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Infrastructure upgrades seek voter approval

Two local ballot questions will cater to improving the city’s aging utility infrastructure as Boulder City residents vote in the upcoming election.

The outdated and inadequate infrastructure is a pressing issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later, according to city officials.

Question 1:

As funds become available within the Capital Improvement Fund, shall the City spend up to $500,000 annually for the next seven (7) years from the Capital Improvement Fund for City utility infrastructure needs?

Question 2:

Shall the City of Boulder City be authorized to sell approximately 29 acres of City-owned land on the southeast corner of Bristlecone Drive and Adams Boulevard for the purpose of making much needed repairs and improvements to the City’s utility infrastructure?

City officials say the costs of fully repairing the utility infrastructure are approximately $24 million. The city is looking to the Capital Improvement Fund to help with the faulty equipment, but it must be approved by residents. The second question presents the option of selling city-owned land to help cover some of the costs.

“Any expenditure from the Capital Improvement Fund has to be approved by the voters,” City Clerk Lorene Krumm said.

The only money coming out of the fund is the $1.8 million per year used to pay for Boulder City’s portion of the third intake pipe at Lake Mead, Krumm said.

But the city’s infrastructure has caused problems for some residents, and city officials understand that improvements must be made as soon as possible.

“A lot of the equipment is just beyond its useful life,” Electric Utility Administrator Rory Dwyer said. “We’re still working hard to keep the reliability up, and we haven’t had too many customer outages. But as equipment gets older, the outages will increase. That’s just a mathematical certainty.”

In 2012, the city hired SAIC Energy, Environment &Infrastructure to examine its infrastructure. The results were staggering.

Several transformers were outdated and other pieces of equipment had been failing for years, according to the survey. The circuit switches at one substation should have been replaced in 1990, and a few pieces of equipment were obsolete.

“The repercussions of waiting for a piece of equipment to fail … people would be out of power. We need to address it now,” Dwyer said.

The survey also found that about 50 percent of the city’s electric system plant was more than 30 years old. Dwyer said a few wooden poles around the city have been in place since the 1930s.

But despite the city’s declining infrastructure, Dwyer was most taken aback by Boulder City’s minimal amount of capital spending needed for such improvements.

The survey concluded that from 2001 to 2011, Boulder City spent a yearly average of $6 per meter on capital spending for electrical infrastructure improvements. The survey also calculated that of 19 other cities similar in size to Boulder City, the average annual capital spending was $126 per meter.

“We are concerned, because we are tasked with keeping the power on. People could die without power,” Dwyer said. “There are some people on medical life support, and an outage would be a significant thing.”

But the city must find a way to come up with the money, and if the ballot questions don’t pass, an alternative solution must be found. Higher utility rates remain an option, but Krumm said the City Council would be the one to make that decision.

“That’s a council call. When it comes to utilities, that is a priority. We have to keep the lights on,” she said. “If we didn’t have the money from the Capital Improvement Fund to do it, and we don’t have money in the Utility Fund to do it, we’re either going to have to raise rates or shut something down.”

Because improvements were put off for so long, the city is hoping that voters will help them keep the power going. Krumm said a rate increase is not a sure thing if the questions don’t pass, but the money has to come from somewhere.

“Because improvements have been put off so long and the amount of work needed is so extensive, there is no way our Utility Fund can pay for what is needed,” she said. “Best way to put it is … if they (the ballots) don’t pass, the council will have to decide how to cover the costs of badly needed improvements.”

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

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