By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
Rates for culinary water are on the rise again in Moapa Valley. In a meeting held on Thursday, the Moapa Valley Water District (MVWD) Board of Directors voted unanimously to raise water rates by 8 percent. The increase is effective on July 1.
The increase is expected to add around $5.79 to the average residential monthly bill for ratepayers.
This was the second increase in the past two years for MVWD. The board voted in a 4-1 decision to raise rates by 8 percent in June 2016. But before that time, rates had not increased since 2011. Instead the board had employed austere cost-cutting measures to stave off increases.
But costs at the district have risen steadily bringing pressure to the budget. This has caused the need for rates to go up, said board member Randy Tobler.
“Raising rates has been a difficult process for this board,” Tobler said. “We looked at that first increase for a long time and we tried to make cuts where we could to postpone it as long as possible. But costs have risen. The cost of refurbishing the Overton tank was much higher than expected last year, for example. And we have had the flood which came at a high cost for the district. A rate increase now is not just to buffer our reserves. It is needed to fix our yearly cash flow.”
Thursday’s meeting actually began with a discussion of significant capital improvement needs which loom over the district. Over the past year, the MVWD commissioned an engineering study to fully assess and determine those needs. The study yielded a long list of infrastructure improvements for the district.
From this study, MVWD staff put together a list of 25 items that were most urgent to be completed. A few of these items had already been funded and were being implemented. But others were not yet on an agenda and were far from being budgeted.
According to MVWD General Manager Joe Davis, the top priority among these was drilling a new well at the district’s Arrow Canyon well site just above Warm Springs. Davis explained that the district’s top producing well at the site is nearing the end of its projected lifespan. It is only a matter of time before it needed to be replaced, he said.
“With all of our other production sites put together, we can’t produce enough to cover the full summer demand that Arrow Canyon well does now,” Davis said. “That makes it my top list priority item.”
Davis explained that the Arrow Canyon project has currently been in the environmental planning stage with the BLM. Funding options are being explored through federal grants and other sources, he said.
Other major projects on the list included a new 3 million gallon storage tank in the Muddy River Narrows area above Logandale, a 500,000 gallon storage tank at the Arrow Canyon site, expanded transmission lines from key production sites and more.
Board members asked Davis to return with the items ranked in order of urgency. Then the board could work to fund the items.
When the topic of discussion then turned to the proposed rate increase, board members were all in accord that an increase was needed.
Davis reiterated that the staff had been working through the infrastructure projects that had been put on the budget last year. But those projects had come in at a higher cost than expected. “Costs are going up and we ended up going in the hole $200,000 just on this year’s projects,” Davis said. “Meanwhile we haven’t been putting money away for anticipated needs that we know are coming; like the arsenic treatment media that will eventually need replacement. We have just been robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Davis noted that the board had increased rates last June by 8 percent. With that in mind, he said that staff was recommending a six percent increase this year.
Logandale board member Ryan Wheeler, who cast the lone vote against the 2016 rate increase, said that he would now be comfortable with an 8 percent increase. Now that the district’s Capital Improvement Plan had been completed and it was clear what the district’s needs were, he felt there was ample justification for the increase.
Dalley said that he was open to an 8 percent increase, though he recognized that it was not going to be a permanent fix.
“This is not going to fix everything,” Dalley said. “This is just to even things out and keep things going. I’m still holding out for a major industrial user to come in and grow us out of these process with a big increase to our water sales. But for now, this will stop the bleeding and hold us over, knowing that we will have to probably follow up with more later on.” Dalley made the motion for an 8 percent increase. The motion was passed with a unanimous vote.
In the next agenda item, the board sought to offset the rate increase with some relief in the district’s fee structure for new meters. In another unanimous vote, the board voted to reduce the large meter impact fees by 20 percent on meters sized 1 1/2 inches and up.
Two years ago, the board had reduced impact fees for residential meters, slashing them in half. This was done in hopes of encouraging growth in the community.
But the board had stopped short of reducing fees on large industrial/commercial meters. There were concerns at the time that the district should complete its capital improvement assessment before that be considered. Now that the assessment had been completed, board members had brought the item back to the agenda.
“Reducing these fees would show that we are trying to cut fes and encourage growth,” said Tobler.
Wheeler made the motion to cut the fee effective immediately. The motion was approved unanimously.