The Board of County Commissioners decided Monday to place a countywide advisory question on the general election ballot in November, asking voters whether they are in favor of enacting a 1 percent Government Services Tax (GST) on the depreciated value of motor vehicles.
The GST — expected to raise $9.4 million annually — could be enacted at any time by commissioners, said John Slaughter, director of county management services.
The commission said the money should be used to fund senior services, public safety and infrastructure.
However, this does not mean the money will be utilized for those services, Slaughter said.
If enacted, the GST will appear on residents’ vehicle registration bills, sent out by the DMV. The average registration will go up $43 with the new tax, according to a study done by the county.
“The board has said, ‘This is how we would use it as a priority,’” Slaughter said. “They haven’t said they are going to use it for anything else.”
The only result the ballot question would have is to advise the county whether or not the voters are in favor of the county enacting the GST, according to County Manager Katy Simon.
The question will read: “Should more funding for essential public services such as senior services, public safety services, and public infrastructure be provided by increasing the Government Services Tax from the current rate of 4% to a maximum of 5% of the depreciated value of a motor vehicle?”
The county had other options for creating a funding stream to pay for senior services and other needed gaps in its budget. One option was to increase the ad valorem tax rate to 2 cents, which would produce some $2.4 million annually. No ad valorem tax rate increase is possible without reducing the rate supporting other public services, Simon wrote in her staff report.
The cities of Reno and Sparks, which have authority to pose advisory questions to city voters, requested that county commissioners place a countywide advisory question on the ballot for the general election.
The overlapping ad valorem tax rate in Washoe County is currently at its statutory maximum of $3.64.
The county’s Department of Senior Services serves 650 to 700 homebound seniors a year, which totals 114,000 meals. Each meal costs the county about $4. In 2010, some 2,000 people needed that assistance. By 2016 that number will be 2,500, said senior services director Grady Tarbutton.
Some 71,000 seniors live in the county, and about 14,000 receive only $5,500 per year in income, which is well below the poverty level, according to county numbers.
According to Tarbutton, county senior services receives a total of $3.6 million a year to run its programs. Those funds are a combination of state and federal grants, which are $2.2 million, and the department gets $1.2 million from an ad valorem tax enacted in 1985, which has no sunset. It gets an additional $230,000 from the county’s general fund.
The question of finding a funding stream for the county arose when the topic of a depleting senior services funding source was discussed earlier this year.
County commissioners discussed the option of enacting the 2-cent ad valorem tax directed especially for senior services, but “there was no support for that,” Slaughter said.
Even if the public votes down the GST ballot question, the county could still move forward and enact the tax, Slaughter said.
“It’s not a binding question, even after it’s in place,” he said. “After the election, we still have the authority to enact the tax.”