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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Madore: Limit tax hikes to 1% unless vote

Stewart, council candidates cool to idea of amending county charter

By Kaitlin Gillespie
Published: August 12, 2015, 5:00pm

A charter amendment proposed by Clark County Councilor David Madore that would limit property tax levy increases received no traction Wednesday from the four candidates vying for a seat on the board.

Madore, a Republican who lost his own bid for Clark County council chair in last week’s primary, recommended during the council’s board time meeting that the councilors consider adopting a charter amendment once the new members are seated that would prevent the county from raising its property tax levy beyond 1 percent without a countywide vote.

Such a policy, Madore said, would protect taxpayers from “sticker-shock,” he said Wednesday.

Changing the county charter is not a simple process. Under the home-rule charter, which voters approved in November, amendments to the document can only be approved after four of five councilors agree and the amendment passes a public vote. That prevents the current, three-member council from changing the charter before the council becomes a five-member board next year.

Following the 2001 voter adoption of Initiative 747, pushed by conservative political activist Tim Eyman, counties can raise property tax revenue in individual taxing districts by 1 percent annually. For example, if a county collects $1 million in property taxes one year, it can only levy a 1 percent property tax increase the following year for $1.01 million in property tax revenue, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Counties can, however, “bank” their ability to raise the tax levy beyond 1 percent. If a county has a flourishing year, for example, it can choose not to raise taxes. If the following year is tough, however, the county can levy a 2 percent tax using both its annual 1 percent tax levy and the prior year’s “banked capacity.”

But the county has never raised taxes beyond its 1 percent limit, county budget director Adriana Prata said. The Clark County council raised its tax levy by 1 percent every year following the initiative until 2011. From 2011 to 2013, the board voted by resolution not to raise taxes for the following years, instead banking those increases.

“We’ve banked them but we haven’t tapped into the banked capacity,” Prata said.

In 2014, the council took a slightly different approach. It didn’t raise taxes, but it didn’t take that action by resolution, instead rolling the expected tax revenue into its budget and essentially throwing out the county’s ability to bank that tax.

That means in December, the board could potentially raise its tax levy by 4 percent — three from the banked years, and one for the new year.

Doing so, however, would have serious political consequences, Republican Councilor Jeanne Stewart pointed out.

“A board would be crazy to do that kind of crazy thing,” she said.

Madore called on the chair candidates — Marc Boldt, who has no party preference, and Democrat Mike Dalesandro — and the District 2 candidates — Julie Olson, a Republican, and Chuck Green, a Democrat — to weigh in on the proposal.

All four, however, declined.

“I’m not going to comment on the issue,” said Olson, who attended Wednesday’s board time meeting. “We don’t have enough information about it right now.”

She continued, “I would respectfully ask the council to put off any discussion of charter amendments, changes to the charter, etc., until after the council has been seated.”

Green, who also attended, said he was unwilling to take a position on the proposal without knowing what financial risk it may put the county in.

Green is a vocal advocate of Clark County’s charter, and questioned whether a policy on taxes belongs in a document that establishes the county’s structure.

“You’re tying the hands of every county council for the rest of eternity with what you put into the charter,” Green said.

Boldt said he doesn’t want to “go down to this game” of proposing charter amendments before the full board is seated.

“I’m going to wait until I’m chair and exercise that leadership and make sure all the members are in agreement,” Boldt said.

Dalesandro said Madore’s suggestion “certainly gives the appearance of keeping one foot in the campaign.”

“Really what it comes down to is the charter is a governing document,” he said. “I don’t view it as a policy document.”

Madore may not have the necessary support from the current board of councilors, either. Councilor Tom Mielke, a Republican, said he would support the effort. Stewart said she isn’t advocating for increasing taxes, but nevertheless wouldn’t support the amendment unless she was confident it wouldn’t put the county in a position where it faces a budget deficit with no easy way to respond.

Madore proposed and then withdrew a similar resolution in April that would have reset the county’s banked capacity to zero, but was told by county legal staff there was no way to do so.

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