A crowd lights lanterns in preparation for mass ascension at a previous lantern festival in Fernley. (Photo: Marcella Corona/RGJ)
Fernley will light up the night with a lantern festival after a three-year hiatus.
Five lantern festivals were previously held at the Fernley 95A Speedway before former North Lyon Fire Protection District Chief Scott Huntley nixed the events, citing fire hazards.
The festival involves releasing paper lanterns into the night sky. A small heat source forces the lanterns into the air, similar to hot air balloons. The lanterns fall from the sky when the heat source fades.
Over the past few years, Huntley would not approve a permit for the festival. In a private investigation against Huntley initiated by the North Lyon Fire Protection District Board, it was alleged that Huntley would not grant the permits because of bad blood with Dan Simpson, owner of the speedway, and that he did not allow proper discussion of the matter before the board.
Under Huntley’s leadership, the board in August voted 3-2 against a request by Simpson to hold a festival during New Years. Huntley resigned in December following the investigation, and during the board’s February meeting, the festival was unanimously approved.
The festival will run from about noon until 10 p.m. on a Saturday in late June, Simpson said.
Simpson addressed concerns by the board about fire danger and traffic issues.
He said the event will be capped at about 10,000 to 12,000 people – the last festival in Fernley drew about 18,000 people, causing traffic backups throughout the city. He said he plans on a Friday evening concert to encourage people to arrive the night before, easing traffic congestion. Free camping will be allowed at the speedway that weekend.
“Down the road, I’m hoping we can do remote parking and add buses,” he said.
Simpson will carry at least a $2 million insurance policy in case of a fire, although more than 50,000 lanterns have been launched from the speedway without a problem, he told the board.
In addition, the speedway keeps a trailer with 200 gallons of water on hand, as well two fire engines.
Simpson said he contracted with a Utah-based company to put on the previous festivals, but for this year’s event, the speedway will host it on their own.
“The racetrack is one of the only things we have that can bring in other people’s money, but we have to do it as a community,” Simpson said. “An event where you’ve got 10,000, 12,000 people, they drop probably $60 or $70 with us and probably another $100 in the community.”
During past events, Fernley gas stations sold out of fuel.
“I think that it could be a signature event for this community. It has hurdles, but we have hurdles every day,” said Mayor Roy Edgington, who has attended previous festivals. “The amount of money it brings in is pretty remarkable.”
Fernley STEM FEST Kids view some of the many exhibits on display in the gymnasium. (Photo: Ed Andersen/Special to the Fernley Leader-Courier)
Fernley fourth-grader Elyssa Buss is a self-proclaimed “math girl” — and the Fernley STEM Festival this week added up to hours of intriguing fun.
Elyssa and about 1,000 students, parents and community members made their way through Fernley High School on Thursday evening as part of the sixth annual Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Festival. The school’s hallways, gymnasium and several classrooms overflowed with displays — 150 science fair projects, mind-challenging puzzles and games, and about 50 hands-on presentations from local business representatives.
“I really like the (Envirolution) bike,” said Elyssa. “It’s pretty cool because the bike tests how far you can go. I’m more of a math girl, but all science also includes math.”
Called a “carnival for sciences” by a greeter, each attendee received a map detailing the location of exhibits throughout the school varying from graphic design and drone demonstrations to CPR training and night vision cameras.
“We have science fair projects from kinder-preschool all the way through high school — class, individual and partnered projects,” said Marjorie Mauk, a Fernley seventh-grade science teacher in charge of this year’s event. “Tonight’s festival is about inviting in people from the community to show how much you use (STEM) in everyday life.”
Rows of science fair exhibits filled the FHS gymnasium. Students are encouraged to do projects based on their individual interests, and not “just Googled ‘science fair’ stuff,” Mauk said. Several displays explored the stretchiness of slime, how various substances affect foods (Gummy Bears were popular), how germs spread and why volcanoes erupt.
Lyon County Sheriff Sgt. Chris Bixby handed out stickers and stamped student “passports” while explaining how STEM enhances community safety.
“We have several ‘toys’ on display. A lot of stuff law enforcement does uses STEM,” said Sgt. Bixby. “We have spike strips, mobile data computers used in patrol cars, and use a GPS (global positioning system) to track all our vehicles and show where cars are at, who is closest to respond to a call. There are also mathematic formulas used to calculate and determine speed at accident scenes.”
His fourth year at the STEM Festival, Bixby said he’s “a big geek myself” and demonstrated how tasers and night vision goggles work, body cameras operate, and tasks that can be performed by a military robot.
