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2023: Taking a look back

For a small town whose basic charm is largely built on its unchanging nature (the population has been stable to within about 1,000 people for more than three decades, just as one example), a lot has changed in 2023.

That is true both in the lives of Boulder City Review readers and those who bring you the news each week. As we close out 2023, there is a new GM, a new, lowly staff writer and a new editor, none of whom were at the paper in January.

As news organizations often do as a year closes out, we’re going to take a look at the issues, controversies and stories that defined the year locally. We’ll look at January through June this week and the second half of the year in the issue of Jan. 4, 2024.

Happy New Year…

January

Antisemitic flyers: The year started with a story that was covered extensively by others but mentioned only as part of an editorial in the Boulder City Review. Scattered throughout the city in neighborhoods and parks were plastic sandwich bags filled with rice and a printed flyer with a message that was described as antisemetic.

Mayor Joe Hardy released a statement. “Dismay would be too light of a word to describe how I feel as a person and as the mayor of Boulder City hearing about the targeting of my Jewish brothers and sisters. When we attack groups or individuals, we demean ourselves. It is inappropriate to propagate “literature” that is filled with hate. I know of no religion represented in Boulder City that condones such behavior about any religion or race. We strive to be better. I am grateful for the diversity of belief organizations in Boulder City. I appreciate all those willing to pray for us before city council meetings. I suggest that we all examine ourselves and recommit to love one another. We can disagree and still be agreeable.”

Boulder Beach arrest: Mohammed Mesmarian, 34, who told police that he drove his car through a fence at a power facility 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas and then set the car on fire as a statement in favor of “clean energy” was arrested near Boulder Beach in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Police found multiple firearms and a notebook with the word “solar” written on the first page at the campground. In February, he was deemed incompetent to stand trial and in November pleaded guilty but mentally ill to multiple felonies that could result in a 15-year prison sentence.

Inflation: In an illustration of the high levels of inflation that bedeviled the U.S. starting in 2021, Boulder City restaurants reported struggling to maintain their menu prices as the cost of eggs shot up by more than 500% in just a few months. By mid-January, the price had dropped but was still running 321% higher.

Plane found in Lake Mead: A small plane that had been forced to make an emergency landing on Lake Mead in October of 2022 was found at the bottom of the lake. The pilot and a passenger both escaped and swam to shore without injury.

Updated utility rebates: The city updates a local system that provides rebates for energy-efficient appliances. Written in 1991 and last updated in 2008, smart thermostats and irrigation controllers were added to the list of qualifying installations while window treatments and swamp coolers were removed.

All Hall, all year: The first council meeting of 2023 started with Parks and Recreation Director Roger Hall being honored for 45 years of service to the city. At the final meeting of the year, Hall was again noted, this time for 46 years of service and his retirement which takes effect on Jan. 3, 2024.

Hardy’s first State of the City: Mayor Joe Hardy gave his first State of the City address, where he emphasized service and unity.

February

Historic preservation: The newly-created Historic Preservation Commission issued its first certificate of appropriateness for the exterior of a historic property, unanimously approving the installation of two awnings over doors at the police station. The awnings are intended to help avoid flooding inside the building during heavy rainstorms.

Vets’ cemetery expansion: Groundbreaking took place for a significant expansion of the Southern Nevada Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery. The project was slated to add more than 5,400 in-ground burial plots and another more than 5,700 above-ground niches. Cemetery officials estimated that the expansion would add seven to 10 years of additional burial availability.

Ram cams hit pause: Plans for live-streaming cameras to capture moving images of the bighorn sheep at Hemenway Park were put on hold due to a lack of a non-cellular network connection. That issue was solved and the Ram Cam began streaming later in the year.

Eldorado development: A fight over the future of the Eldorado Valley, adjacent to Boulder City-proper came to a head as the city of Henderson, which controls a small part of the valley next to U.S. Highway 95 announced a 1.7 million square-foot logistics and industrial center. During the same week, the Boulder City Council began a process to annex an additional 2,555 acres in Eldorado Valley. The idea, according to city staff, was to leave no part of the desert area part of unincorporated Clark County and to stave off additional development.

Valentine’s snow: Lover of that white stuff falling from the sky had a happy Valentine’s Day as rare blizzard-like conditions hit Boulder City for a few hours.

Columbarium, nope: A proposal to spend up to $160,000 to design and build a columbarium came up against a marked lack of enthusiasm from residents. (A columbarium is like a mausoleum, but for pets.) After setting aside $50,000 in the 2022 budget for design, a city survey found that 68% of residents had no interest in such an option.

School hoops eligibility: Both BCHS and Garrett Junior High went, overnight, from 8-1 and 8-0 records respectively to 0-9 and 0-8 over student eligibility questions. BCHS was restored to a layoff berth when the issue was deemed “human error” in paperwork. Garrett, however, got no such break as the issue was over whether students were eligible to play for an additional semester after the Covid-driven school shutdowns of the 2020/2021 school year.

