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Lull shapes new budget for agency

At the height of the building boom in 2005, the Las Vegas Valley Water District added more than 24,000 new customers. In 2009, that number fell to 280 requests for new service.

Now water district officials are banking on the lull to continue for at least one more year.

The district’s $336.8 million budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 anticipates a slight increase in customers and no significant change in water sales between now and the summer of 2011.

The Clark County Commission, which serves as the water district’s board of directors, approved the spending plan in a unanimous vote on Monday.

District spokesman Scott Huntley said the budget for next year is very similar to the current one. None of the district’s roughly 1,500 full-time workers will be laid off, but dozens of jobs will remain vacant, and no new positions will be created.

“We took a lot of cuts last year, so this one is more about maintaining those cuts,” Huntley said.

Over the past year, Nevada’s largest water utility switched the bulk of its staff to a four-day workweek, eliminated all cost-of-living raises and deferred vehicle replacement, among other cost-cutting moves.

About 75 vacant full-time positions were left unfilled, and 157 paid interns, contract employees and temporary workers were let go.

The water district expects to see its operational costs jump $5.8 million in the coming budget year, mostly as the result of a $3.7 million increase in the wholesale cost of the water it gets from the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

An increase in the cost of employee health insurance and retirement benefits also will drive up the district’s operational costs next year, Huntley said.

On the revenue side, the new budget reflects a pair of rate increases for customers this year and next.

Starting Jan. 1, most water district customers saw their average monthly bill go up by $3 to $4 because of separate increases to the district’s flat monthly service charge and the volume-based commodity charge everyone pays for wholesale water delivery.

Identical rate hikes are slated to take effect on Jan. 1, 2011.

In addition to the costs associated with delivering water to about 350,000 customers, the district expects to spend
$7.3 million in the coming year to operate the museum and cultural attraction known as the Springs Preserve.

That is down from $10.9 million spent on running the attraction during the 2008-09 budget year and $11.5 million budgeted for operations there this year.

The 180-acre collection of interactive exhibits, green buildings and desert plants has absorbed roughly $30 million in subsidies since the water district opened it on June 8, 2007.

On top of that, the utility will spend the next 25 to 30 years paying back the roughly $160 million in bond money it kicked in for construction of the
$235 million facility.

Next year’s water district budget drew only a few questions and comments from commissioners and the public.

Commissioner Tom Collins didn’t request any changes to the spending plan, but he asked officials to choose their words more carefully when talking about it. Instead of referring to full-time staff members as “permanent employees,” Collins suggested a better term: “regular employees.”

“There’s no guaranteed jobs, public or private, that you can keep from cradle to grave,” he said. “We need to remember that for a lot of reasons.”

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

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