“We are using drone technology for search and rescue,” Bixby said. “There are areas where rough terrain may make it difficult in search and rescue situations, and the drone has proven very helpful.”
Between hands-on activities from local businesses such as TESLA, the Nevada Discovery Museum, and Monster Genetics, attendees were also provided dinner and dessert, donated by area businesses and the school district.
“Our middle school and high school principals volunteer their time to cook and serve,” Mauk said. “We have a lot of support from community businesses, as well as the Fernley STEM Council — who raffle off gift baskets to raise money that is used for scholarships.”
Newly-elected Lt. Governor Kate Marshall addressed small business growth, the state’s consolidated tax and ways to bridge the gaps between rural and metropolitan areas in the state during the Fernley Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon Wednesday.
As lieutenant governor, Marshall’s roles include presiding over the state’s senate, overseeing Nevada’s tourism commission, serving as vice chair of the board of transportation and serving on the governor’s economic board.
On developing small business opportunities in the state:
Marshall said she intends to focus on economic development for small businesses and that she wants to be a small business advocate. She said 99 percent of Nevada’s businesses are small by the federal government’s guidelines and the state is ninth in the nation for women-owned ventures.
“We need to help small businesses thrive, not just open their doors,” she said.
She said economic development initiatives often tend to focus on bringing larger businesses and skilled workers while simultaneously overlooking local workforces. She said economic development should focus on building pipelines between businesses and young workers and students who are already in the area. Marshall said she favors apprenticeships, especially with small businesses.
“We have to get our kids in the workforce so they are getting the higher-paid jobs, not someone coming in from out of state,” she said.
Fernley City Councilman Ray Lacy, who is also a small business owner, expressed concerns about comments Gov. Steve Sisolak has made regarding raising the state’s minimum wage. Nevada’s minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour for those with benefits and $8.25 an hour for those without. It was last increased in 2010.
Marshall said Sisolak is considering a $12 an hour minimum wage, but that opponents of the increase should consider several factors. She said it will take a long time for a minimum wage increase to go into effect, and that there are options being modeled by other states that increased minimum wages, including increases relative to costs of living and size of employers, rather than just a flat increase.
“I really don’t think the governor understands – you put the wage at $12 an hour, where is that money coming from? You have to increase the price,” Lacy said. “The more they make, the more I have to charge. Something’s gotta give.”
Marshall also said she would back a compromise consolidated tax bill if Fernley brings one forward to state legislature. Marshall didn’t respond to an online request by the Mason Valley News to clarify her statement.
“I would be supportive of that and I will help you with that,” she said. “You need to draft a compromise proposal. I am supportive of a compromise proposal for you guys, especially with the way you are growing.”
She suggested Fernley look to new ways to generate support for a revised consolidated tax bill. She said Fernley would benefit from partnering with corporate partners at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center or other entities that have a vested interest in Fernley’s growth.
“We’ve done this where Fernley goes to the Legislature,” she said. “Now, can we broaden our supporters and our base?”
Nevada’s Consolidated Tax was implemented in 1997 to distribute funds from cigarettes, liquor, real property transfers and various other taxes to counties, cities and various special districts in the state. Fernley did not incorporate into a city until 2001 and the Department of Taxation determined the city’s base allocation afterward.
Revenue from the taxes are combined into the state’s Consolidated Tax account, which is dispersed to local governments under a two-tier system. Nevada’s 17 counties receive funding in the first tier and then distribute funding to eligible jurisdictions.
Nevada Revised Statutes requires a second-tier entity, such as Fernley, provide police protection and at least two services from among the following to consolidated tax funds: Fire protection, road maintenance or parks and recreation. Fernley provides road maintenance and park services, but its police services are provided by the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office. Fire services are provided by the North Lyon County Fire Protection District.
The city has gone to court to attempt to receive a larger portion of the tax. In 2016 the state Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the city of a district court’s decision to dismiss its lawsuit against the Department of Taxation and then-state treasurer Marshall. The lawsuit was filed in 2012.
Fernley garnered $167,000 from the consolidated tax in fiscal year 2018-19. The county brought in about $16 million.
Focusing on rural and metropolitan similarities, not differences
Marshall said residents and government entities need to focus on issues that are relevant to all Nevadans such as senior and veteran services. She said they are statewide issues, whether they are occurring in rural counties or in Las Vegas.
“There are certain areas where we have things in common, and I don’t think we recognize that, and we need to recognize that,” she said.