The Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 Dec. 18 to not pay three special assessment fees mandated by the state for the fiscal year 2018-19.
In simple terms, as Commissioner Varlin Higbee put it, “We’re just saying no.”
Commissioners Paul Donohue and Nathan Katschke voted in favor of making the payments.
“We’ll probably end up having to pay this anyway,” Donohue said.
Three items were listed on the commission agenda Dec. 18: $4,523.98 for the Penoyer Valley Groundwater Basin, $22,105.97 for Pahranagat Lake and its tributaries, and $24,728.55 for Pahranagat Lake and its tributaries/Ash Springs, a total of $51,358.50.
District Attorney Daniel Hooge expressed his thoughts during the meeting that the county get in trouble for refusing to pay and would probably be forced to eventually do so anyway.
Donohue said, “We have never said we were not going to pay. There is no precedent for us not paying, but three of the commissioners (Higbee, Phillips, and Brackenbury), felt the state is asking us (Lincoln County) to pay too much money on all sorts of different things. I think the commissioners wanted to make a statement, but to me, it’s not worth the fight.”
He explained the mandated fees are for current use or future use of water. “It’s not so much the water use right now that counts, it’s the potential for use by somebody someday.”
Donohue did not know the end result of what might happen or how the state Department of Taxation would descend upon the county, but expected it would happen in some way. “Maybe they’ll send us a nasty letter which in part will say, it’s not up to us to make those decisions.”
Other people have also said privately, it is like the song from the 1955 Broadway musical hit “Damn Yankees,” “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets.”
In the meantime, Higbee, who voted in favor of not paying, expressed his concerns that the state over the past 10 years “has passed an awful lot of things onto the county to pay for because the state doesn’t want to.”
Donohue said a check of the books in the assessor’s office “might show that it is now tens of thousands of dollars that we have to pay that we didn’t used to have to pay.”
Higbee said the state is not allowed by law to levy taxes without a ballot referendum, but gets around that by using the term “special assessments.”
“I believe it’s really a tax. If you don’t call it a tax, call it something else, then you can feel good about claiming it is not a tax. But in the last eight to ten years, our taxes have just skyrocketed, but are not called taxes, rather called assessments or administrative fees. They’re hiding behind the language.”
Others have often pointed out as William Shakespeare wrote, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Higbee said, “It ought to be the water engineer who collects the money from the people who use the water. Why not that office, not the county?”
He said he wanted to investigate what might appear to him that the state is collecting almost twice as much from the county in assessments as to what the assessment is paid to the county assessor. In other words, he said, “The county is, in effect, subsidizing the user.”
For example, he said, “If Penoyer Valley is assessed $1,000 dollars, but the state Department of Taxation is charging the county $4,523.98, then the county is, in effect, subsidizing Penoyer Valley.”
Before he went further with this investigation, he was seeking to see what findings the county assessor might have.