Top headlines from the Board of County Commissioners meeting  

by | Aug 22, 2023

The following are highlights from today’s Washoe County Board of County Commissioners meeting:     

1. Board approves purchase of West Hills Hospital for the use of a mental health inpatient facility: In December 2022, the Board of County Commissioners allocated $4.8 million in COVID recovery funds to purchase the shuttered West Hills Hospital. Today’s action approved the purchase.

The shortage of mental health providers, coupled with the inadequate Medicaid reimbursement rate in Nevada, has created a significant gap in accessible mental health services, which has increased in severity over the past 24 months. The closure of the 95-bed West Hills Behavioral Health Hospital was a significant loss to the region and greatly reduced the availability of behavioral health beds. By securing this facility and partnering with a provider, Washoe County can create a model that allows for Medicaid reimbursement and subsidies for facility costs, thereby improving mental health services coverage and reducing future burdens on County services.  

“As a school counselor by trade, I can tell you that I will never forget the day I read that West Hills was closing its doors. It was very startling for us practitioners who have boots on the ground working with youth,” Commissioner Mariluz Garcia said. “Knowing that Nevada is ranked 51st in the nation for not only adult behavioral health, but also youth behavior health; this is very alarming. We have a tremendous crisis on our hands. We have a lack of beds and options for children and adults.” 

Additionally, the property is large enough to house the Washoe County Health District Tuberculosis and Community Health Clinic that is currently located at 10 Kirman Ave.   

“This is a big deal and a big day for our community,” Chair Hill said. “And it shows what we can do on a local government front because for so long we’ve said, ‘That’s the State’s job,’ but the State isn’t able to do it so the County is trying to find partners to provide that care for our families that is so badly needed.”

2. Board increases fees related to short-term rentals: In March 2021, Washoe County adopted a new ordinance setting standards, license requirements, and fees for short-term rentals (STRs). As the ordinance was new, staff has actively gathered public feedback to revise the codes to best meet the needs of the community. Today’s action amends the fee scheduleto increase the fees on Tier 1 STR permit applications and renewals from $270 to $350, and implement new fees for applicant-requested changes to existing permits and permit appeals.  

STR fees are intended to cover the cost of administering the program, but the demand has exceeded the current staffing. The current fee structure only generates about $257,000 of revenue to the General Fund, creating an annual shortfall of approximately $259,000. Increased fees will allow Community Services to transfer management of the permits to a paraprofessional rather than the current higher-salaried staff, and will cover costs for enhanced enforcement efforts and participation in Clean Tahoe programs, among other items. 

Public feedback on the STR program has revealed a need for better enforcement of the codes, including regular data exchange with the Sheriff’s Office, increased patrol presence, and increased spot-checks by a code enforcement officer over the busy summer months.  

“This is something I ran on. The community was clamoring for the county to get involved because it was neighbor against neighbor. And there was no way to resolve those concerns. There were party houses, people were having weddings at homes. No program is perfect, but as we’ve heard from the data and statistics, it’s much improved,” Chair Alexis Hill said. “This program has helped mend relationships and it’s not’s perfect but it’s a place for people to remedy their concerns.” 

The Board also considered code amendments to limit the number of STRs in unincorporated Washoe County. Chair Alexis Hill and Commissioner Mike Clark requested that this issue be addressed, so Division Director of Planning and Building Kelly Mullin presented a formal request  for the Board to initiate that change; however, this item did not pass. The Board did vote to initiate amendments to streamline the verification and enforcement process, reengage the community on the process, and look at the tiers of permit types.

3. Washoe County receives $21.9 million grant for construction of affordable supportive housing: As Washoe County continues its work to end homelessness, it seeks private and public funding to improve and expand the Nevada Cares Campus with housing units and supportive services. The Board of County Commissioners approved the acceptance of Home Means Nevada Initiative grant funds in the amount of $21.9 million to construct and equip a 50-unit affordable supportive housing project at the Nevada Cares Campus. This project is the planned Phase 4 of the Nevada Cares Campus Development Plan.

The Home Means Nevada Initiative is the State of Nevada’s $500 million in COVID recovery funds allocated to address affordable housing needs.  

