Republican U.S. House of Representatives candidate Sharron Angle of Reno has accused Washoe County Assessor Robert McGowan of telling a widow to sell her house in order to pay her taxes.

McGowan flatly denied the charge.

Angle, a member of the Nevada Assembly, spoke before a group of homeowners at the Hidden Valley Country Club. She said the supposed incident involved Virginia Jenkins, a Washoe County resident at Lake Tahoe. McGowan, according to Angle, told Jenkins, “Oh, Virginia, you’re a rich woman. Sell your property. Pay your taxes.”

In their entirety, Angle’s comments on McGowan were, “Virginia Jenkins, who is a widow, she’s 80 years old, she bought a piece of property up in Incline Village 50 years ago with her husband. And she built a little—she calls it their cabin, it was a three-bedroom, two-bath home like a little tract home—they built up there at Lake Tahoe. In 2003 her taxes, because her reappraised value now was at $1 million, was $10,000 for that year. And she’s on Social Security, her husband had died, she’s [an] 80-year-old widow. She has her home—the place where her memories are, the place where she and her husband built and lived. And she went to the tax assessor and she says, ‘I’m definitely a hardship case because I make $12,000 a year on my Social Security, and you want $10,000 of that.’ And he said, ‘Oh, Virginia, you’re a rich woman. Sell your property and pay the taxes.’ And that’s what she did. And she lives in a little condo now here in Reno.”

A Virginia Jenkins is now listed on the county tax rolls as the owner of a condominium in Caughlin Ranch that was purchased on June 7, 2001, for $290,000.

McGowan, who has served as assessor for more than two decades, says he never told anyone such a thing. And he says if Angle was referring to “the assessor” to mean his office generally, he doesn’t believe that anyone would speak to a member of the public that way. He says there are office requirements about behavior toward the public, and he has personally viewed transactions from behind counter workers to make sure they’re followed.

Besides, he says, one of the reasons he’s sure the alleged discussion never took place is that his office doesn’t handle hardship matters, so such a conversation would never get that far. A member of the public with such a concern would quickly have been referred to the county treasurer’s office, which is about 20 feet away.

“I tell our people to treat them [members of the public] all as their boss. … The whole purpose of the division’s existence is to provide public service, and if we don’t perform public service we should question why we’re here. … Government should not be about telling people to sell their homes.”

McGowan says Angle never contacted him to hear his account before repeating the story.

An employee handbook for the Assessor’s Office reads, “Many of the people who call or visit the office are upset about their taxes or the appraised value of their property. Treat each person with courtesy, and respect their right to question these matters.”

In other remarks during the session at the country club, Angle said she opposed the tax relief approved by the Nevada Legislature for homeowners because she considered it unconstitutional. She said she prefers revival of a Nevada version of California’s famous tax-cutting Proposition 13, which was defeated by Nevada voters in 1980.

Angle was the only member of the 2005 Nevada Legislature to vote against a measure that limits property tax increases to 3 percent on homes and 8 percent on businesses. She told the homeowners these provisions made the measure a violation of the Nevada Constitution.

“I voted against this because it’s unconstitutional. According to our constitution, we’re supposed to have property taxes—or any kind of taxes—that are uniform and equal.”

This is a reference to Section 1 of Article 10 of the Nevada Constitution, which begins, “The legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …”

That prompted a Hidden Valley homeowner to tell Angle that, because of his experience as a California taxpayer under Proposition 13 (which he supported), he favors dual or split tax rolls, under which commercial properties are taxed at a higher rate than personal properties. He said Proposition 13 was a bonanza for corporations like Chevron and Union Oil, and he objected to their being taxed at the same rate as a homeowner.

Angle said she wouldn’t support the dual rolls concept. “You know, I have nothing against business or anyone getting out from under taxes. I don’t think anyone should be taxed to the point where they have to leave the state. And that’s what we’re seeing is businesses are leaving California now because they can’t support what’s going on there.”

The homeowner, who had left California himself, interrupted. “That’s not because of property taxes. … I thought we were talking about Prop 13.”

Angle conceded that businesses were not leaving California because of property taxes, but she said, “What we want is uniform and equal [taxes]. That’s what I like, is fair for everyone. If you want to make them pay more, find another way, I guess.”

Approved by California voters on June 6, 1978, Proposition 13 cut property taxes by more than half, and similar measures swept across the nation, though many were later altered. In Nevada, a virtually identical version (ballot question 6) was on the ballot, but Nevadans defeated it 140,018 to 103,334 in 1980.

Angle defended the California measure from frequent criticisms, saying it has been blamed for “everything from Polly Klaas’s murder to O.J. Simpson’s being let off. Everything was blamed on Prop 13.”

After some discussion of casino values, Washoe County Board of Equalization member Gary Schmidt, who was in the audience, commented, “I can assure you that property values of casinos have not been going up. And the Reno Hilton was most recently appraised at $100 million and just sold for $150 million.” Angle said she approved of the casinos’ ability to achieve lower values.

She also praised a minority-control provision in state law that allows as few as one-third of the voters in a county to kill tax measures supported by the rest.

One leading Republican at the meeting commented that, for a congressional candidate, Angle seemed disinterested in federal issues. At one point, she was asked about a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain. She made a short comment and then returned to state tax questions.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...