As many towns this size grew dilapidated in the face of overwhelming economic hardship, Battle Mountain, Nevada -- population, 3,635 -- thrived
They built a new football field, a new wing on the hospital, and, being the seat of Lander County, a new courthouse
Many Americans listened to the sales pitch of the nation’s most powerful conservative voices during the last recession. And then they acted: They bought and stockpiled gold.
This small town roughly half way between Reno and Salt Lake City would like to thank them for that.
“Without the mines, we probably wouldn’t even be here,” says Jodi Moore, a local insurance agent and the vice president of the local Chamber of Commerce. “That’s what keeps us going.”
As many towns this size grew dilapidated in the face of overwhelming economic hardship, Battle Mountain, Nevada – population, 3,635 – thrived. They built a new football field, a new wing on the hospital, and, being the seat of Lander County, a new courthouse.
Not bad for a town so small it doesn’t have any traffic lights. It did used to have a 4-way blinking yellow light until a semi truck crashed into it a few years ago. It was never replaced.
How a small town prospers
The money for the new construction came from something called “net proceeds” – a tax on mining companies – and the tax paid huge dividends to the small county when gold prices hit record highs in 2011.
Mining companies pay the taxes directly to the county where their mines operate, and Lander County has several large mines that reap billions in annual revenue. That translated to $20.2 million in net proceeds for the county in 2014 – down from a high of $60.9 million three years earlier, according to the Nevada Department of Taxation. It’s a lot of money considering the county has roughly 6,000 residents.
“The mine proceeds help us greatly,” Moore, from the Chamber of Commerce, says.
What also helps the town is a population that’s well paid – many at the mine. The average annual salary of a worker at Newmont’s Phoenix Mine, which sits 11 miles south of Battle Mountain, is $90,000 a year.
The tax setup is not without controversy. Groups like the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which describes itself as a “force for social and environmental justice,” think mining companies have pulled off a heist, and derail the “sweetheart tax deals” that they say the mining companies have received.
Politics in Battle Mountain
Rural Nevada is conservative country – Mitt Romney won Lander County by 48 points in 2012. Republicans in the state will take part in the caucuses on Tuesday. And in these parts, it probably doesn’t hurt that conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Glenn Beck all peddle gold.
Businessman Donald Trump holds a commanding lead statewide, according to the latest CNN/ORC poll of likely Republican caucus goers. Not surprisingly, Trump enjoys strong support in Battle Mountain as well.
“I think with the way I like to live my life and the things that he stands behind, I think he’d be a good candidate for us,” says TJ Faulkner, a local mine worker and a resident of Battle Mountain. “With the economy, I think [he] would do good.”
Cory Surla, an Army and Marine Corps veteran who also lives in town agrees.
“I like that he’s a no-nonsense guy, that he’s ready to fix the United States,” Surla says, adding, “I would not ever go for Hillary because what she did with the Benghazi.”
A boom and bust town
Without the gold mines – and high gold prices – Battle Mountain would struggle. It has before.
Richard Ripley owns The Owl Club Family Restaurant (and Casino) in Battle Mountain, where he was born and raised. He’s seen the busts and worries another may be closing in.
“We live and die by the mining industry,” Ripley says. “It seems like we’re almost in a downward spiral right now.”
“Things are slowing up and people are moving out of town and we just hope things always get better.”