Business at the Ely City Council’s regular meeting on March 24 proceeded relatively smoothly, but a newly scheduled special meeting several days later garnered some controversy.
At the regular meeting, the council discussed the possibility of allowing single seat all-terrain vehicles to operate on city roads. Sheriff’s Captain Scott Henriod opposed the idea, citing the possibility of young and unlicensed drivers operating their ATVs at unsafe speeds designed for normal vehicular traffic.
The council also corrected zoning designations for several mobile home and trailer parks within the city, and congratulated Councilman Kurt Carson for his award for new operator of the year for the McGill-Ruth Water District.
The council also approved the creation of a letter to U. S. Congressmen representing Nevada in support of further National Park Service funding.
City Attorney Charles Odgers reported that he is assisting the District Attorney’s office with the criminal case load that occurs within the city.
In its capacity as the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation Board of Trustees, the board unanimously approved a cooperative agreement for the Nevada Northern Railway Rehabilitation Project by and between the State of Nevada, Nevada Department of Transportation, the White Pine Historic Foundation, Inc., and the City of Ely for rehabilitation of the railway’s track.
The city later announced that the city council would vote on a new ordinance change at a special meeting on March 29.
As written in Title 3, Chapter 3, section 5, paragraph D, the affected original ordinance reads that “one percent of the total eleven percent of the room tax shall be specially allocated and dedicated for use by the board for recreational and tourism purposes and for matching funds for grants relating thereto.”
The city council unanimously voted at its March 10 meeting to approve a one-half percent increase to the hotel and motel room tax, to a total of 11.5 percent, the revenue from which to be used “for outside recreation, all or in part to be awarded by the Tourism and Recreation Board to any organization that applies for it.”
Councilman Sam Hanson was absent.
The proposed ordinance codifies the tax increase, but changes “outside recreation” to “outdoor activities,” and “dedicate[s] 2.5 percent of the room tax for use by the City to maintain and improve city infrastructure and repealing all conflicting Ordinances or Code provisions.”
Several local citizens voiced their opposition to the city council’s proposed ordinance change at a special meeting on March 29.
“I’m opposed to this proposed ordinance,” Ely local Bill Wolf said. “I find it appalling that the council would think a first reading of a bill is a start to the conversation. Six to eight years ago, people of this community talked about consolidation, and it was all about the fire departments. I have not heard of any discussion between the city council and the county commission about combining maintenance, parks, anything. You’re looking for infrastructure money and you’re taking it from an organization that’s doing well. I think if you searched for other avenues first it would be more productive.”
“I was on the board the other day when I got memo,” Tourism and Recreation Board member and county commissioner Richard Howe said. “I’m against it vehemently. To raid money from an autonomous board for the city is reprehensible. Its budget is based on room tax. It’s beyond me and beyond anybody else. This action wasn’t very well thought out. You’re not looking at who you’re hurting. You’re hurting the county and aid to organizations. I want you to take this away, I would hope: what is is going to cost? Who is it going to hurt and who is it going to help? I think you guys need to look harder. I think you’re taking the easiest route.”
“I’m hear to voice my opposition to this proposal,” local business owner Wade Robison said. “It’s essentially going to gut out the budget of the convention center and leave [Tourism and Recreation Executive Director Ed Spear] with the cost. It’s going to take what he needs to promote Ely. People have taken years to build it up and it’s going to hurt us badly.”
“I want to go on record as completely opposed to this,” said Bunny Hill, member of the Silver State Challenge race board. “It’s totally ridiculous. Yes, we need infrastructure, but we need tourism to keep businesses open.”
“I’m here speaking as an outdoorsman,” county commissioner Mike Coster said. “I’m not sure what it’s going to do, but I’m here to speak in favor of outdoor money.”
“I somewhat agree with the infrastructure issue,” local business owner Renee Harshman said. “They went to Germany and Alaska, but did they bring anybody? Nobody knows. Tourists come to town and they drive on the roads.”
“I’m against the tax altogether,” George Chachas said. “Increasing taxes on one industry? Wrong.”
“What I hear a lot of is, we’re going to tax ourselves into prosperity,” Airport Manager and county commission candidate Steve Stork said. “You need to do more with less instead of penalizing people. That’s the problem with government.”
“It’s part of our strategic plan and goals to increase tourism and deal with infrastructure,” City Administrator Bob Switzer said. “There was a water main break on Aultman in December, and that pipe was from 1954. It will cost $5 million to replace our water system. NDOT doesn’t want Ely coming in after they repave Aultman and tearing up their brand new roadway to replace our infrastructure. If we don’t do this, the next step is to raise utility rates.”
“All over the country, roads are failing and they’re not doing anything about it until it’s too late. People will spend hundreds of dollars on electronic devices and technology,” Mayor Melody Van Camp said. “But if you raise utility rates, they will run you out of town.”
“This way we can pass the cost on to visitors, not residents,” Councilman Sam Hanson said.
“The money we’re going to get is for loan payments,” Councilman Bruce Setterstrom said. “We’re looking for up to $10 million from USDA rural development grants and loans. I’m not in favor of taking 2.5 percent off the bat. I’m opposed to the whole ordinance, but I would like to amend it to half a percent this year, 1 percent in 2017 and 1 percent in 2018.”
“I think addressing it in stages is a good way to do it,” Spear said. “Travel seems to be an issue. Every penny of the European trip was paid for by the State of Nevada. Zero came out of White Pine County.”
“We’re going to British Columbia, but we’re skipping the ones closer to home,” Setterstrom said.
The council agreed to Setterstrom’s amendment to the ordinance. While City Attorney Charles Odgers approved the first reading as legal, the ensuing discussion provoked several new legal questions that required his expertise. Odgers was absent due to work scheduled for the county, so the issue was tabled until the City Council’s next regular meeting on April 14. The council will meet at the Ely Volunteer Fire Hall at 5 p.m.