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Reno City Hall (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The city of Reno is pushing last-minute legislation that would allow the council to seek a ballot measure in 2020 to raise property taxes for more police officers and firefighters. The end-of-session bill comes after the Legislature did not take up a fix on property taxes, which are capped and include a depreciation factor that leaves local governments with little new revenue.

Sen. Julia Ratti received a waiver for an emergency bill draft request for public safety, according to city lobbyist Dylan Shaver. The legislation has yet to be introduced, but according to a draft of the bill, the measure would allow the city council to place a measure on the ballot in 2020 asking voters whether they want to increase the property tax by up to 0.05 percent. The move, first reported by the Reno Gazette Journal, could raise about $4 million per year for the city, Shaver predicted. He said the bill will include language to ensure the funding could only go toward hiring more cops and firefighters.

In an interview, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said the legislation, if successful, would create an open and transparent process for raising the property tax for future home purchases. In order to place language on the ballot, the City Council would have to hold a minimum of two hearings.

“The growth has put a lot of challenges on us,” she said. “We need to find a way to fund public safety desperately. With the property tax not really being hashed out this session, it puts local governments in a difficult position to figure out how we are going to handle the challenges with growth.”

Reno, hit hard by the recession, is staffing police officers near 1991 levels and firefighters near 2001 levels, Shaver said, even as the city has added about 100,000 residents over the past two decades. He stressed that the legislation would leave the decision of whether to raise property taxes to voters, but said that the bill, at the very least, would start a conversation on the issue.

“Local governments are running out of options,” he said.

Shaver said the decision to introduce a last-minute bill came after legislators did not debate the property tax issue as had been expected earlier this year. As The Nevada Independent reported last weekend, lawmakers did not consider a potential constitutional amendment to fix the state’s low property tax revenues and address the cap on annual increases for the tax.

Under the bill, local governments with less than 700,000 residents could have a one-time opportunity to raise the taxes. The authority to place property taxes on the ballot would expire in November 2020, Shaver said. Clark County has raised additional revenue for more police officers through an increased sales tax.

Schieve said the bill is designed to prevent governments from acting unilaterally.

“The voters will decide if they want to pay for public safety services,” she said. “The council shouldn’t have the authority to enact it. The voters should make that decision.”

The legislation prevents the funding from being used to increase salaries.

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