Top headlines from the Board of County Commissioners meeting  

by | Nov 15, 2023

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

1. Board conducts hearing to adopt Envision Washoe 2040 Master Plan: The Master Plan is a policy document required by the State of Nevada that explains how the county will absorb the expected population over the next several decades. Envision Washoe 2040 is a comprehensive update that consolidates the existing 18 plan documents into one document and will replace the existing plan, excluding the Tahoe Area Plan, and provide a contemporary vision for growth and development in Washoe County for the next 10-20 years. The Master Plan addresses certain topics such as housing, conservation, land use, transportation, public facilities and services, adaptation and resiliency, regional form and coordination, and population.

Official community engagement began in 2020. After a series of meetings, surveys, and other engagement with the general public, steering committees, and stakeholder groups, Envision Washoe 2040 was completed, and adopted by the Washoe County Planning Commission.  

After adopting the new Master Plan, the Board conducted a first reading on various code amendments to update language from the previous plan to the newly approved plan. The Board also voted to provide direction to staff on prioritization of actions to implement the Master Plan and to spur the creation of affordable housing.  

2. Contract approved to construct supportive housing on Nevada Cares Campus: In August of this year, the Board accepted Home Means Nevada Initiative Funds awarded by the State of Nevada Department of Business & Industry Housing Division to build supportive housing at the Nevada Cares Campus. The nearly $22 million grant will fund the next phase of project development of the Nevada Cares Campus Phase 4, a 50-unit supportive housing project. The project plan includes a community room, staff offices, training room, laundry room as well as other infrastructure designs such as perimeter fencing, landscaping, dog kennel area, shade structure, outdoor recreational area, roadways, parking lots, and underground utilities. Today the Board awarded the construction contract to Clark Sullivan Construction to begin work on the project this week.

3. Board hears success of STAR Program and approves grants to extend the program and fund staffing: Department of Alternative Sentencing (DAS) Sergeant Andrew Sherbondy presented a one-year review of the department’s Support in Treatment, Accountability and Recovery (STAR) Program, which was implemented as a pilot program in October 2022. The program provides probationers and pretrial releasees supervised by DAS with the wrap-around support necessary to successfully address foundational causes of opioid use disorder, as well as underlying criminogenic behaviors. Participants engage in Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), and receive one-on-one counseling services, case management, peer support, and on-site programming by way of the Courage to Change interactive journaling series while engaged in the program. 

In its first year, the STAR program team has made 71 referrals to MAT services, conducted 234 counseling sessions, 134 journaling sessions, 309 home visits, 453 general office/field visits, and 2,418 peer contacts. Among other success metrics, DAS also opened STAR House, a sober living collaboration with Life Changes Inc. and SilverSummit Health Plan. Numerous STAR participants appeared at the meeting to support the program.  

“What I love about this program is that we are not seeing numbers, we’re seeing people, and we see the potential in each person,” Chair Alexis Hill said. “I feel like Washoe County is cutting edge in what we’re doing with restorative justice, and I’m excited about the work you’re doing.  

On the heels of the program’s successful first year, the Board approved two grants, one that will cover funding of staff and operations for the second year of the program, and a grant of just over $826,000 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance that will continue the STAR Program through September 2027.  

4. Board votes to continue suspension of Golden Valley Artificial Recharge fees through 2033: In May of this year, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to suspend fees charged to residents of Golden Valley for the recharge of groundwater through the end of the year. The Golden Valley Artificial Recharge Program was started in the 1990s to support domestic well users by recharging the aquifer that now supports 598 domestic wells. Washoe County adopted the permanent county-managed program in 2002, funded by a monthly fee for users. However, the artificial recharge paused in 2016 as the groundwater level sharply rose. Since then, natural recharge has resulted in continuous rising groundwater levels in certain areas of Golden Valley.

The 2023 Golden Valley Aquifer Recharge Assessment study (Study) was based on a geological investigation and water demand forecast study initiated to understand the existing site and geological conditions impacting the area. Numerous public meetings and surveys of affected residents also shaped the proposal to suspend the fees for a 10-year period, during which Washoe County staff will continue field activities such as water level and water quality collection, and groundwater model updates and reporting to maintain the Nevada Division of Water Resources Artificial Recharge Permit. Near the end of the 10-year period, staff will prepare a revised hydrogeologic and water demand forecast with recommendations based on the conditions as they exist at that time.

5. Board approves opioid settlement as part of the ongoing One Nevada Agreement: In July 2021, the Washoe County Board of County Commissioners agreed to enter into the One Nevada Agreement to allocate settlement payments among Nevada counties. Millions of dollars have been allocated to Washoe County from previous settlements with opioid manufacturers, distributers and dispensers. Today the Board approved a settlement allocation of approximately $55,000 from Masters Pharmaceuticals, LLC.

