Mayors abandon utility lease idea

RENO — The mayors of Reno and Sparks are calling off a proposal to consider leasing the area’s publicly owned water system to private investors.

Reno Mayor Bob Cashell and Sparks Mayor Geno Martini now say it’s best to kill the idea that prompted the resignation of Washoe County Water Authority General Manager Lori Williams.

“We’re not even talking about going any further right now,” Cashell said Tuesday.

The water authority serves 93,000 homes and businesses across the Truckee Meadows and has been operated by Reno, Sparks and Washoe County since 2001.

The possibility of leasing utility assets to private investors was discussed as the three municipalities have had to make deep budget cuts. Some officials have estimated that turning the assets over to private investors could bring in $165 million.

Last week, the water authority board voted to proceed with studies by consultants into the lease feasibility.

Williams announced her resignation minutes later, citing a “change in direction” at the utility. She said a change of heart by the board wouldn’t alter her decision to leave her job in September.

“My plans have not changed,” she said.

Martini said he is particularly worried about how the lease arrangement might affect the Truckee River Operating Agreement, the long-negotiated strategy to better manage waters of the Truckee River. That pact, close to 20 years in the making, is expected to be signed later this year.

“We don’t want to do anything to mess that up,” Martini said.

Mike Carrigan, the Sparks councilman who is chairman of the water authority board, lauded the change in direction by the two mayors. Carrigan cast the only vote against studying the lease concept.

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