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Sustainable, improved utilities remains priority

On July 10, the City Council created a new utilities department to help enhance transparency and accountability in connection with Boulder City’s public utilities. Simultaneously, we established a job classification for a new director of that department in an effort to bring executive-level expertise and oversight to bear on the planning, maintenance and day-to-day operations of our utilities — specifically, our landfill, water, sewer and electrical systems.

After a national search, we were fortunate to land Dennis Porter, who began his tenure last week as our inaugural utilities director. Porter has over 30 years of executive leadership experience, including oversight of multimillion-dollar operations for three large water and wastewater utility organizations in Phoenix, South Carolina and Henderson.

Although it won’t be adopted until next week, one of the city’s top five priority goals in our new five-year strategic plan will be to invest in infrastructure. And that, of course, includes upgrades to our increasingly old utility infrastructure.

Fortunately, that process is already significantly under way thanks in part to the passage of two ballot questions in 2014. One of those allows the city to expend up to $500,000 annually from our capital improvement fund on utility infrastructure, and the other allows us to use the proceeds of the sale of the 29 acres that Storybook Homes recently purchased near Adams Boulevard and Bristlecone Drive to make much-needed repairs and improvements to our utility infrastructure.

So that’s precisely what we’ve been doing, including over $8 million in utility projects budgeted last fiscal year, a similar amount budgeted this year and even more in the works for next year. One of Porter’s overarching tasks will be to help us keep that momentum going in a positive direction. With tens of millions of dollars in utility projects still on the horizon, the trajectory will be a long one. But a solid capital improvement plan is already in place for him to execute and help us continue improving upon.

Even though our infrastructure needs are great and our plans for expensive improvements are correspondingly aggressive, we’re still blessed with overall utility rates that are significantly lower than those in nearby communities.

For instance, residents in Henderson, Las Vegas, Clark County and North Las Vegas continue to pay a third more than we pay for typical electricity usage. And their overall utility rates for water, sewer and electric combined are still 10 percent to 25 percent greater than ours.

With virtually free single-stream recycling service and twice-a-week trash pickups in Boulder City, we’re also getting a much bigger bang for our buck than our nearby counterparts in those arenas and still paying less. Having secured approvals for two major landfill expansions over the past six years and a recent contract extension with our operator, we’re now extremely well-positioned to keep our solid waste and recycling costs low for decades to come.

Of course, most of us still grumble when we pay our utility bills. But when outsiders and transplants hear us complain about our rates, they usually can’t resist having a good laugh as they roll their eyes and inform us that where they come from they’re used to paying double or triple what we pay, and often for inferior services.

Had it passed last month, Question 3, Nevada’s energy choice initiative, could have seriously jeopardized these and other competitive advantages that Boulder City enjoys in the utility market, including favorable Hoover power rates, our mutually beneficial relationship with the Western Area Power Authority and our ability to chart our own course for handling future energy needs. In my opinion, we were very fortunate that it failed.

With all these recent successes, it might be tempting to rest on our laurels. But there’s still much work to be done as we strive to attain and maintain safe, efficient, healthy, sustainable and reliable utility systems that are ready to serve future generations.

So what’s next? Most likely formation of a utility advisory committee, which was the brainchild of Councilman Warren Harhay shortly after he was elected in 2017, to further increase transparency and accountability. In fact, based on our directive to staff just a month or two ago, I’m confident that Porter began working on it the day he arrived.

Rod Woodbury is mayor of Boulder City. He has been serving on the City Council since 2011 and is the president and managing shareholder of his law firm, Woodbury Law.

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