Going with half a loaf

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By Optic Editorial Board

Count us among those who think the Las Vegas City Council went only half as far as it should have last Friday when it hiked the city water rates. The new rates will increase in stages over the next four years, beginning later this year, and are expected to raise $21.6 million in bond proceeds to pay for water system capital improvements.

We’d be willing to wager that, sometime over the next four years, councilors will have to consider yet another rate increase — at least if the city is serious about fixing its water system problems. Remember that preliminary engineering report, which recommended $53 million in water system improvements over the next five years? Well, this year’s council could muster the political will to get us only two-fifths of the way there.

Oh well, it’s not unusual for political bodies to kick the can down the road for someone else to deal with. We should at least be thankful that the council mustered the three votes necessary (with the mayor as tie-breaker) to move the city forward a little.

Now, the mayor and council must to be vigilant in how the new revenue is going to be spent. Figuring out how to spend it is going to be difficult, considering how much more is needed. To repair and raise the dam at the Peterson Reservoir — to stop the leakage and raise the reservoir’s storage capacity — has been estimated to cost $20 million by itself. To dedicate the additional funds to that only would leave the city’s water lines leaking profusely, the Gallinas Watershed in need of a sediment holding pond, and the possibility of desalination in limbo. The city’s water system’s  needs are multi-faceted and, with only $21.6 million in added funds available, some creative financing alternatives will have to be considered. Such an approach demands as much transparency and scrutiny every step of the way.

To arrive at the decision to raise water rates, the city held a series of public hearings. We urge the same approach — a transparent approach — for deciding on how best to spend the added revenue.

It’s no secret that we would have preferred the original rates proposal, which would have generated enough to pay for $40.2 million worth of improvements. But half a loaf is better than no loaf, and the city must be smart in how it consumes the added “bread.” Here’s hoping that another round of hunger doesn’t set in too soon.