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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 at 9:28 PM

2024 Candidates' Night Sparks Conversation and Contention: Candidates for County Commission

The Fallon Post and Lahontan Valley News are sharing articles on the candidates seeking the Churchill County Commission, Justice of the Peace, and Fallon mayor.
2024 Candidates' Night Sparks Conversation and Contention: Candidates for County Commission
County Commission candidates (L to R) Matt Hyde, Rusty Jardine, Todd Moretto,
Julie Guerrero-Goestch, and Eric Blakey. Photo by Leanna Lehman.

The forum was also broadcast by KVLV-AM and KKTU-FM radio stations and streamed on Network1Sports. The candidates for three offices participated in a Candidates Night on Monday, which was hosted by the Churchill County Republican Central Committee and hosted by The Fallon Post, Lahontan Valley News, and Lahontan Valley Broadcasting Company.

Publisher Rachel Dahl of The Fallon Post reports on the county commission candidate’s responses from Candidate Night.

Candidates for County Commission District 1 are Julie Guerrero-Goestch and Matt Hyde. County Commission District 3 candidates are Eric Blakey, Rusty Jardine, and Todd Moretto. 

Candidate Introductions

Matt Hyde is running for County Commission District 1 and serves on the Churchill County School Board of Trustees. He has completed the Certified Public Officials course at the University of Nevada. He is married to Nicole, and they have raised their family here. He said he was encouraged by Assemblyman and former commissioner Greg Koenig to run for the seat. “I am committed to this community and will be no matter how the election goes,” he said.

Rusty Jardine is running for the District 3 seat and said he was encouraged by Assemblyman Koenig, Senator Robin Titus, former Commissioner Pete Olsen, current commissioners Justin Heath and Bus Scharmann, and Ernie Schank to run for the position. He has four college degrees; one is a juris doctorate, and he is a former prosecutor. “I have been a public servant all my life; for 25 years, I have represented public bodies, including three county commissions, and eight years as a deputy civil district attorney for the Churchill County commission.” He then served at the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District as the general manager and traveled the west for many years to support water rights. “We speak ag, we speak water,” he said. “Water will sustain the growth we need. In order to do that, we need the infrastructure, and that means water.”

Julie Guerrero-Goestch is running in District 1 and has lived in Churchill County for 24 years and raised her family here. Her husband is a Navy veteran, and she has two daughters. She has served the county for the past 20 years and is Administrative Services Manager and a School Board Trustee. She has served on many other boards and committees, and wants to take that experience and transition into serving as a county commissioner. “I believe in service above self and I will listen to the community.” She said she has direct, relatable experience she wants to put to work for the community. “In January we will seat two new commissioners to the board, of a board of three, so now more than ever experience really matters.”

Eric Blakey is running in District 3. He is a local businessman, owning Hotwire Electric for the past 17 years, providing service to the community. He said he also has a strong public service career. He is the Churchill County Planning Commission chairman and a Churchill County Federal Credit Union board member. He is a retired member of the Fallon/Churchill Fire Department, where he served for 20 years; nine of those years were in the command division. He served as a reserve deputy sheriff from 2012 to 2018 and was a coach and board member of the Churchill Youth Softball Association. Blakey has been endorsed by the Sierra Nevada Realtors Association, which is 3,800 members strong. “I have spoken with many citizens who have said they are ready for new and fresh leadership. I have a strong voice, strong opinion, and I’m someone who asks questions and demands answers. I am worried about the direction of this county if we don’t manage growth correctly,” he said.

Todd Moretto, running in District 3, commended his fellow candidates for their service to the community. “I’m not a politician. I’m the local Fallon guy, and I have absolutely nothing to benefit from being your county commissioner and have no ulterior motive. I see what this community does well and that’s the stuff we need to preserve. There’s a lot of stuff we do that we don’t need to do. Free enterprise takes care of a lot. We need to bring in entertainment, housing, and development; we need hotels and motels.” 

Q1 Budget Deficit 

Jardine said this is a crisis we faced many years ago. Oftentimes, this means reducing the number of departments by as little as 5%. “As I see the county, we are in good shape, we have funds, and I’m proud of that. The single most important policy decision to be made every year is the budget. As any commissioner, you have fiduciary duties, and the importance is to be cautious and strict about the expenditure of public funds. That is a sacred trust.” 

Guerrero-Goestch said that as a county employee, she faces this daily: “Projected revenues and budget requests are imbalanced, which tells us we have to pull back the reins.” This is not the county's first encounter with these kinds of challenges. She said the county works together as a team to ensure they are good stewards of taxpayer dollars. 

