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Solar fees put city in black

The gleaming solar panels spread out across the dry, desert landscape of Eldorado Valley have been a pivotal asset to Boulder City’s economic structure.

But just how important are these solar panels to the city’s finances?

“Extremely important,” Finance Director Shirley Hughes said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “Right now, 20 to 25 percent of the general fund budget is paid for by solar revenues. It’s been the second-highest revenue source in the general fund.”

The council formally accepted the audit for fiscal year 2014 during Tuesday’s meeting. Inside the paperwork, which can be viewed at www.bcnv.org, the effect that solar revenue has had on the city is apparent in the numbers.

The city had eight permit fees last year from various solar projects, and gained $1.8 million in permit fees from the Copper Mountain Solar 3 project alone, according to the audit. With the additional revenue, the city’s general fund was in the black for the first time since Boulder Creek Golf Club had been rolled into the fund.

Before Hughes became the city’s finance director, it was determined that Boulder Creek could not support itself financially. But additional revenue from the solar projects helped to alleviate the debt.

“Those two together have now turned the general fund around,” Hughes said.

Since the city had the solar revenue to fall back on, Boulder City did not hit its nadir like the rest of the Las Vegas Valley when the economy collapsed.

“We never really got to the low that everybody else did,” Hughes said. “When everybody else around us was having difficulties when the economy was bad, we had the solar revenues to help.”

Hughes said the additional revenue has helped the city maintain its level of service.

“Staff numbers are maintained, but we haven’t been adding positions back. We’ve kind of gotten to a state where that’s where we seem to be comfortable right now,” she said.

Councilman Cam Walker spoke of the importance of the solar revenues the city has generated. He also noted that Boulder City needs to stay on top of the continually developing industry.

“The solar industry has changed dramatically, probably more than any other industry we have in the U.S. over the last three to five years,” he said. “It’s important that we stay communicating with them and work with them to better our community.”

When it came to finishing the city’s audit, Hughes said this year’s transition was smoother than in years past.

“I worked my butt off,” she said about the process. “I really dug into the weeds this year and made sure that stuff was ready and available to the auditors on time. There’s a lot of things they want. The sooner you can get things to them, the sooner they can get their job done.”

Hughes said part of the problem with finishing the audit is that the city has to wait to account for revenue that comes in after June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Property taxes, she said, are one of the biggest problems.

“We can’t even get that information from the county until September, so that really creates an issue,” she said. “There are certain revenues we receive in July, August and September that belong to the prior year.”

The final audit will be sent to the state this week.

Contact reporter Steven Slivka at sslivka@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.

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