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Water authority passes budget with no major cuts

The financial storm is over for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, at least for now.

The valley’s wholesale water supplier plans to ride out the next year with no major cuts, staff reductions or additions, General Manager Pat Mulroy said.

Water authority board members signed off Thursday on a $499 million budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. That’s an increase of about $7 million over the current budget, though the agency expects to spend less on operating expenses, personnel and energy costs in the coming year.

The spending increase will come in the areas of debt service and construction, as the authority pushes to fund and finish a new, $800 million water intake at Lake Mead.

The authority approved a rate hike earlier this year to help raise the last of the money needed for the project.

The authority used to pay for such things with connection charges from new customers and, to a lesser extent, sales tax revenue. Both pots of money took a serious hit when the housing market collapsed and growth slowed to a stop.

Later this year, the authority will convene a 21-member citizens advisory committee to help plot a new course – and funding formula – for the agency in a post-boom world.

For the moment, though, Mulroy said the economy seems to be stabilizing. The authority has even seen a small bump in connection charge revenue after the dramatic collapse that began in 2008.

Things have settled down enough to allow the authority to forego a planned increase in the wholesale delivery charge paid by its member water utilities. The $10 increase was set to take effect in the coming year, though the utilities planned to absorb it rather than pass it through to their customers.

"It was a huge relief to the member agencies because that impacts their budgets," Mulroy said.

Since 2009, the authority has cut operational costs by $56 million, including $26 million in payroll cuts. The agency’s staff has been trimmed by 226 full-time, part-time and contract workers.

But just because the authority’s finances have stabilized somewhat, that doesn’t mean happy days are here again. Asked if there were any plans to add employees in the coming year, an incredulous Mulroy said, "Pffft."

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

 

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