By Garrett Estrada
Ely Times Staff Writer
The White Pine County Commission took no action on an agenda item to reinstate a two percent “franchise fee” that would apply only to county residents on their electric bills. County Commissioner Mike Coster pointed out that per a regular ordinance the commission does not have the authority to reimpose the two percent tax, since it expired and the commission is only allowed to impose one percent per year. The “franchise fee” was established in 2008 during a time of financial insecurity of the county when the Department of Taxation had to step in.
Commissioner Richard Howe pointed out that the county is in much better financial shape than then, and the proposal to reinstate the “fee” was to make up for a projected drop in revenue of $900,000 for the county in fiscal year 2015.
“The county is doing fine. We are still struggling with the budget and revenue loss, but we are not in the red,” Howe said in the final public comment section of the meeting.
Several famers and county residents voiced their concern for the fee, which at two percent would add an estimated $450,000 to the general fund, during the public comment section of the meeting.
The county’s Finance Director Elizabeth Frances pointed out that the commission had already made significant cuts to the budget and that the only alternatives for making up the money would be looking into more cuts, potentially even county jobs, or dipping into the county’s reserves, which she highly recommended against.
The commission agreed to look into coming back to the tax at one percent at a later meeting.
The commission also passed a budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 3-1, with Coster the sole no vote and Laurie Carson absent from the vote. It was noted in the meeting that changes may still occur to the final budget, which is due in two months.