By Cody Wagner
Editor’s note: Cody Wagner has been a resident of Fernley for most of his life and is the Chair of the Fernley Community Foundation. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fernley Reporter, the Fernley Community Foundation, or the City of Fernley.
Election season is always interesting, but this one might be the most interesting in our country’s history. The same can be said about our local elections. With three Fernley City Council seats up for grabs, as well as a multitude of other county, state, and federal positions, the stakes are high. I never had intentions of writing these articles to offer any sort of political endorsement, but there is one candidate on our ballot this year that warrants a closer look, as Rob Jacobson is running for District IV Representative on the Lyon County Board of Commissioners.
Many in our community already know Rob as a longtime educator and current principal of Fernley Intermediate School. He’s a large man with a large personality, but most of that personality has been dedicated to the children of our community over his last 30ish years in Fernley. He has always been the guy to come in early or stay late, help out wherever it’s needed, advocate for children who weren’t able to advocate for themselves, and even start the tradition of the Special Olympics for the special needs students around our region. As far back as when I was a student at FIS, Rob was the guy who opened up the gym early every morning so we could play basketball and schedule extra games for us around the Reno area, even though he was not getting paid for those and didn’t even have a child in the program yet. There is no doubt that Rob isn’t afraid to speak his mind, so as long as he shows the same unwavering support for Fernley as a part of our County Commission as he does for the children of our community (which I have no doubt he will), I believe he’s the right choice to represent us and am encouraging everyone to vote for him.
So, who is Rob running against? Actually, it’s me, which is the only reason I’m comfortable in making this endorsement and not going to write about any others. It’s probably not often that a candidate endorses his opponent during an election, but that is what I am doing. I filed to run for this position back in March on the platform of bettering Fernley. I know County Commissioners represent all of Lyon County, and I’m convinced I would have bettered other communities around our county as well by bringing some issues to the table to help our community.
Nevertheless, having a good representative from Fernley was my number one priority. It is often easy to let ego get in the way of doing what is right in politics, even at our local level, but I am trying to do what is right in these circumstances. At this point, it just didn’t make sense to run a full campaign against a friend of mine when I know he would do a good job in the position. Had I known he was interested in the position in March, I probably would not have filed at all. I tried to drop my name off the ballot in July after meeting with him to discuss issues, but our state has some odd rules requiring Independent candidates (which I am) to file a petition to even be allowed on the ballot and not allowing candidates to remove themselves from the ballot, even if they no longer want the position, as is the case with me.
That’s all right – I promise my self-esteem will survive getting steamrolled in my first venture into politics. Given that I had to stay in the race, I tried to use this whole experience as a learning opportunity and to gain insight into our county-level political system, which I have certainly done. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to several community members and friends who helped me start my candidacy, collect signatures for my petition to run, or offer endorsements and advice for how to navigate this political system.
I also do not want people to think this is a copout or forfeiture of the premise that originally motivated me to file for office. I am still ready and willing to give everything I have to fight for Fernley. In fact, not being a County Commissioner actually might be even better for me to do that. I spent many hours researching topics, attending Commission meetings, and creating spreadsheets dissecting our County’s budget. If all things were equal, I do think I’ve gained a ton of knowledge in the last couple months that would have made me a good choice for our County Commission.
But it’s not in the cards for this year, and that’s ok. Although I take nothing for granted in this lifetime, I am still relatively young and will look for opportunities in the future to contribute to bettering our local political system should they arise, saving my battle for a more meaningful time and position. In the meantime, I’ll support Rob in his new profession as a publicly-elected official and probably have our whole County Commission irritated at me by the time their tenure is over. But if that’s what it takes to get some things at the County level going Fernley’s way, that’s what I’m going to do.
Last year, I began writing some articles for the Fernley Reporter with hopes to educate our residents on things going on around our community, including a few controversial political topics. I took a hiatus away from writing for the past few months, because I was concerned being a political candidate would be an ethical issue in using these articles as a means of campaigning. I did not want to put the Fernley Reporter in a position where every political candidate wanted to start writing articles to support their campaign. Now that I have put that to rest by making my intent known to offer zero competition in this election, I do intend to revisit some issues and continue to write more articles.
