Special Session of Legislature Sought on Property Taxes

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Two Nevada lawmakers who opposed tax increases favored by Gov. Kenny Guinn in 2003 have made a long-odds request that the governor call a special session to cap property tax increases.

Guinn spokesman Greg Bortolin said Tuesday that the Republican governor hadn't reviewed the request yet and would have "an open mind" in deciding whether a special session is warranted between now and the start of the regular 2005 session in February.

The request on Monday came from state Sen. Ann O'Connell, R-Las Vegas, and Assemblyman David Brown, R-Henderson. They wrote that Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, also supports a special session to impose a 6 percent cap on annual property tax increases.

Despite Guinn's stated "open mind" on the request, a special session seems unlikely since lawmakers can take up the proposal on their own in February - and since Guinn had to battle with the special session advocates over the higher taxes that he favored last year.

O'Connell said the 6 percent cap, first proposed by Clark County Assessor Mark Schofield, needs to be implemented now. She said that waiting until the 2005 session may be too late to head off big tax increases for homeowners.

Enacting the cap now would also give local governments, which fund much of their budgets from property taxes, the opportunity to build a budget based on the new limits, O'Connell said.

"People are just absolutely aghast (at their property tax bills)," she said. "We have to take care of this right away."

Hettrick said if the Legislature waits until next year and tries to head off the big property tax hikes taking effect July 1, then rollbacks would be necessary, creating huge problems for county assessors and local government budgets.

Hettrick said a one- to three-day special session, at a cost of $50,000 to $150,000, would allow the cap to be put in place, protecting homeowners from big tax increases. It would also let local governments better plan their budgets without fear of future rollbacks.

The property tax issue could then be debated at length in the 2005 session without causing hardships either to homeowners or local governments, he said.

The proposed cap would limit the growth of a total property tax bill to 6 percent per year no matter how much of an increase in property value had occurred.

Currently there's a 6 percent growth cap on only about a third of the various tax rates that determine a property tax bill, the rates that support a governing entity's operating budget. Not covered by the existing cap are the tax rates for the support of such things as schools, bond redemption, state capital improvements or municipal pools.