Dam may be city's funding priority

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By David Giuliani

As usual, the City Council seems poised to make water its top annual priority when it approaches the state for funding for projects. But this time around, the city may well focus its efforts on a proposal for a hydroelectric dam on the Gallinas River.

The city is seeking $250,000 from the federal government for a study to determine the project’s feasibility. The idea’s proponents say the project would greatly increase the water dammed up on the Gallinas, which is expected to benefit all of the river’s stakeholders. It would also provide the community cheaper electricity in the long run, they say.

The idea isn’t new. Back in the 1950s, local officials studied the proposal, but it was never carried out.

This week, the council considered its annual list of priorities that it is required to submit to the state government. The staff’s suggested top five priorities, in order, are the hydroelectric dam; water delivery system improvements; sewer line upgrades, especially on the west side; a sewer and effluent line for Cinder Road; and citywide drainage and street improvements.

Additionally, the staff recommended the city include Christine and Moreland drives and Ridge Runner Road to the list, which includes dozens of projects.

City Councilman Morris Madrid suggested the council combine projects into general categories, so the city would have more flexibility when the state gives it money.

“That way we won’t be painted into a corner,” he said.

Councilman Cruz Roybal asked the city to focus on improvements to Kavanaugh and Valley streets, areas that he represents. He also pushed for money for Americans With Disabilities Act improvements — a cause he has championed for years.

Councilman Andrew Feldman said it would be wise to reconsider the hydroelectric dam’s placement as the No. 1 priority, although he said he favors a study.

“We need to do an appraisal study to see whether it’s a go. I’m not saying it’s not important. We’ve had the federal (congressional) delegation say they’re willing to help us find money,” he said.

He added that if the delegation can’t get the money, the city could use revenue from a voter-approved sales tax for the study.

Councilwoman Diane Moore thanked the city staff for including Moreland and Christine, areas that she represents. She also supported the recommendation that the Cinder Road sewer and effluent line be one of the top priorities.

“If we get that done, it will be positive for the community at large,” she said. “There’s a lot of growth in the north area.”

The city staff plans to incorporate the council’s suggestions and come up with a final list for council consideration at a coming meeting.

In other city business

Alex Aragon, a longtime city watchdog, urged the City Council to form a charter commission to overhaul the city’s charter, which was drafted nearly four decades ago. He noted that all mayoral candidates in the March election said they would agree to forming such a commission. He asked that each council member get the chance to appoint a member to the commission.

“This commission should be given the time needed to prepare a well-researched and laid-out document,” he said.

Aragon urged the council to form such a commission in a month.

• • •

The City Council delayed voting on a couple of contract renewals for the utilities department.

The city’s attorney, Flora Gallegos, said one of the contracts started in November 2004 and that it required renewals annually for four years. She said the contract didn’t allow for a renewal for a fifth year.

Councilman Morris Madrid said that was a problem.

“You can’t approve an addendum to a contract that doesn’t exist,” Madrid said.

The council tabled the contracts, so the city staff could review the original contracts.

• • •

Councilman Morris Madrid said the council should have included on its meeting agenda the selection of a mayor pro tem for the next six months. The council selected Councilman Andrew Feldman as its mayor pro tem six months ago. The mayor pro tem presides over meetings in the mayor’s absence.

• • •

City Manager Sharon Caballero said the city has yet to receive a letter from the state Department of Finance and Administration on whether it has approved the city’s final budget for the fiscal year that started July 1. She indicated that the agency had concerns with a 9-year-old deficit in the solid waste department.

• • •

City Manager Sharon Caballero told the council that the city’s solid waste department has purchased 150 rollout containers at a cost of $44 each. She added that the department has also created a truck called “Frankenstein,” which employees put together using the parts of four disabled trucks. Frankenstein will be used as a backup for garbage collection.

• • •

The recreation department had 93 children in its summer program from June 9 to July 18, City Manager Sharon Caballero reported. Currently, the department has 26 students in its after-school program. The recreation center has been kept on expanded summer hours, which means staying open until 9 p.m., instead of 8 p.m. The city is researching the budget to see if it can keep this extended schedule.

The monthly count of center use for August was 5,479.

• • •

The city is expected to begin negotiations for natural gas prices around Sept. 15, City Manager Sharon Caballero said.

• • •

The City Council unanimously voted to go into closed session. Officials said they would be meeting with their water attorney about longstanding litigation. Councilwoman Diane Moore said she hoped the city can stop the tradition of getting water attorneys rich.

— David Giuliani, Las Vegas Optic