The lack of actual issues and ideas for improvement at all levels of our government being discussed in this campaign cycle is particularly disturbing to me. It feels like the party affiliation of candidates has overtaken any substantial discussion about platforms. Personally, I always try to vote for the person who is running and their ideas and experience and strongly oppose voting straight party tickets. I am actually proud of being the only candidate in my ballot listed as “No Party Affiliation”. Normally, that would feel like being an outcast; right now, it almost feels like a badge of honor. It feels tougher and tougher these days to be a part of the two-party duopoly that has so thoroughly divided our country politically.
To any sane person, I believe the presidential debate last week just illustrated the disaster of these party politics. I recently saw a statistic that only about 20 percent of our country’s citizens actually believe that our political system is leading our country in the right direction. I try to spread blame equally across both parties. At some point, our country needs to find a political outlook that can unite our country instead of constantly dividing, and I’m not sure either of the two parties in power are that future. A small change, even at the local level, is trying to get candidates back to discussing issues during campaigns instead of pounding their chests about political parties. I feel like the “sane minority” of our citizens should demand that we actually talk about platform instead of talking points, although we might get drowned out in the partisanship.
Isn’t that what these elections should boil down to? I will try to practice what I preach and end this article by sharing some of the specific issues and findings I made during this process of participating as a candidate.
To begin, I’d like to correct a personal mistake. Last year, I wrote one particular article about the exportation of tax revenue out of Fernley, particularly in the form of Consolidated Tax (or C-TAX, mainly composed of sales tax paid on purchase of goods) and property tax. Through some estimations, I suggested that Fernley exports more than $2 million per year through these two tax pools, an amount that could transform our City’s $10 million General Fund budget could we keep it in our community. It is difficult to determine an exact amount because the formulas and abatements affecting those tax sources are complicated, but I do stand by those approximations and the fact that Fernley needs to be fighting for a fairer share of revenue.
Where I offer an apology and admission of guilt is that I mainly blamed that deficit on Lyon County. After going through many spreadsheets and breaking down numbers (although I still needed to make some educated guesses), I have come to the conclusion that our whole county really suffers from many of the tax distribution mechanisms at the state level, particularly C-TAX. There is still some injustice in Fernley receiving less than $200,000 per year in C-TAX distributions and Lyon County receiving over $15 million, but the reality is many of the services our county offers to Fernley are really expensive, including Sheriff’s Department, Jail Department, Dispatch, Juvenile Probation, District Courts, Human Services, Libraries, Senior Centers, and other services.
I often hear around Fernley that “Yerington is taking all of our taxes” and will admit I did buy into that with that just looking at revenues for the County and City. Now that I’ve also broken down expenses for each entity, my guess is that Fernley doesn’t actually export too much of that $2 million to the County – most of the exported tax revenues are to the Consolidated Tax fund, where taxes generated by our citizens are then redistributed to other counties.
I do take pride in providing correct information, and even though my other article was specifically cited as rough estimations and was written over a year ago, it did have misleading information about expenses from Lyon County’s budget related to resources in Fernley, for which I apologize.
Finally, I don’t want the research that I’ve done into county-level politics to be completely forgotten about by me waiving the white flag on my own candidacy. Here are some of the most important issues at the county level that I believe we need to fight for:
- Consolidated Tax Revenue: In addition to my comments above, not only is Fernley last in per capita C-TAX distributions for any incorporated city in Nevada by a huge margin, but the total Lyon County per capita distribution is also last in our State amongst counties. This does hugely affect our entire county, leaving us less funding for law enforcement, fire districts, transportation, and parks, which also trickles down to county employees and infrastructure improvements. In my mind, if our County Commission wanted to make the largest positive impact on our citizens of Lyon County (and make their own lives easier with creating a better budget), fighting for a fairer share of Consolidated Tax at the Tier 1 level should be its top priority. I estimate that Lyon County is shorted $8.7 million compared to the average C-TAX distribution per citizen in our state. It is an unacceptable number that will continue to get worse if we do not do anything about it.