6. Board appoints Katheryn Hickman as new Alternate Public Defender: Alternate Public Defender Marc Picker will retire on January 26, 2024. Following the Board-approved recruitment process, the Board appointed Katheryn Hickman to fill the role effective December 26, 2023. The effective date includes an overfill opportunity providing for a smooth transition of the Department Head position once Mr. Picker retires effective January 26, 2024. The Alternate Public Defenders office was created in March 2007 to handle cases conflicted by the Public Defender’s Office and reduce the number of cases assigned to private counsel. A conflict exists when the Public Defender’s Office has previously represented a witness, victim, or codefendant in a new case.

Katheryn Hickman received her undergraduate degree from the University of Nevada, Reno and achieved her Juris Doctorate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2008. She has been working at the Alternate Public Defender’s Office since October 2022 and prior to that was Chief Deputy Public Defender where she was the Training and Resource Director and she supervised the Category A team, which was a team of attorneys and investigators that handled all the cases that carried a potential life sentence. Prior to Hickman’s employment in Washoe County, she served as a Deputy Public Defender in the State of Colorado’s Public Defender System. She serves with the Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and in April of 2023 she participated in drafting an Amicus Curiae brief on behalf of that organization in a case, Cameron v. State, which is currently pending in front of the Nevada Supreme Court. 

“I believe our office is the best law firm in the state, and it’s been my honor to lead this office,” Picker said. “Kate is a zealous advocate on behalf of her clients, a true mentor and teacher to those both in and outside the APD office and a recognized leader for criminal defense throughout the state of Nevada. Kate will be an outstanding alternate public defender, and I could not be more pleased that she’ll be leading the office into the future.”  

7. Board appoints Leo Horishny to the Washoe County Board of Adjustment: The Washoe County Board of Adjustment decides appeals concerning zoning regulations and matters related to the soundness of structures, as well as cases involving administrative permits, special use permits and variances. Members are appointed to represent each of the five commission districts and serve four-year terms. The Board appointed Leo Horishny to represent District 3 for the remainder of a term that expires June 30, 2025. Horishny is a 38-year resident of Washoe County and works as a certified pharmacy technician for Renown Rehabilitation Hospital Pharmacy. He was among four qualified applicants for the appointments.

8. Board approves allocation of District 5 Special Funds to nonprofit organizations: Commissioner Jeanne Herman proposed $30,000 of her District 5 Special Funds to the following nonprofit organizations:

  • $10,000 to Awaken, an organization that works to eradicate commercial sexual exploitation. Since its launch in 2011, Awaken has reached more than 900 women and children in Northern Nevada. 
  • $10,000 to The Salvation Army to support Washoe County residents struggling with food and housing insecurity, and those impacted by the traumas of human trafficking, as part of the Red Kettle fundraising goal. 
  • $10,000 to the Food Bank of Northern Nevada to provide food for families in need throughout the region, particularly its Mobile Harvest program. The Food Bank of Northern Nevada distributes food through its network of more than 150 partner agencies. 

“I want to thank Commissioner Herman for the donation today, and to the county. You’ve been incredible to us. We’re in a state that’s number one in the nation for the commercial sex trade, the illegal trafficking of women and children,” Melissa Holland, Awaken cofounder and CEO, said. “We have a large fight against us, and it’s vital that the community is able to support the resources for those who have been victimized by this issue. With these funds, we’re reallocating what’s currently office space and turning it into a gathering space so victims of trafficking are able to come together and share a meal, engage in programming, learn healthy community and be around peers who have also been trafficked in our community.”

9. Board proclaims this week National Apprenticeship Week: In honor of Registered Apprenticeships that provide a way for individuals to earn while they learn, the Board proclaimed November 13-19, 2023, as National Apprenticeship Week. Registered Apprenticeship programs provide a path for qualified individuals, including women, youth, people of color, rural communities, justice-involved individuals, and individuals with disabilities, to become apprentices and contribute to America’s industries. Commissioner Clara Andriola read the proclamation, joined by numerous individual in apprenticeship programs, as well as Sparks Councilwoman Dian VanderWell.

“Thanks for the good work you do,” Commissioner Mike Clark said. “People don’t realize that your iPhone isn’t going to paint your house, wire your house, it’s not going to weld for you. This kind of thing wasn’t available years ago. You’re saying you have work, we’ll help you, we’ll teach you, just show up. It doesn’t get any better than that, so I entirely support what you’re doing.”