Tax Hike Measure for Washoe County Schools Remains on Ballot - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Tax Hike Measure for Washoe County Schools Remains on Ballot

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A judge has denied a petition to block Washoe County Question 1 from going on the ballot. If passed, the question would increase the county sales tax to fund school construction and repairs.

Washoe District Judge Scott Freeman rejected a petition Friday from a school-district critic who wanted to pull the measure - WC-1 - from the November ballot.

Jeff Church's suit filed last month claims the county violated state law by appointing four members to a committee formed to write in support of the tax increase on the Nov. 8 ballot. The county created a committee of only two members to write in opposition of the proposal.

Church, a member of the two-person committee, maintains state law requires the committees be comprised of at least three people.

Church claimed the explanation and ballot arguments on both sides of the issue were crafted illegally and stacked in favor of those who want the tax increase to pass.

Freeman disagreed.

He concluded after a two-hour hearing Friday that county officials were in substantial compliance with the law. He said that even if they weren't, he has no legal authority to prevent voters from deciding the matter at the polls.

"I wanted to give Mr. Church his day in court. I wanted him to make his arguments, but from a legal perspective, they all fail," Freeman said.

The ballot proposal, if approved, would increase Washoe County's sales tax to nearly 8.3%, a record high for any Nevada county. 

“We are thankful for the District Court’s ruling and happy to put this issue behind us as we turn our focus toward early voting which begins tomorrow,” said Washoe County Registrar Luanne Cutler. “We encourage everyone who registered to vote to get out to the polls and take part in this very important part of democracy.”

The attorney for the "Save Our Schools Coalition" says the petition was an attempt by Church to wait until the last minute and "gum up the works".

"I think it would've resulted in a very strange legal precedent where ballot initiatives could be kicked off the ballot for minor procedural violations and the democratic voice of the people could be denied," Adam Hosmer-Henner said.

Church's committee could not agree on a rebuttal to the argument in favor, so both members turned one in.  Washoe County attorney Herb Kaplan says since there were two submissions, Cutler did not put either of them on the sample ballot.  Instead, the committee had five days to submit one, which never happened.  Church says that also makes the question unfair.

"I didn't lose, today," Church said. "The taxpayer lost. Number one, they lost with this bad tax that never ends, a bait and switch measure, and number two, it's going to be tied up in litigation."

The 2015 legislature passed SB411, which required the Washoe County School District to form the Public Schools Overcrowding & Repair Needs Committee.  Once it made its recommendations, the Board of Commissioners were required to put a question, like WC-1, on the ballot.  Church says this initiative should not be admitted as written.

"You put in on the next election or even a special election," Church said. "That way, both sides get heard. We get a rebuttal on these, we get a good explanation. Just put it on the next one. It's a win-win."

Church says he hopes the Nevada Supreme Court will hear his case, as soon as possible, hoping to void the results of WC-1.

Kaplan says more than 5,500 people have already submitted absentee ballots, early voting begins, Saturday, and sample ballots have already been mailed.  Cutler says it is too late to make changes.

"This question is already expected by the voters," Cutler said. "They expect to be able to vote on it. So, these are the folks that are my biggest concern and I think there was a fair decision made today."

Washoe County has 23 early voting locations this year. Many polling locations are open seven days a week. The exact hours and locations of the early voting sites are available at the Registrar’s website. The last day to early vote is Friday, Nov. 4, 2016.

(The Associated Press and Washoe County also contributed to this report.)

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