Sewer ratepayers may have to wait to see part of refund from coalition

It might be awhile before sewer ratepayers in Las Vegas see their portion of a $16.1 million refund to the city from the defunct Clean Water Coalition.

On Wednesday, the Las Vegas City Council voted unanimously to send about $8.85 million, 55 percent, of the refund to the city’s Sanitary Enterprise District but held off on sending $7.75 million to ratepayers in the form of a 9 percent discount.

That is because several council members said they wanted to make sure the refunds go to the people who were charged for support of the Clean Water Coalition instead of the banks involved in home foreclosures.

The coalition was a regional group created to coordinate construction of a wastewater pipeline into Lake Mead, but the line was canceled. The Legislature in 2010 had taken $62 million that was in coalition coffers to balance the state budget. But a May 26 decision by the Nevada Supreme Court said the money grab was unconstitutional and ordered it be returned.

On Sept. 8, the coalition voted to officially cancel the project and return the money to local governments that paid in including Las Vegas, which got 26 percent off the total amount refunded.

Council members Wednesday said the proposal to return the money to ratepayers across the board was flawed because homes and businesses have changed hands since money started going to the coalition in 2003, and they wanted to make an effort to ensure the refunds got back to people who made contributions.

Councilman Steve Ross was particularly concerned that banks that have foreclosed on homes and businesses do not get refunds of money paid by the original owners.

"I am not in favor of giving banks a dime," Ross said.

Councilman Bob Coffin told Public Works Director Jorge Cervantes to track down a list from the Clean Water Coalition of people and businesses who paid into the fund.

"You can identify every single one of those souls; it just takes a little time," Coffin said.

City Manager Betsy Fretwell said staff members would work to unearth records of who paid in and devise some options for the council to consider at a future meeting.

"If we are going to impact rates for next year, we do need to deal with this this fall," Fretwell said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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