The council took up the issue in lieu of a canceled June 4 meeting where senior services director Grady Tarbutton was to address the councils from Sparks and Reno and the Washoe County commission about the inability of the 1-cent tax passed in 1985 to keep up with the county’s growing senior population.
“This is the time to have this conversation,” Tarbutton said. “It is up to city officials, state legislators and voters.”
The difficulty with the idea of increased property tax is that Reno recently approved a new budget effective July 1 that includes a property tax increase to the state cap of $3.64 per $100 of assessed value. This means Reno could not participate in such an increase and the county, which has not hit its property tax cap, cannot enact an increase because to do so would exceed the cap areas that overlap with Reno.
Tarbutton said one of his department’s primary missions is to keep seniors in their own homes instead of going to live in nursing homes or assisted living communities because they can no longer care for themselves. One program that is threatened under a stagnant budget is the DayBreak program, which provides daytime supervision for seniors whose caregivers must go to work. Each DayBreak client costs about $11,000 a year, according to county figures, as opposed to Nevada Medicaid nursing home costs of $59,000 a year, saving about $3.48 million.
Also, Tarbutton said he needs to expand assistance to people who need help with bathing, dressing, eating and toileting from 175 to about 500 people. The cost to the county will be about $2.4 million as opposed to $50 million if those people had to seek the same help at a private institution.
There had been discussion in recent months of transferring a $5 million surplus in the county’s Regional Animal Services department to Senior Services to close the funding gap. However, a reassessment after a change of animal services management indicated there was no surplus and an opinion from Washoe County District Attorney’s Office indicated such a transfer would be illegal anyway.
Sparks council members agreed that with no viable options for transferring money from other sources, asking residents to pay a little more property tax is the most likely solution.
“A penny now is not going to hurt as much as it would have five years ago,” Mayor Geno Martini said, referring to tax bills that have plummeted with property values.