Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2019

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Water authority board recommends making temporary quarter-cent sales tax permanent

The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s board of directors will recommend that the Clark County Commission remove the sunset provision on a countywide quarter-cent sales tax that has been in place since the late 1990s and has brought in almost $1.5 billion for water-related projects.

The tax, initiated by a 1997 state law, includes a provision that would end the tax when $2.3 billion has been raised or on June 20, 2025, whichever comes first.

County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who sits on the water authority board, sought clarification during a meeting of the board Thursday that the tax money would remain in Clark County or in functions along the Colorado River that would benefit Clark County. Brock Reservoir in California, for instance, helps store water from Lake Mead and was built using money from the sales tax.

The push from the board to add restrictions on the use of the tax funds into the final recommendation alleviated concerns from some who worried that money raised by the tax may be going to ranching operations owned by the authority. Over the years, the SNWA has bought ranching operations as a means of obtaining water rights for possible future use.

In unanimously approving the recommendation the water authority board also specified that the tax money would not be available to fund a north-to-south water pipeline — a longstanding source of conflict between officials in rural Northern Nevada and urban Southern Nevada.

“The recommendation included the caveat that none of the money would be used (now or in the future) for the in-state pipeline project,” Corey Enus, a spokesperson for the authority, wrote in an email.

There was no discussion of when the recommendation would come before the commission, where two-thirds of the seven-member body, or five commissioners, would need to vote to remove the sunset clause. Three commissioners — Kirkpatrick, Jim Gibson and Justin Jones — serve on the water authority board.