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Flood: Change to ‘supermajority’ vote aims to remove roadblocks
by Nathan Orme
Apr 02, 2012 | 1429 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Nathan Orme - Kevin Schiller, director of the Washoe County Department of Social Services, addresses a joint meeting of the Washoe County commission, Reno and Sparks city councils and the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees on Monday. The four entities met together to discuss a number of issues, including the Truckee River flood project, funding for homeless services and distribution of fire protection costs.
Tribune/Nathan Orme - Kevin Schiller, director of the Washoe County Department of Social Services, addresses a joint meeting of the Washoe County commission, Reno and Sparks city councils and the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees on Monday. The four entities met together to discuss a number of issues, including the Truckee River flood project, funding for homeless services and distribution of fire protection costs.
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RENO — A division between members of the Truckee River Flood Management Authority board of directors seeped into Monday’s joint meeting with city, county and school district leaders.

Disagreement on several key issues have prompted a proposed loosening of the voting requirements on issues that come before the flood board to avoid future stalemates.

To this point, a unanimous vote has been needed to approve any item that comes before the flood project board, which is comprised of two representatives from Sparks, Reno and Washoe County. No matter how small or large the issue — from approving major construction all the way down to approval of an agenda — all six members had to agree.

Despite many unanimous votes over the past several years, recent stalemates prompted some flood board members to seek a change in procedure. Deputy district attorney Greg Salter was asked by some members of the board to put together a proposal to change the unanimous requirement to a 5-1 “supermajority” for certain important issues — such as taking on debt or levying fees — and a simple majority for others. This proposal already has been approved by Sparks and Washoe County, but last week Reno leaders requested some changes, which were approved Monday by county commissioners but which Sparks council members will review and discuss with the city’s lawyers.

Ron Smith, who sits on the Sparks City Council and is chairman of the flood project board, said the change is needed to break gridlock and get progress moving again.

“We’ve got to move forward,” Smith said. “We’re stuck.”

The main issue that is “stuck” is the approval of a contract for the project’s new executive director, Jay Aldean. A contract was proposed at the board’s Feb. 22 meeting but was not voted on after City Councilman Dave Aiazzi, one of Reno’s two representatives on the flood board, raised concerns over its terms. Aiazzi said the contract for a new director of the project should be shorter — perhaps six months instead of two years — and have clearly defined performance requirements.

The issue of the director’s contract has been debated since October and until it is approved, the project cannot receive about $20 million in county funds.

Smith said Aiazzi’s contract proposal was unacceptable because it contained a $10 million earmark for Reno to rebuild the Virginia Street bridge, a project that is several years away from starting, Smith said.

On Monday, Aiazzi said the change of voting requirements is less important than other issues. For example, he is concerned that the flood project lacks focus. Aiazzi said a defined list of flood control projects and their costs does not exist, despite having already spent $100 million on work and land acquisitions.

“With all the money we’ve spent on consultants you’d think we’d have (a list) by now,” he said.

He also thinks that if the voting requirements change, the makeup of the flood board should change. Representation on the flood project board should be proportional to how many residents are affected by flooding, he said, pointing to comparable entities such as the Truckee Meadows Water Authority and Regional Transportation Commission. Sparks has one representative on the RTC, he said, and TMWA only has one county member because of how the constituencies are affected by each board’s actions.

“I don’t know why flood control is different than these other entities,” Aiazzi said.”

Changing the voting requirements is a distraction from these larger problems, Aiazzi argues.

“They’re trying to portray the board as not working and not talk about substantive issues,” he said.

Also on the list of larger problems is flood project funding from the Army Corps of Engineers. Officials have been lobbying the corps to assist with flood project funding, competing with many other projects around the nation. Aiazzi said he visited with corps staff in Sacramento, Calif. to try and get a clearer picture of where the Truckee River project stood in terms of securing funds.

According to Smith, the corps has already spent $40 million to study the Truckee River flood project and found that it does not meet its targeted costs savings ratio. Smith said the corps looks for projects that will save $3.50 in flood damage for every dollar spent on prevention. The Truckee River project’s ratio currently stands about $1.20 saved for every dollar spent. At this point, any federal funds for the local flood project will have to be secured with the help of Nevada’s representatives in Washington, Smith said.

Aiazzi said the corps wants to change the flood project to a “50-year plan,” which would mean removing some portions of the desired work. While this cuts out much of the flood prevention work that would help downtown Reno, Aiazzi said he supports the 50-year plan because it would be “better than nothing.”
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