IN ANOTHER CASE OF ZOMBIE RETIREMENT, PAT WHITTEN ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE ANYTIME SOON
THE COUNTY HAS FREE EV CHARGERS AT THE COURTHOUSE…WISH THEY’D PAY FOR OUR GAS AS WELL…OH WAIT….THEY’RE USING OUR TAX DOLLARS!
THE COUNTY WANTS TO “MAKE IT GOOD” FOR SELLERS WHEN THEY BUY A PROPERTY FROM A RESIDENT.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE PIPERS TEAM FOR PUTTING ON AN EXCELLENT AND ORIGINAL PERFORMANCE OF “FOR LOVE OF A COMSTOCK GIRL”. MORE TO COME!
THANKS TO THE COUNTY AND THE USGS FOR FUNDING THE HIGHLANDS WELL MONITORING PROJECT….IT HAS BEEN RENEWED FOR ANOTHER YEAR WITH AN ANNUAL REPORT SCHEDULED FOR EARLY SEPTEMBER IN THE HIGHLANDS
By Nicole Barde
Very few staff or Board updates AND it was a quick meeting!
VCTC Director Deny Dotson re-iterated what he announced at the VCTC meeting during the budget discussion that they have added about $80k into the marketing budget to expand the overall coverage to include online radio ( i.e. Pandora) TV spots and a higher online digital presence. He also told the Commission that they are shooting 2 more videos similar to the Under the Surface videos which will be focused on the Performing Arts. He said that the Pipers performance of “For love of a Comstock Girl” was excellent and very professionally done.
Deny also noted that they still need donations for the 4th of July fireworks.
County Manager in waiting Austin Osborne gave a legislative update on some of the bills that passed and some still requiring the Governor’s signature. He said that our lobbyists worked hard to get some of these bills passed or blocked and thanked the Walker group and Bum Hess for all of their work.
SIDENOTE- Where is Bum? If the Legislative session is over why didn’t Bum give this update? Hopefully, he will come in soon to give us the final result of the bills that he worked on for us.
But I digress…
Next up was a brief summary of findings by David Smith from the USGS. The agenda item was a request for Storey County to pay half the costs associated with the well monitoring project with the USGS paying the other half …about $25k each. The request was approved.
A few tidbits from his update were that there are areas in the Highlands, mostly the Ones, Harte and Grizzly in particular, which show a marked and continuing decrease in water levels. He noted that wells that are at higher elevations are also an issue. He said that the overall precipitation levels over the last several years (13 inches or over ) is over the average for the last 30 years (12.1 inches). He also said that there are about 55 wells being monitored and that many are seeing an 85% increase in static water levels. There are of course exceptions. He closed by saying that they can still add new wells to the study.
During Public comment, I got up to thank the County, USGS and the Commissioners for paying to have this done. I said that nature is nature and that the monitoring won’t fix our wells but that the knowledge of the numbers is good to know and will help in making decisions.
SIDENOTE- This study was part of the Master Plan and once we know for sure whats happening to our water basin and project the impact, then we can have conversations about what, if anything, can be done. The County announced a few meetings ago that they are looking at what can be done to pipe water to Mark Twain and the Highlands from Marlette Lake. If that is a feasible option for us then we need to have the discussions about forming a GID or just having a water fill up station for water trucks to fill our cisterns…or do nothing. Either way I’m glad to see that the County is doing something to help us figure out our water situation.
Next up was renewing the County’s Insurance Pool policy. The rates have gone up but not by much due to the Insurance brokers negotiating on our behalf. We are part of a large “pool” of insured and that gives us all leverage. This was approved.
The policy gives Storey County a number of “free” benefits which includes training in numerous areas as well as access to Human Resources, Risk Management, and some Legal services. The County also has earthquake and flood coverage with a $5k deductible as opposed to a 10% of damage deductible. All in all the monetary value of all the benefits that Storey County gets thru this policy is about $219k. Good Stuff!
Next up was the approval of going to outside legal counsel to do due diligence on the proposed change for the County Commissioners to act as TRI GID Trustees.
