Jim Clark: In Reno, happiness is…
As the license plate bracket reads: “Happiness is living in Incline Village.” We have crystal clear Lake Tahoe, snow-capped mountains, pure clean air, hiking trails, golf courses, tennis courts, a boat launch, beautiful beaches, Shakespeare at Sand Harbor and perhaps most of all … it ain’t Reno!
The biggest little city always seems to be in some sort of hot water but the stories get even more interesting during the lead up to a hard fought mayoral election with 18, count ‘em, 18 candidates vying to be hizzonner (or her honor as the case may turn out). With 18 wannabes digging up dirt and viewing with alarm things are never dull.
It seems that the most divisive issues revolve around municipal debt, public safety employees and a minor league baseball team.
According to one candidate the city is in debt to the tune of $440 million of which the revenue bond portion is in default.
Debt was incurred to lower the railroad tracks, engage in urban renewal and attract the Aces Baseball Team. There is reportedly an additional $240 million in unfunded retirement liability. Retirees are currently being paid out of the general fund.
Adding to the misery is the fact that Reno firefighters are represented by a belligerent labor union which seems to be in perpetual disagreement with other firefighting organizations in the Truckee Meadows.
After years of managing Washoe County’s fire district by contract the county fired the city a couple of years ago and it has been unrestricted warfare ever since.
The split was caused by the Reno union’s demand that all fire rigs be manned with four firefighters notwithstanding that North Tahoe, Sparks and Washoe County have three man “flex” crews.
At an average cost of $122,000 per year per fire engine that sort of ran the public safety bill up so Washoe County bailed on the deal.
The prospective loss of county revenues raised the specter of layoffs so “Republicans for (Senator Harry) Reid” Mayor Bob Cashell called in a favor and secured a two year federal grant to keep the firefighters employed.
That grant ends next month so firefighter layoffs are back on the city council’s agenda. Meanwhile during the intervening time period Reno firefighters refuse to extinguish fires in unincorporated areas even if across the street from Reno’s city limits.
A lesser controversy involves double-dipping. When Police Chief Steve Pitts announced his retirement the city council offered to let him collect his $153,000 annual salary as well as $180,000 per year in retirement benefits from the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System. Actually Nevada law prohibits this because of the threat to the financial integrity of the retirement fund unless … the position in question is “suffering from a critical labor shortage.”
This is exactly what the city council declared despite its failure to seek candidates as successor police chief.
Finally the Aces minor league baseball team was lured here with the promise of municipal financial favors which were contracted for before the recent great recession.
The funds were to have come from real estate taxes on down town properties which would benefit from all the baseball fans who would show up.
The recession scuttled real property values so Reno was again left with crumbs on its face unable to meet its contractual obligations to the Aces owners. This drama is still unfolding.
So when it snows on Easter or you get frustrated with the IVGID Board drive up to the Mt. Rose summit, look down on city below and say: “I’m glad I live here.”
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.