Every 15 Minutes: A late February rainstorm forced BCHS to adjust plans for its participation in the nationwide Every 15 Minutes event that seeks to educate high school students about the dangers of drunk driving. Instead of students being confronted with a re-creation of a horrific accident as they arrive to school, organizers made due with photos of the faux crash and an emotional assembly in the school’s gym. Organizers said the event was still effective and a success.

March

Mead visitors tank: After being number five on the list of most-visited national parks and recreation areas in 2021, the National Park Service announced that Lake Mead NRA had fallen to number nine. Dropping water levels, which led to fewer on-water recreation opportunities, was pointed to for the 25% drop.

Krumm settlement: The city approved the first settlement with a trio of former staff members who had been fired by a previous council and who had sued the city. The council approved a settlement with former city clerk Lorene Krumm in the amount of $165,000. Krumm had sued seeking more than $2 million in damages.

RV resort on hold: In a rare non-unanimous vote, the city council voted 3-2 and declined to move forward with direct negotiations with the developer for a proposed luxury RV park to be located on a strip of vacant land sandwiched between the airport and Boulder Creek Golf Club.

Gray honored: The Center for Public Safety Excellence presented Boulder City Fire Chief William Gray with its Cliff Jones Ambassador Award, which singles out fire professionals who “go above and beyond” in their support of credentialing and accreditation. The same week, it was announced that the Boulder City Fire Department had received accredited agency status with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, making it only the third fire department to achieve this status in the state of Nevada.

Ciao, Hali. Bienvendios, Ron: The Boulder City Review saw one of the biggest changes in its history as longtime editor Hali Bernstein Saylor left for a different job with an online-only publication after more than 10 years at the helm. It was quickly announced that the BCR would be taken over by Ron Eland, an editor with deep roots in local news who grew up in Boulder City and graduated from BCHS.

Xeriscaping begins: The process of replacing the large expanse of Kentucky Bluegrass in front of the headquarters of the Lower Colorado Basin Bureau of Reclamation with drought-friendly desert xeriscaping began as water-conservation efforts took a step forward.

Wastewater options: The city council received a presentation from the Southern Nevada Water Authority on options for the city to decrease the amount of wastewater — more than a million gallons of water a day — that is left to evaporate in the desert rather than being treated and returned to Lake Mead. The council was presented with three options and voted to move forward with research on two of those. The options being studied are the construction of a recharge well that would return treated water to the lake after it had flowed through an injection well and an option to treat the city’s wastewater to a sufficient point where it could be used to irrigate city-owned golf courses and parks.

Second fire station announced: Plans were revealed to construct a second fire station in Boulder City with an eye toward decreasing response times for properties on the east side of town. Later in the year, as the effects of two years of widespread inflation continued to bite, plans had to be put on hold when the cost of the proposed station nearly tripled.

Mead support sought: All four senators from the two states that border Lake Mead called on the National Park Service to use a portion of the $1.5 billion the agency got for natural disaster recovery to provide additional infrastructure to the lake, including additional boat launch ramps.

Dark Sky dough: The city accepted a grant of nearly $2 million to fund the Dark Sky Lighting Infrastructure Project. According to city staff, the money will be used to replace around 84% of the city’s current streetlight fixtures with LEDs that are specifically designed to point light downward to the street and significantly reduce light pollution.

April

Wastewater town hall: Nearly 100 residents showed up for a staff-led presentation about options for wastewater use in Boulder City. The Southern Nevada Water Authority offered to pay the more than $37 million it would cost to build a recharge well that would return water to Lake Mead. However, cost of running the facility — estimated at more than $1.7 million per year — would be borne by the city. Feasibility studies for the possible approaches are still pending at the end of 2023.

Turf cuts: The city council voted unanimously to approve the removal of nearly 1 million square feet of non-functional turf in public spaces around town in order to comply with AB356, passed in 2021 mandates that non-functional turf on non-private property had to be removed before 2026. The removal is projected to save about 50 million gallons of water per year.

Utility rate study: The Utility Advisory Committee began a long process for a proposed increase in utility rates by hearing a more-than-three-hour presentation from a consultant hired by the city to advise the city-owned utility on future rates.

Saunders/Flamingo 1: A still-unresolved effort to replace or restore the faded and no longer functional Flamingo Inn Motel on Nevada Way took its first step when the city council, operating in its alter-ego identity as the Redevelopment Commission, voted to approve almost $100,000 in rebates for planned improvements to the blighted property.

First female firefighter in 25 years: The Boulder City Fire Department saw a big change to its staff when Sarah Mitre-Hall went from a fire cadet to a reserve firefighter to a fire analyst to becoming the department’s first full-time female firefighter in a quarter century. The only other female firefighter in the department’s history was hired in 1997 but left for a job with a different department in 1998.

