Tar and Feathers on MayDay
Expanded from the 4-30-2006 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
UPDATED 5-4-2006

Last week's shocking sellout of the local environmental lobby shows that Nevada still hasn't grown up.

I've been saying for 20 years that hope for this retro state lies with newcomers and local outsiders. Only when they become a working majority can we finally make a turn for the better by taking power away from the old cliques.

State and local fiscal problems can be traced back to Ronald Reagan's New Federalism, code for ordering states to run programs but not providing enough money.

Predictably, stingy Carson City passed much of the Reagan burden onto the localities. Cities and counties have borne the brunt of coping with runaway growth and a principal industry not only failing to pay its fair share, but causing wholesale social problems which place even greater burdens on taxpayers. Wal-Mart did not originate the corporate policies which make full-time workers into welfare recipients.


Why your property tax goes up and theirs doesn't.
And what to do about it.

BARBWIRE 3-5-2006

The gambling industry has long used its political clout to reap taxpayer subsidies. The largest involved perverting the 1955 fair and recreation law into a vehicle for skimming room taxes toward casino promotion. Local fair boards were Frankensteined into convention and visitors authorities and retasked to augment and subsidize casino marketing with local room tax funds.

Redevelopment agencies have likewise vampirized the public purse. Municipalities form redline areas in order to obliterate "blight," defined as whatever the powerful want. Property tax increases inside the redline are redirected to curing blight for the next 20 or 30 years. Meanwhile, schools, roads, parks and other services outside the redline starve, stuck with paying today's prices with income (in Sparks' case) from a 1970's tax base.

Reno's downtown corporate welfare district, anchored like Sparks with a subsidized movie theater, has required general fund tax money to bail it out after consistently running in the red. In the 2005 fiscal year, Reno's Redevelopment Agency lost $309,593. [1] You can spell Reno out of Enron, which is where their bond rating is plummeting. [2]

This explains Sparks-Reno annexation mania, which has fueled fiery animosity among county residents who don't want to pay the higher taxes extracted by the cities. It also explains the running gun battle between Reno City Hall and the Washoe County Commission.

Harder to explain is last week's apparent commission cave-in on the acquisition of the Ballardini Ranch [3], the last remaining large swath of open space in this little valley. Government insiders fear that if the commission votes tomorrow to approve the secret settlement, Reno will immediately move to annex the entire 1,019 acres and upzone it to accommodate some 3,000 homes and perhaps a new Wal-Mart on the edge of the Toiyabe National Forest. (Nothing new. Reno is close to upzoning the southern portion of the Butler Ranch in southeast Reno — which will skyrocket the price the city must pay to acquire it for flood control.)

Growth in Nevada is funded like a time-delayed chain letter. Impact fees and taxes go to current operations in the hope that continued expansion will pay for future needs. For instance, according to Regional Transportation Commission staff, funding for the long term traffic impacts of the northwest Reno Wal-Mart depends on future development. Whatever Wally World paid to get its place built was spent elsewhere as soon as it arrived.

Reno's $400 million cash flow from the Union Pacific Railroad Trench project has dwindled. The city seems desperate to a point that the McNeely Administration has put its department heads on sales commission. Bonuses are based on how much new cash flow each department generates. Thus, annexation fever and a fiscal time bomb.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the Ballardini developers asked Reno Mayor Bob Cashell to withdraw the city's 2001 support of public preservation. (Hizzoner agendized the repeal, then backed down at the last minute.)

County Commission Chairman Bob Larkin, who represents Sparks, was the point man for giving the Ballardini developers more than they ever would have gotten through the normal planning process (an opinion shared by both pro- and anti-conservation heavyweights).

In addition to getting greedy Reno City Hall to back down, the environmentalists also got Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., to soften his opposition to acquiring federal money for Ballardini preservation. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., both long ago pledged to find federal dollars. [4]

After years of work, all the elements seemed to be coming together until last week's Larkin-led rollover. According to Commissioner Pete Sferrazza, the only opponent of the deal so far, a behind-closed-doors vote was taken. [5] Which just happens to be illegal. A tragedy compounded by a travesty.

What's worse, the still-secret agreement is not available to the public on the county website. Insiders say that the Minnesota developer even insisted on a gag provision muzzling commissioners from ever talking about the deal.

Who's in charge here?

In a rush of unintentional irony, the commission called an instant meeting at 11:00 a.m. tomorrowMay Day! — to rubber stamp the death warrant for what could have been the Truckee Meadows version of New York's Central Park.

I hope they at least have the decency to use recycled paper.

Don't let them fold without a fight. Show up and complain. It's your community and your money.

The birds of Ballardini Ranch will contribute the feathers, the pine trees will provide hot tar. Mix liberally with outrage Monday morning and tell the commissioners to zap this secret deal and take the matter to open court on Wednesday.

As it now stands, the commission has lost the ranch and $13.5 million for nothing. Even a defeat in court won't cost much more and the prize is damn well worth the fight.

Be well. Raise hell.

Smoking Guns

May Day Memories — Take a brief trip back in time to remember why this date is so important in your daily life.


1. City of Reno Comprehensive Financial Report for the Fiscal Year July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2005; at 111 on paper; at 147 in Adobe Acrobat Reader.

2. AIM Municipal Bond Fund, Annual Report to Shareholders, July 31, 2005; at F-7 on paper; at 18 in Acrobat Reader.

      Déjà vu all over again:
 "Moody's Investment Service last week downgraded $18 million of Reno Redevelopment Agency's debt, because cash reserves were being used this year and most likely would be in the fiscal year beginning July 1." (Reno Gazette-Journal 5-4-2006)

3. Susan Voyles and Jeff DeLong, County OKs Ballardini settlement, Reno Gazette-Journal 4-28-2006, page 1-A.

4. Elaine Goodman, Ballardini owner no longer wants to sell, Reno Gazette-Journal 9-13-2003

5. 3, ibid.

Washoe County government contact points

Reno City Council
Sparks City Council
Washoe County Commission


ON TUESDAY, I'll be joining Sam Shad and the usual suspects on Nevada Newsmakers at 12:30 p.m. on KRNV TV-4. Shad's co-host will be Reno Gazette-Journal political reporter Ray Hagar.

Principal victims include State Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, candidate for governor, and former Assemblymember Joan Lambert, R-Reno.

Joining Shad, Hagar and me on the fearless, peerless pundit panel will be attorney Alfredo Alonso of Lewis and Roca and community activist Ellie Lopez-Bowlan.

Those afflicted with Charter cable may view the rerun at 9:30 p.m. on channel 12 in Washoe, Carson and Douglas counties. As always, the extensive statewide rebroadcast schedule and download options may be accessed hereat. | U-News Archives

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Copyright © 1982, 1984, 1996, 2004, 2005, 2006 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 37-year Nevadan, editor of and webmaster of His opinions are strictly his own. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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