The County was asked by TRI to take over the governance of the TRI GID because the GID continues to have trouble getting residents to serve on the board. There are few residents out there to do it. It is possible for the County Commissioners to be the Trustees and so County Manager Pat Whitten launched a series of due diligence actions on the financials and the operations to get all of the information.
During the financial due diligence, it was brought up that if the County does take this on, that from a financial audit standpoint the GID would become a “component unit” of the County. This may cause financial and legal liability for the County and so Whitten wants to get a legal opinion.
This was passed.
During Public Comment Sam Toll, editor of The Storey Teller said that he was encouraged to see this additional step being taken. He also asked if the County would be providing services to the GID such as billing and if so would the services be fee-based and what department would be administering those services.
Pat told Sam that it hasn’t been decided yet, there is a lot to work out…not the least of which is utilizing the County’s data system to perform those services if they include billing etc.
SIDENOTE- Almost two years ago, before any of this action, I asked the question about the County’s liability in the event that the TRI GID was to default in some way. I was told then that the County had nothing to do with the TRI GID despite the NRS that states that the County can step in to mitigate any financial or governance issues. Then during the TRI Pipeline discussions with Washoe County the SWITCH representative making the presentation stated that if the TRI GID defaulted that Storey County would be there to backstop it. I asked again about the County’s liability for the TRI GID and again was told that the County has no liability for the TRI GID. So I’m glad that this step is being taken to fully understand if there is a liability for the County.
Next up was getting approval to get the other appraiser for the Fain’s property to confirm or edit his last appraisal of the Divide building that the County wants to buy for the new Justice Court. This isn’t paying for an appraisal just asking him if his one-year-old appraisal still stands.
The Fains had an appraisal done in May 2018 and it came in at $1.355 million. The appraisal that the county did came in at $1.300 million. If the prior appraiser maintains his higher appraisal they will average the two appraisals for a final number. This passed.
Commission Chair Marshall McBride said that he likes this option of buying an existing building for a total cost of maybe $2 million with improvements better than the idea of spending up to $4.5 million on a new one.
During Public Comment Steve Ayers, local realtor and resident, got up to note that the County takes away from the tax base when they buy commercial property. The County bought the bank building, the Sheriffs office and they got taken off of the tax rolls as a result. That the County needs to look at the long term from a tax revenue standpoint and that this action is a concern to him and others.
Sam Toll got up to say that he shares Steve’s concerns.
Marshall replied that the Sheriff and DA’s office can move into the Divide building and that building can go back on the market. Pat also said that the County bought the bank building for $75k and that they can put it back on the market but that it’s not in a good location.
SIDENOTE-It makes sense that the Fain’s would want to get the higher number…so would I. It makes sense to average the two if the other appraiser holds to his number. What struck me is that during the discussion about this item Pat Whitten said that the County likes to “ make it good for the seller” when they buy properties from residents. That was laughable given that the County low balled Pierce Powell when they were considering buying the depot and Marshall said in an open meeting that they would hate to use eminent domain to get it. So who exactly do they want to “ make it good” for?
I think that they made it good for Marshall when they bought the parking lot since they signed a “lease option to buy” with no purchase price in the agreement because Marshall wanted to “get the best price later”.
But I digress…….or do I?…………..
Next up was adding a provision to the parking ordinance to fine non EV people for parking in the EV charging parking spots. Apparently, people are just parking there and it’s designated for Electric Vehicles for charging. This passed.
During public comment, I asked who was paying for the electricity coming out of the charging stations…Pat Whitten said that the County was but that it was at a reduced rate from NV Energy. He also quickly added that altho he has a Tesla that he charges it at home and never at the Courthouse.
I asked why the county would provide free power to these cars and Marshall said that it is a destination charger and that if it brings revenues into the town by visitors with EV’s then it will offset the costs.
SIDENOTE- Need I say it?
…..long sigh of digression……
Last but not least was the update on the transition between incoming County Manager Austin Osborne and current County Manager Pat Whitten. Austin got up and listed out the items that he was working on or planning. These included doing a Strategic Plan for the county in joint session with the Planning Commission and working with the VCTC, as well as the School and Fire districts. Looking at capital improvements, operational and budget planning hiring a part-time Labor Relations Manager and an Administrative Officer to replace himself, negotiating the Waste Management contract for better terms for residents, as well as a few other items.
