On Your Side: Fernley losing out on millions in state tax revenues
Jason Thompson loves the skate park in Fernley. But the 18-year-old's grown accustomed to some less than ideal conditions on the track.
"We try to make do with what this park is and a lot of this stuff is pretty worn down," he told us.
The skate park is one example of where taxpayer dollars are running short. But it's not the only one. Part of a nearby tennis court was recently resurfaced, but because the money ran out, the project was never finished.
"We had enough money to refurbish half of it," explained Fernley Mayor Roy Edgington.
One of the reasons money is running short is the Consolidated Tax or "ctax."
The ctax is made up of six different tax sources and distributed by the state to counties and cities. But it's not always even.
Elko, a city of about 20,000 residents, gets roughly $12 million in ctax revenue every year. In comparison, Fernley, which also has a about 20,000 residents, only receives about $150,000 in ctax money.
That disparity is a big source of frustration for people like Fernley City Manager Daphne Hooper.
"Our residents expect and deserve the same level of service as any other city," she said.
"How do you do that when you don't have the revenue to do that?" she then asked.
One of the requirements of the Consolidated Tax distribution is that cities form their own police department to handle law enforcement duties within one year of becoming a city. Fernley has yet to form its own police department since it incorporated in 2001.
Hooper says that was due to a misunderstanding with the Lyon County Sheriff's Office, which provides law enforcement services for Fernley. She says the sheriff at the time decided there was no need for a formal agreement. Sixteen years later, that mistake is still haunting the city.
But city leaders say what compounds the problem to this day is their inability to get answers about the ctax distribution and what their potential share could be. They say the Nevada Department of Taxation won't tell them.
"We've asked the state taxation department what is our fair share and they won't give us an answer," Edgington said.
And we could not get an answer either. The Nevada Department of Taxation told us:
"There is no up front formula to create an estimate of what Fernley's increased ctax distribution would be."
We also could not get an answer from Nevada State Assemblywoman Robin Titus, who represents Fernley and who introduced a bill in the legislature this session to address the ctax disparity. The bill, AB 311, did not get a hearing.
And we were told by a staffer after we made several phone calls to try to reach her that Titus was not interested in speaking with News 4 about the issue.
"She introduced a bill, she promised she would do that and that's all she did," said Fernley's Mayor Edgington.
So for now, Fernley is making do. Losing out on millions of dollars in tax revenue in part because of its own failure with police services back in 2001, but also because no one can tell them today what their fair share really is.
For Mayor Edgington, the whole ordeal has made running the city of Fernley much more of a challenge.
"I've learned to politely say no a hundred different ways for the last six years because this has really made it difficult to do things."
Edgington had hoped the bill introduced in the legislature this session would have gained some traction. That bill, AB 311, would have dropped the one-year limit for cities to form their own police departments after incorporating in order to qualify for full ctax revenue.
Until the law is changed, most agree there is little hope that Fernley will ever be able to collect its full amount of ctax revenue. That means the city will continue to lose out on millions of dollars every year.