4. Washoe County receives Built for Zero grant to cover fees and deposits for those working to overcome homelessness: Washoe County serves as the regional lead for the Built for Zero initiative to end homelessness. Staff submitted a funding proposal to cover the application fees, security deposits, background checks and legal fees to seal eviction records. This funding will be utilized to address credit, rental and/or criminal background related housing barriers for people experiencing homelessness in order to obtain permanent housing. Community Solutions International awarded $50,000 to Washoe County for this purpose.

5. Board votes to implement LifeSet Program for youth aging out of foster care: Foster care is a pressing need in Washoe County, and the Board of County Commissioners noted the dire need for foster families.

“We are in an emergency situation with our foster care right now. We need about 75 homes to fill the gap,” Chair Alexis Hill said. “Commissioner Garica has been a leader in this after fostering to adopt her two children, and I just signed up to foster as well. I feel like if I’m going to ask my community to help out then I also need to be part of the solution. Go to our ‘Have a Heart’ website, and if you have an extra room and capacity in your life to do this, you can change a life.”  

LifeSet is an evident-based program by the Human Services Agency’s (HSA) Independent Living Program designed to provide intensive clinical and individualized services to youth aging out of foster care, or recently aged-out of foster care, with the goal of achieving a successful transition to adulthood. The LifeSet core areas of service include establishing positive relationships and connections, education, employment housing, independent living skills, physical and mental health, expectant and/or parenting if applicable, safety planning and crisis intervention, trauma-informed care, and continuous assessment and planning. Implementation will include a $1.2 million grant with a $2.8 million county match and the creation of three new positions.  

6. Board hears status of county property portfolio and facility master planning: Assistant County Manager Dave Solaro presented an overview of the county’s property assets from property types to master planning and leases. There are three primary uses of Washoe County’s property: general government use, utility fund, and open space and parks. Over the course of five years, concluding in 2015, Washoe County conducted an in-depth review of leased space and worked to consolidate property and move into owned property, reducing the cost of leases by $61 million annually. Washoe County continues to prioritize locating operations on owned property to minimize the need for leased property.

7. Board hears presentation about Sanford Center for Aging about quality of life for seniors: Peter Reed, director of the Sanford Center for Aging at the University of Nevada, Reno, presented an overview of the organization and how it works to support seniors in the community. The Sanford Center for Aging this year celebrates its 30th anniversary of serving to enhance the quality of life and well-being among elders through education, translational research, and community outreach. The center works to dispel agism and celebrate the privilege of growing older.

The Sanford Center for Aging provides numerous programs and services including the volunteer program (RSVP), transportation for seniors, home visits, medication management, and health and wellness programs.  

“We have to realize that the senior population is one of the fastest-growing segments of society,” Commissioner Mike Clark said. “We’re at about 20 percent of our population is seniors. You’re helping folks who need help, and you’re helping people who are still very healthy and well and want to volunteer. Some people need help, and some people want to give help. I look forward to some serous collaboration with your organization.” 

8. Board approves resolution to open public meetings with an invocation: In June, Commissioner Clara Andriola requested that the Board consider opening its meetings with an invocation. In response, Washoe County staff researched best practices and legal parameters associated with this request. As Washoe County serves constituents of all faiths, and expresses no preference of faith, the resolution and corresponding report outlines a set of guidelines to provide an opportunity for representatives from the faith community to offer an invocation on a monthly basis. No invocation shall be used to lobby or request funding or support.

“I want to extend my deepest appreciation for the staff of the County Manager’s Office,” Commissioner Clara Andriola said. “It means a lot to represent our community in all faiths and being very inclusionary.  A great opportunity to partner w/the inner faith community. I am thrilled to see this turned around so quickly so thank you.” 

9. Employees recognized with Safety Awards: County Security Administrator Ben West presented five Washoe County employees for exceptional safety measures outside the duties of their jobs:

  • Sarah Turner, Medical Examiner’s Office 
  • Antonio Lopez, Assessor’s Office 
  • Eric Crump, Community Services 
  • Jacob Ayala, Community Services 
  • Arunas Narusevicious, Community Services