Pat Whitten lauded Austin and said that they have spent more time together in the last two months than probably the whole time prior. Pat then went on to list a meaty and lengthy list of projects and activities that he is currently involved in and that only he can do and suggested that the Commission hire him back as an “LLC” to continue to work on these things after he retires in June.
The things that only he can do despite the considerable time spent with Austin in transition are:
-Justice Court project
-USDA and water projects
-Natural gas pipeline project
-Brothel overlay /ordinance
-Opportunity Zone implementation
-Jeep Posse lease redo
-implementing 10% water/sewer discounts for those 65 and over
Pat noted that it was just discovered that Public Works has a 65 and over discount that no one knew about and he wanted to see if that could be advertised to the existing VC and Gold Hill customers and extended thru the Canyon GID for Rainbow Bend/Lockwood as well as for Silver City.
SIDENOTE- Nothing surprises me anymore. No one ever really gets off of the County payroll….well at least not the highly paid. Pat suggesting his own rehiring…isn’t that great???
First I have to say that Whitten had Austin to take on A LOT of stuff that needed to get done and Austin did it and did it well. As County Manager Austin doesn’t have an ‘Austin” to do the same for him. He has to find replacements to do what he was doing for Pat and that will take some time.
Having said that, I have to also say that after listening to Pat list off the things that only he can do I have to wonder what transition has actually taken place. I have been in MANY transitions of power in my corporate life…when I left the job…I LEFT THE JOB….but I spent a considerable amount of time handing off my duties to my replacement while I was in it. OR….I left and worked with my replacement behind the scenes to help them get up to speed. There was no question as to who was in charge when I left……I was GONE.
Sometimes things happen and there is no luxury of a transition …that happened to me twice taking on a new job….it’s called “ hit the ground running” and despite the abject terror of having to figure everything out for myself….it’s the funnest thing I’ve ever done.
Pat’s still being in the picture may be an impediment to Austin in creating his OWN organization and doing things HIS way. If Austin asked Pat to do this then great….in my mind this is Austin’s call….but it didn’t sound that way to me since Pat suggested his own rehiring and not Austin.
I felt sorry for Austin as I listened to Whitten rattle off what he was going to keep hold of….it was everything that I would consider to be the fun part of the job…….in my view….Pat licked all of the icing off of Austins cupcake leaving him with a spit covered lump of dough.
But that’s just me…………
During Public Comment at the end of the meeting, Lori Rogers asked the County Commission to consider supporting the building of a monorail along the I-80 corridor between Sparks and TRIC, Fernley and TRIC and Fallon to Fernley. She said that there is $400 million dollars allocated for a third lane on I-80 and that she would like to request that the Commission ask for a portion of that to be directed towards a feasibility study on a monorail.
She noted that the companies at TRIC already have an extensive shuttle system for their employees and that the monorail would add a faster element to the commute for them. Some of the existing shuttles could possibly be cut back
She is going to 9 different counties with this request. She also noted that the Las Vegas monorail has finally begun to pay for itself altho it did take a while.
Sam Toll got up to say that he was disappointed that his agenda item request was denied by Pat Whitten. Sam had asked that the Commission take up his request to put public comment back at the beginning of the Agenda so that it would be easier for residents to attend to make comments instead of having to sit thru the entire meeting until the end.
He then encouraged Commissioner Carmona to remind people why he ran and to provide us with the opportunity to speak at the beginning of the meeting.
Sam also noted to the Commission that he has 8 outstanding public records requests forwarded to the DA’s office and that the recent Public Records legislation will begin to assign penalties on non-compliance by public agencies.
Last but not least SIDENOTE-……we were allowed to ask questions during this meeting…..even ME! I wonder if it had anything to do with the Open Meeting Law complaint I filed after the last meeting when Marshall made up a new rule on the spot and wouldn’t let me ask any questions about the budget. If not, then I wonder what it was about the budget that they didn’t want questioned. Hummm.