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The Widows of Incline
by Steven Miller

t’s hard to consider a situation good fortune if it threatens to drive you out of house and home. But that’s the threat facing a number of fixed-income retirees at Incline Village.

Skyrocketing land values existing so far only on paper—or in the mind of the Washoe County Assessor—are, through accelerating property taxes, forcing major lifestyle changes.

Maryanna Bowers, for example, is 75 and says that though she retired nine years ago, she had to return to work six years ago to continue living in her Incline Village home. She had bought it years ago in a long-term plan for her personal retirement, while working at Hewlett-Packard for many years and later starting a new business with her late husband.

"The whole theory of living at Incline has changed over the years," she says. Originally it was to enjoy the outdoors far from city life, she notes, but now the city has followed people there.

She points out her monthly taxes on her Martis Peak Drive residence now cost more than the monthly payments she made to purchase the property. Back then, over 25 years ago, she paid $256 a month, including taxes and insurance. Now it costs her $350 each month just to cover the Washoe County property tax.

Bill Dewhurst—on her driver’s license the name is Mary Jane, but she’s been called the boy’s name all her life—saw her real estate taxes go this year from $14,000 to $30,460. Her small home sits on a shallow 100-foot-wide Lakeshore Drive plot that Bill and her late husband, Norman, a teacher at Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District for many years, purchased in 1956. Construction started in 1959 and was completed in 1961.

Bill says people ask, "What’s the big deal?" and tell her if they were in her situation they’d cash in and go off elsewhere to live "the high life." But Bill is 74, the small house is her home, full of memories, and she doesn’t want to be driven away.

Down Lakeshore a few houses is Julia Molloy, still sparkly at 90 years old. Her taxes this year more than doubled—from $18,000 to $42,000. Both she and her late husband, Ernest, joined Macy’s in New York as trainee executives upon graduation from college in 1929. Both rose high in the retailing firm before retiring, Mr. Molloy eventually becoming Macy’s CEO.

Though the house is in a family trust and Mrs. Molloy doesn’t expect to be forced out, she’s not pleased with the new mania for "tear-downs" and the construction frenzy up and down the shore.

"You can see how those billionaires have ruined everything," she remarks, and recounts all the buying and re-selling that occurred just next door, where virtually no one ever seems to live. Julia Molloy notes the interest in Incline for an initiative similar to California’s Proposition 13, passed when zooming Golden State land values began forcing folks from their homes.

Because such an amendment to Nevada’s constitution could threaten the pipeline into taxpayers pockets enjoyed by certain interest groups , Incline’s Ted Harris says he and his fellow activists know it would be an uphill struggle. Nevertheless, he says, they have to try.

Property taxes, Harris notes, are basically "the only unspecified tax that we have." With other taxes if one earns a certain amount of income, one knows in advance he’ll pay a certain amount of tax on it, and so can try to plan around that.

"Property taxes are out of control because there is no specified limit and the assessor and the county commissioners or the city council can increase tax rates at will, based on whatever their budget turns out to be, and assess that, and you have very little to say about it." he told Nevada Journal.

Because state pledges of relief to property taxpayers have so often been subverted [see "Turning a Ceiling into a Roadblock," this issue], and because counties reportedly are now targeting property owners for an even bigger tax hit in the 1999 legislature, a major statewide fight over the current tax regime is clearly approaching. It is true that Incline’s cliched reputation as "Income Village" will no doubt be exploited in the coming fight to reduce sympathy for home-owning widows like Maryanna Bowers, Bill Dewhurst and Julia Molloy. Yet the history of the last few decades shows that all Nevada primary residences need protection from the assessor and the ever-hungry interest groups and politicians behind him. u

 Steven Miller is managing editor of Nevada Journal.

Turning a Ceiling Into a Roadblock


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