By Nicole Barde

The agenda for this meeting is HERE and County Manager Pat Whitten’s summary of this meeting is HERE. To listen to audio of this or other Commission Meetings go HERE.

There were a few short staff reports. Key among them was Planner Jason Van Havel’s report that the cell tower in the Highlands doesn’t look like it will be operational any time soon. The major carriers all have their specific reasons for not committing to expand their service.  Jason noted that there is a tax rebate available to carriers to expand rural coverage since the lack of communications is a public safety issue.   Austin Osborn, Planning and HR, also noted that the 1996 Telecom Act has provisions in it for Rural coverage and that there are grants available to the carriers to expand service. Guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer to get the coverage needed out there.

Austin Osborn, HR, discussed that the negotiations with the health insurance carriers has been successful in reducing the initial 2016/2017 rate increases from 30-50% down to 3.4%.

County Manager Pat Whitten reported that the zip code issue in TRI  will likely not get solved as the County would like ( ie…a separate zip code IN Storey County instead of Washoe so we can get our sales and use taxes) That if the zip code change doesn’t help mail delivery it will not happen.

Pat Whitten also announced that the tentative County Budget would be heard at the April 5th Commission meeting.

The Board update was short with Commissioner Jack McGuffey mentioning that Dairy Queen has free ice-cream cones that day. Commissioner Lance Gilman announced that the March 18th Wild Horse Conference was on for that Friday at 9:30 at TRI. I have a summary of this meeting at the end of this report.

Item #10 was a presentation by EP Minerals, a company located at TRI. It was very enlightening. I can now spell diatomaceous earth!  EP is Nevada’s largest exporter by volume. Nevada is a large source of both the earth as well as other minerals that are used in everything from brewing to industrial materials.

#11 was the approval of leasing Ames Construction space in the County Government building at TRI. They will do approximately $56k in tenant improvements as the “rent” for the space.

#12 was the approval of the Fire District capital budget which was described as a clean-up item per the recent audit to clarify the budget/fund numbers.

#13 was the approval of a MOU with the Department of Taxation allowing the County to audit tax receipts of a few large vendors at TRI to see if we are receiving the taxes we should be.  During public comment I asked if there was a “claw back” process to get our taxes if the County finds that the taxes are not being credited to us. Pat Whitten said that there was a process to reassign those taxes to Storey County. He noted that it will be a very slow and arduous process.

#14 was the passing of the nuisance ordinance under Storey County Code Title 8.

Under Public Comment I said that I had read an article in the Nevada Appeal that said the Governor had told the state agencies to prepare for a potential 5% budget cuts. That the state revenues were not coming in as expected and were flat to slightly down and that the budget guidance was to be flat to 5% down.  I asked what guidance the Commission had given our departments in preparation of next year’s 2017 budget. Pat Whitten replied that the first two quarters of this year’s budget had come in on track and that their forecasting has been pretty accurate to date. That while the assessed values across the board have gone up over time that the residential property tax is capped at no more than 3% increase but that the commercial tax isn’t capped.  He felt that the revenues were there to support the County’s needs for next year. I then asked if the states’ flat to 5% down guidance would affect any monies that they receive from the state and Pat said he didn’t think so.

Summary of March 18th TRI Wild Horse Conference

 I attended the meeting along with Lacy J Dalton, numerous horse advocacy groups including the Wild Horse Preservation League, VRWPA, Willis Lamm from Lyon County, the Department of Agriculture, NDOT, Storey County officials and several of the companies at TRI including Tesla and Switch. The meeting’s objective was “developing strategies to support the wild horse population and way of life at TRI”. The agenda was put together by TRI project manager Kris Thompson and hosted by Lance Gilman at the County government building at TRI.

The meeting was held at the request of Switch and Tesla since they along with other TRI companies want to know more about the wild horses and how to support them.  Kris Thompson and Lance did the opening welcome and spoke about their love for the area, the land, its wildlife and the horses in particular as “emblematic of the West”.  It was timely that there were several beautiful bands of horses just outside to greet us all.

The “set up” by Kris and Lance was very upbeat and supportive of the efforts to help manage and preserve the wildness of the horses and stressed the importance of their role in attracting people to the area.

The first presentation after they spoke was from Flint Wright from the Nevada Department of Agriculture who stressed several times that from a legal standpoint and by legal definition the local horse population was not wild at all but stray and feral. The presenter stressed that they were not protected under the “Wild Horse and Burros Act”.  This initially struck me as a bit severe in tone but the presentation was extremely informative as to the role and responsibilities of the NDA and their partnership with the horse groups thru a Co-Operative Agreement.  The NDA has the impossible task of ownership of the horses themselves as well as the process and logistics of managing the horses from a public safety standpoint.  Addressing nuisance horses and controlling the horse population thru removal from the range and sometimes sale to killer buyers is one of the methods that they have used in the past.   They have recently entered into a Co-Operative Agreement with The Wild Horse Preservation League to allow WHPL, and the local horse groups as sub-contractors,  to work issues relating to diversionary feeding, contraception, removal, and adoption of these horses. Flint said that year one of the Co-operative Agreement has been successful.

The next presentation was by the Nevada Department of Transportation. The presenters gave a talk on the construction of USA Parkway thru to HWY 50. NDOT is very familiar and aware of the issues relating to having the horses roaming thru the area. The presenters did an excellent job of describing the measures that NDOT takes to mitigate the safety issues for both people and horses. They have designed in a couple of pass-thrus  under/across USA PKWY for the horses to pass unharmed, cattle guards where there are access points as well as a fence on both sides of the PKWY unless and until one of the private land owners request an access point at which time that fence will have a gap for that access point. They are very aware of the issues as a result of the work they do on HWY 50 and are as accommodating as they can be given the budgetary constraints and safety considerations.

Next up was Deniz Bobol from the Wild Horse Preservation League who gave an update on the activities around the contraceptive “darting” of the horses. She stated that the horse groups and NDA are addressing the same two issues: Public Safety and population control. She further stated that by having fewer horses thru humane methods, the public safety issue can be mitigated. 

The Co-Operative Agreement gives the horse groups the authority to perform the population control function and to date the first years goal of darting 150 mares has been achieved. Year two is to dart 250 mares. Deniz said that these contraceptive efforts have made the Virginia Range population control effort the largest humane management of wild horses in the world. This is due to the efforts of a handful of local volunteers who go out almost daily to identify and catalogue and create a database of each and every horse on the range and document their description,  their physical condition and which ones are darted.  This is a massive effort in its scope given that we have anywhere from 1500-2000 horses who move over a very large area constantly.

Willis Lamm with Lyon County Large Animal Rescue and an expert in our Virginia Range horses also talked about the numerous issues and corrective actions associated with managing the movement of the horses and the potential nuisances they can pose.

Several other of the horse groups also spoke briefly about their efforts including re-seeding efforts and looking at establishing a sanctuary where the horses could reside and roam safely as well as to have it be an eco-tourism destination for people to see the horses in their natural habitat.

All in all a good meeting bringing together government, conservation groups and private business with the aim of addressing the same goal. I look forward to seeing what the next steps are!

Audio of this meeting can be found HERE

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