Reno Councilwoman Brekhus wants Reno, Washoe County to combine governments

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December 28, 2016 – by Ray Hagar Nevada Newsmakers

Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus said the city council and Washoe County Commission should consider a “big multi-decade lift” to combine the two governments into one for the sake of efficiency, cutting costs and smaller government.

“This region would be helped very much if we have a serious consideration of combining the city or Reno with Washoe County unincorporated,” she said. “When you go around this valley and see where neighborhood boundary lines are, look at unincorporated county and city and service levels — where the county owns the sewer plant and where the sheriff responds — you see that we are not on a good path to success if we don’t get a handle on that.”

Brekhus, speaking on a broadcast of Nevada Newsmakers, said the current system of a Reno city government and a separate Washoe County government causes confusion in police and fire protection plus other services.

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“We have these real fuzzy boundaries and it is just tough,” Brekhus said. “It is tough for police responders, fire responders and I think the big lift is looking at this jurisdictional representation. It worked in Carson City.”

Brekhus is referring to the 1969 merger of Ormsby County and Carson City, which has a much smaller population that Reno and Washoe County.

Brekhus noted she is not focused on the current squabbles between the City of Reno and Washoe County when she speaks about combining the governments.

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

“No, I’m talking about thinking how the (local) government is set up for the next 100 years,” she said. “That is what I’m really talking about, looking far down (the road).”

Combining the two governments and their services is not as simple as just having the city council and county commission agree on the matter. It could hinge on a future vote of the people impacted, Brekhus said.

“I’m not Pollyannaish about this,” she said. “I think it will take two strong representatives in both houses of the Legislature to push this forward and a governor who sees the value of efficiencies to manage growth.

“It may even involved (a vote of) the people,” Brekhus said. “Ultimately, I mean, it is a big multi-decade life. But the concept has merit and believe me, it is the way to go because you can pick apart (city vs. county) service levels and you can see we are not setting ourselves up for the best efficiencies.”

Yet to make it work, special considerations should be given to the City of Sparks and the Lake Tahoe community of Incline Village. Both currently reside in Washoe County.

“The critical issue to consider is, ‘What is on your map,'” Brekhus said. “Is Incline in? Does that become a township? Does it (Incline) go to Douglas County?

Sparks would probably stay independent from any Washoe-Reno merger, Brekhus said.

“They have a unique community identity,” Brekhus said of Sparks. “Maybe they just (agree to a) joint-power agreement with this new Washoe-City government for a long time.”

A combined Washoe/Reno government would not necessarily have to cut down the number of current council members or county commissioners to fit a new governance model, Brekhus said.

“Right now the Reno City Council has seven members and the county commission has five. We already sit at the table together to discuss issues. It doesn’t seem too crowded. Do you put one up as a regional-wide elected mayor?”

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