report on time. The Commissioners agreed.
Under #1 recommendation which is about ensuring that expenses do not exceed approved budgets and that Special Revenue funds do not show a deficit fund balance the VCTC is called out for going over budget on both revenues and expenses. According to VCTC Director Deny Dotson’s letter the overage on the revenue side is lack of proper forecasting and upside surprises (MY words), the overage on the expense side is unbudgeted spending on the fairgrounds bleachers ($60k) and the purchase of the Black and Howell property ($80k). Hugh noted that VCTC’s revenues were down overall due to a decrease of gaming revenues caused by a new casino owner (Malfitano) and the lack of a consistent source of revenue. The county will be working with them to see if they can help with the inconsistent source of revenues.
Washington D.C.’s solution always seems to be to increase taxes in order to continue to spend. Cutting spending rarely has a live birth. I would think that at the local levels we would be better able to actually control spending. During public comment I said that although looking at fixing the revenue side of the VCTC problem is good that the VCTC expense side of the problem also needs to be looked at. I said that the VCTC inherited a $650k general fund which in little over 4 years has been spent down to about $300k and dropping. I further stated that although the capital expenses for the fairgrounds was an investment that seems to be paying off, that the purchase of the Black and Howell building lot was a bad use of funds since there is no short or mid-term use or funds for that lot and that the county had to go in to bail out the VCTC by planning to build an observation deck. In addition, the day to day expenses continue to eat into the general fund. To me this is lack of fiscal control and lack of oversight. Marshall stated that the Black and Howell building lot may yet be used in the future and that it was not a bad purchase. He also said that the county is not bailing out the VCTC since the pocket park may not be built after all. He added that the VCTC general fund grew to $650k as the result of some good activities a while ago. Bottom line I didn’t get the feeling that anything will be done to really exercise Deny on tightening his expenses. The focus will be in trying to grow revenues. Spend on!
Item #11 was the proposal to select David A. Pringle to do next year’s audit. Pringle has been doing the County’s audits for a considerable amount of time. The advantage is that they know and understand the finances, the disadvantage is that they….know and understand the finances too well and can get “snow blind” to issues over time. During public comment I said that I have brought up looking at other auditors for the last three years. Companies do it all the time for various reasons. Fresh eyes, expanded capabilities and services being a few. Given the late filing issues I suggested that the county look at other auditors again this year. Pat Whitten responded that Pringle does a good and thorough job for a reasonable price and that they know the county very well. He didn’t think it was prudent to spend more of the tax payer’s money for the same services with a different auditor and asked me if I thought spending more money was a good use of taxpayer dollars.
I replied that the county is getting more and more complex and that the reporting requirements to both the state and the large TRI companies are increasing due to the many abatements and agreements in place. Additionally, since there have been issues on both sides as to timeliness and we probably need help in looking at and revising our overall system of financial systems and processes that yes, I felt it would be worth it. I said that we needed an auditor who could lead us in the right direction as we grow more complex and help us avoid the usual pitfalls and that Pringle may be too small to do that….and that was the end of public comment.
#12 was the approval of Virginia City Sewer Improvement USDA Project Contract with Farr West Engineering for professional services.
#13 was the second reading of the nuisance ordinance. A lot of discussion here about the process for handling the nuisances, who would do the investigations, how the complaints would be heard and decided, what the consequences would be, etc. The Commissioners took a great deal of care in looking at this from all angles given that we are such a small community and that we still have to live with our neighbors if we make a complaint. Attorney Bob Morris is doing all of the revisions and was asked to look into a few more changes to address the questions that the commission had on the process.
#13 was the approval of the Gold Hill Hotel’s request for a Cabaret License.
I asked the Commission why it was that Waste Management was the only service that could be used in Storey County. This question was asked by a Highlands homeowner on the chat board who wanted to contract with another vendor to provide bins for trashing building materials and was told by the vendor that they could not operate in Storey county because only Waste Management had rights to do so. Pat Whitten answered it by saying that the county has had a signed agreement with Waste Management (a franchise) for many, many years and that agreement/contract has an exclusivity clause in it. Which is to say that the county cannot license any other waste management/disposal company except for Waste Management to operate in Storey County. Which means the citizens are bound by that agreement since only licensed companies are allowed to operate here. Pat said that they really had no choice but that they will try and change those terms when the agreement/contract comes up for renewal. I think it was Jack who then said that even if you go with another company that THEY have to pay Waste Management a fee to operate in WM territory.