- Redistricting: Every 10 years, most governmental entities go through a process of redrawing district boundaries with updated census data, governed by NRS statutes. When the 2020 census data currently being collected is issued, it should be a fairly straightforward process for Lyon County. If Fernley is over 40 percent of Lyon County’s population, districts should be drawn so that Fernley has 2 of the 5 spots on the Board of County Commissioners for the next 10 years. Right now, only one Commissioner is guaranteed to come from Fernley. For the past 10 years, a split district with part of Fernley and part of Silver Springs has had a representative from Silver Springs win that spot. If we want things to change in our county, we need fair representation and need to fight to ensure that district boundaries are drawn justly and proportional to population data, as required by the law.
- Consolidation of Fernley’s taxing entities: Fernley’s government is set up oddly. In most incorporated cities, there is a central organizing entity overseeing city operations, a police department, a fire department, a parks & recreation department that would include a swimming pool, and other normal governmental departments. In Fernley, we have no police department and are spread out with a separate fire district, a separate pool district, no recreation department, and a pretty minimal parks department for the number of residents we have. All of the separate districts have different publicly elected boards managing them, different budgets, and different portions of property tax and C-TAX revenues that are split up between them. I believe that consolidating all of these resources under one central entity (likely the City) would lead to significant financial efficiencies. It’s also the only organizational structure that I can see leading to the creation of a City of Fernley Police Department, and if Fernley is going to continue to grow, there must be some population level that would justify Lyon County not wanting to operate a Sheriff’s Department 45 miles away from its county seat and Fernley needing to take it over. I believe our County Commission would hold the authority in starting that process as the entity that dictates property tax rates. Obviously, this would also involve a willingness from the City of Fernley, North Lyon County Fire District, and Fernley’s Swimming Pool District to explore this route as well.
- Diversified Growth: This is a tricky area. With growth comes additional needed services, greater school capacities, and more job opportunities. I fully support the County’s desire to attract reputable businesses to our area. Businesses bring with them substantial increases in property tax revenue. Unfortunately, unless the Consolidated Tax distribution issues are fixed, sales tax revenues that those businesses bring will not significantly improve our County’s budget, although they will somewhat help our school district. Residential growth has been the main hot topic, as 12,000 square foot lot sizes are often mentioned as the desired minimum. In theory, this means keeping Lyon County “rural” and less populated. But in actuality, this creates huge housing affordability issues. Whether we like it or not, we have an economy in Northern Nevada that is now centered around many manufacturing and distribution jobs that pay $15 – $25 per hour. Even with a two-income household, it becomes really difficult to afford houses built on 12,000 square feet. This leads to many renters, increases in homelessness, and issues with basic necessities for many families, which translates into a somewhat transient population around our county because many cannot afford to live any other way. Even for entry-level teachers, affording housing in this economy becomes really difficult. I personally grew up on a 7,500 square foot lot in the subdivision behind 7-11, where many childhood friends lived. Fast-forwarding 20 years from our childhood, there are lots of success stories and great families coming out of that neighborhood, likely just as much success (if not more) as came out of the wealthier neighborhoods around Fernley. I believe our county’s development philosophy is partially based on this perception that smaller lot sizes will bring in less desirable people to our communities, and I do not agree with that at all. I still agree that many areas should be planned and kept rural, but I also think there has to be consideration for new development that includes smaller lot sizes, condominiums, and apartments to provide those $15-$25 per hour job workers places to live, or else the business growth won’t happen either. I’m not advocating for throwing up a bunch of slums as quickly as we can all over the county either, but a smart, diversified approach to development with an open mind to smaller lots and master-planned, creative communities would ultimately benefit everyone in our county, especially employers.
That concludes my main thoughts on Lyon County and our political state right now. I know I had a lot on my mind, so I appreciate you reading. Fernley desperately needs more involved, engaged citizens who are willing to fight for our community. I know Rob Jacobson will be one of those people. I hope others will follow.
If you have events that you would like to be highlighted or issues you would like to see me discuss, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will never guarantee content, but I will try to cover things that I feel are important for Fernley.