Maybe Eileen Quiring will support increases in taxes after all
During the 2018 election, Eileen Quiring campaigned for Clark County Council chair on her consistent record of voting against higher taxes. A week after her election was certified, she indicated that she might one day support a tax increase that would fund roads.
On Tuesday, the Clark County Council approved its $518 million 2019 budget, which included a 1 percent increase in the levy used to support the county’s general fund. The tax hike is expected to result in a few more dollars added to the average homeowner’s property tax bill.
Like previous budgets, the Republican county councilor was the only “no” vote on the budget because of the tax increase. Quiring also cast the only “no” vote on a 1 percent increase in the county’s road fund. But she said that in the future she might vote for a tax increase to support the road fund, particularly if the Legislature followed through on the property tax relief that was promised as part of last year’s education funding deal.
After nearly two years of seeing Quiring’s abiding commitment to never increase taxes or fees, it felt like I didn’t even know her anymore. I called her up for an explanation.
“I realize with our growth and how far behind we are on roads that this is something that I could maybe be convinced of,” said Quiring.
She mentioned testimony from developers at Tuesday’s hearing about the need for improvements at the 179th street interchange. She said there is a “clearly a need to improve the roads there” and people who live around it “are very vocal about it.”
But Quiring said Clark County has been hit hard with additional property taxes handed down from the state as part of the education funding package and that it “really is quite emotional for a lot of people.” She said that she could support an increase in the road fund if taxpayers get some relief and the revenues from it are dedicated to roads. She said she would also like to hear from the taxpayers first.
“Right now nobody’s in the mood for it, so I couldn’t do it,” said Quiring.
In fairness, I’m not aware of any pledge or commitment made by Quiring to never raise any taxes in Clark County. But resisting higher taxes is certainly part of her brand.
The exchange did prompt me to dig through the pile of campaign literature I kept from the previous election. Two mailers issued by Quiring fault her then opponents’ positions on taxes. They both state that Quiring “rejects higher taxes with her consistent ‘NO’ vote!” It further states that she is “OPPOSED to adding more and more financial burden onto our over-taxed citizens!” Another states that “Eileen is the only candidate in this race who has consistently rejected tax hikes!”
I also asked Quiring about the difference between increasing taxes to support the road fund and the general fund, which is overwhelmingly used for law enforcement and other essential services.
Quiring responded by praising the work of county Manager Shawn Henessee and Budget Director Emily Zwetzig in crafting the 2019 budget. But she said that Henessee, who started the job in July, didn’t have all that much time to work on the budget and there may have been ways to find more efficiencies that would have eliminated the need to raise taxes. She said she would work closely with him in the next budget cycle.
“I’m not pointing fingers at anybody,” said Quiring who pointed out she never used the word “waste” to describe county operations. She referenced testimony given earlier this week by Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey who said that he’s maintained services while decreasing staff.
She said that the budget could be more closely examined to find greater efficiencies, particularly with technology. She said that government offices and departments have a natural tendency to be protective of their resources when budgeting.
Under state law, county budgets need to balance, meaning there needs to be some sort of funding for all anticipated expenditures. Without the tax increase, the county would have been $632,953 short and in violation of state law.
Her motion to remove the tax increase from the budget died for a lack of a second, so it’s a moot point. But Quiring still wouldn’t say what amendments she would have offered to balance the budget without the tax increase because she couldn’t get support for her amendment anyways.
“You know what? I’m not bringing up stuff as a cut if they aren’t going to do it,” she said.
When asked under what circumstances she would support a general fund tax increase, Quiring said it would take an emergency situation such as a fire or earthquake.
Other jurisdictions’ money
On Nov. 27, the day Quiring’s election as chair was certified, the Clark County Council included on its consent agenda the certification of eight local jurisdictions. The action by the council was basically a formality that allowed local ports, small cities and fire districts to have money. The East County Fire and Rescue District included a 1 percent increase in its levy, $4,500 from the previous year, which was approved by their commisioners.
When I pointed this out to Quiring, she followed up with a follow-up text:
So in this case the closest representation to the people of that Fire district are those commissioners. That is their responsibility
After a further back-and-forth with Quiring, she added this final summation of her position on taxes:
My position is: smaller more efficient government, taxes are needed to run civil governments, but its taxpayers hard-earned dollars footing the bill so policy makers must always keep that in mind and avoid whenever possible creating a heavier burden upon taxpayers.
The Fire district commissioners raised the levy (tax) not the County Council!