Morris and Noyola settle: Former City Attorney Steve Morris and former City Manager Al Noyola settled their lawsuit against the city for a total of $1.7 million. Fired by a previous city council in October of 2020, the pair had originally sought an undefined sum “in excess of $2.5 million.” Morris got $995,000 and Noyola got $715,000. Blotter experiment: The BCR ended a short-lived and unsuccessful experiment that involved getting rid of the Police Blotter which has long been a part of the community coverage in the paper. After receiving overwhelming response in terms of both amount and negativity from readers, the Blotter returned to the pages of the BCR after a one-week absence.

May

Utility costs go up: The city council followed the advice of both the Utility Advisory Committee and and outside consultant and voted to raise utility rates across the board.

Due largely to the increased cost of natural gas, the city-owned electric utility’s cost for power purchased on the open market went up 500% between 2023 and the last time a rate study was done in 2018.

By tapping reserves, rate-hike pain was kept to a minimum of a few dollars per month for most residential users and a 3-4% increase for commercial users.

Short-term rental debate: The issue of homeowners renting out their properties via online platforms such as VRBO and AirBnB, really began to heat up during a public comment period at a council meeting in May when more than 20 people commented either in person or via written comments.

After a presentation from city staff outlining the current situation (short-term rentals are not an officially permitted use of residential property and are thus, according to the city, illegal), the council directed staff to organize a town hall in order to gather additional input from residents.

Council adopts 2024 budget: The city council voted to adopt a $47 million budget for the 2024 fiscal year, which runs from July of 2023 through June of 2024. Some council members expressed discomfort with the fact that the budget appeared to be about $8 million out of balance, city staff explained that the city was very conservative in their estimates of future revenue, saying that actual revenue always comes in at more than estimated while expenses always come in under estimates.

June

BCHS grads get scholarships: A feature of the graduation festivities for Boulder City High School included an announcement about college acceptance and scholarships received. In total, 125 BCHS grads were accepted to 26 different colleges and racked up 200 scholarships for a total of almost $7 million.

Vets’ home staffing issues: In the first of what will be multiple reports about issues plaguing the Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City, current and former employees said that the home is dangerously understaffed.

Not everyone is on the same page as the current administrator who runs the home told the BCR that, because Nevada has no official standard when it comes to staff ratios in medical facilities, that “there is no shortage.” The administrator and state officials appeared to dismiss the concerns of staff.

Mead gets $32 million: More than $30 million in disaster relief funding was allocated to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area to support restoring and maintaining several boat launch ramps that had previously been closed due to falling water levels at the nation’s largest reservoir.

Gas rates go up: After getting news that costs for electricity and water in Boulder City would be going up, residents got hit again when Southwest Gas announced an increase of as much as 27%, marking the fourth consecutive quarter in which rates were increased. The gas utility reported that they did not expect gas prices to begin to recede until at least the first quarter of 2024.

City insurance rates rise: Costs of everything continued to increase in the first part of the year and insurance for the city was no exception. The city council approved the new premiums on a unanimous vote. Rates will be about 32% higher in FY2024 than they were in FY2023. In dollar terms, that is a hike from just shy of $700,000 up to $920,917.87.

I-11 marks five years: Sometimes being wrong is not such a bad thing. Business owners and the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce reported being convinced back in 2018 that the completion of the I-11 bypass would result in Boulder City being turned into a “tumbleweed town.” Instead, those same people report five years after the bypass opened that business in Boulder City is actually up. Indeed, that increase began showing itself as soon as three months after the opening.

Dumped animals: Animal control officials said that Boulder City has seen a huge increase in the number of people dumping animals in the desert. An animal control supervisor said that they used to get a couple of calls a year for dumped animals and that rate has increased to about four per week, an increase of more than 100 times.

Drug death charges: A local couple was charged with second-degree murder after the death of their 8-month-old child. According to police, Jeffrey Terakali and Kara Marie Dugan were charged after their child died from exposure to a mix of fentanyl and methamphetamine which occurred after Tarakami spilled a bag containing a mix of the two substances on the couple’s bed and the child was allowed later to crawl on the same bed.

RV park changes: After having voted to deny a proposed luxury RV park a couple of months earlier, the city council voted to enter into negotiations with the developer and to obtain an appraisal of the property, a necessity under state law before the city can lease out property. The vote changed after the developer returned with a revised plan that includes a 300-person convention facility as well as additional setbacks, walking trails and dog runs.

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Turf reduction sees pushback

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Chamber event hosts members, special guest

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Dollar Tree closer to opening

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Public weighs in on proposed annexation of private land

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Salon owner has no plans to retire

Whether it’s been hairstyles to resemble Farrah Fawcett and Dorothy Hamill in the 1970s, Princess Diana or Madonna in the 1980s, Jennifer Aniston and Britney Spears of the 1990s to those hot styles of today, Jo Ann Beneda has seen them all.

Bobcat bake sale

Ron Eland/Boulder City Review

Lagan’s sights set on Paris

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But is there really a shortage?

Getting Boulder City out of a more than decade-long stretch where no city manager has lasted as long as it takes a student to graduate from BCHS was the overriding theme of discussion at this week’s city council meeting.