Blakey said that when the numbers don’t align in a budget, we must factor in change, ensure every dollar is accounted for, and work together. “As a commissioner, I will provide guidance on how we can move back in line.” 

Moretto said, “I don’t understand why we have a hard time with this. Stop spending money on stuff we don’t need. We do not need to be in land development, don’t need to relocate county offices. We are moving departments to good property on Maine Street that we could have businesses in.”

Hyde feels the short term has been taken care of with the current cut plan, but “For the long term this is going to take a lot of discussion at the commission level.” He wants to see budget-to-actuals at every meeting and review accounting protocols. “We need to be cognizant of grant spending and realize these projects come with operating expenses.” 

High-Density Development and Relationships with out of Area Developers

Guerrero-Goestch said it is no secret this community needs housing. “Inventory is low, and we need housing to serve existing residents, not just serve potential growth.” She said no proposed projects are being built because we need to complete the infrastructure first. We need diverse options that are more affordable. 

Blakey said high-density housing is coming, and we can either manage it now or after the fact. “We have time to get infrastructure in place, so when developers start building, the housing will be where we want it.”

Moretto said high-density housing does strain the relationship between developers and our county. Referencing property the county purchased off Coleman Road, he said the project will not happen because a builder can’t make any money from it. 

Hyde referenced Captain Tanner from NAS Fallon, who recently reported to the school board that the base will grow 35% by 2026. “High-density housing will be a must and will have to be embraced.” The issue is where it will be located, and the rights of property owners must be balanced with neighboring communities. Existing zoning has to be respected.  

Jardine asked, “Do we care?” We have a master plan for this kind of development. We have a way of doing things here with sustained, slow growth according to our plan, and we have a plan for changes in zoning. 

Higher density - New Codes, Enforcement of Existing Codes

Blakey said when high density meets single-family homes, certain things must happen: developers must submit plans to mitigate, and county responsibilities must be specified.

Moretto said he lives in the county. Codes are not being enforced, and we need to do something to fix that. 

Hyde said there are good ways to build multi-unit housing. He feels that people are confused between multi-unit housing and government-subsidized housing. Restrictions must be implemented, and he will ensure the county gets them right. 

Jardine said it is a delicate balance of what the government can impose on developers. Regarding public safety, the government can set conditions and ensure those conditions are satisfied. 

Guerrero-Goestch said higher-density housing requirements depend on the subdivision itself. Multi-family or mixed-use developments have different requirements, such as open space, road standards, sidewalks, and street lights, with enforcement requirements. We have to be careful about what we’re approving. 

Master Plan

Moretto said he would like to see several changes to the master plan. “The 3C Event Center is fabulous, but the fairgrounds need a lot of work.” He referenced the $32 million grant application through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act and said that when things are built with grant funding, we have to figure out how to pay for operations after the fact. As a member of the Cantaloupe Festival, he said the event is outgrowing the facility, and the community misses out on many events because there are not enough hotel rooms to accommodate attendees. 

Hyde would like to see the Churchill Entrepreneur Development Association and Churchill Fallon Economic Development work together to recruit someone to build a hotel. He referenced the $32 million grant application for fairgrounds improvements and said the project needs to be as maintenance-free as possible. 

Jardine referenced the 3C Complex as a tremendous asset, saying we’ve had 303,000 visitors in the past year with 549 event days and added $9 million to the economy. He said we should accentuate our successes and increase our tax base. Under mandates from the state, we must increase the public defender’s office and the number of employees at the sheriff’s office. “We have to plan to continue to build from our successes.”

Guerrero-Goestch said the master plan is the guiding document and should reflect what this community wants to see as its future. Community involvement is encouraged. We must not forget that our economy is rooted in agriculture. She has worked on the conservation easement program designed to protect agriculture and support the Navy mission from encroachment and is proud that Churchill County is a green energy exporter. 

Blakey said the Planning Commission has been revising and updating the master plan. He can confirm that the ideas and goals are current. “We are finding that zoning needs correcting, and we are working to support attracting people to 3C Complex with hotels and entertainment.” They are also working to support green energy development.

Commission Districts cover the county and are divided based on population and geography. The three commission districts also cover the City of Fallon, as the city is located inside the county boundaries, giving city residents representation at the county level and the opportunity to vote for their representatives. Citizens of the City Of Fallon are divided approximately equally between the three County Commission Districts. Therefore, each commission district is elected from approximately one-third of the city residents. Although commissioners must live within the boundaries of the seat they are elected from, they serve “at-large” and are voted for by everyone in the county, not just the voters in their district.