The directors of the Virgin Valley Water District have approved a tentative budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.  At their April 2 special meeting the board completed a second review of the budget and approved having the district staff submit the proposal to the state for review.

Under Nevada law, local governments must submit their proposed budget for review by the state before final approval. The board will meet in May to vote on final approval of the budget.

The new budget includes the 13% increase in water rates that was previously approved by the board.  District Accountant Wesley Smith told the board that the budget anticipates a drop in water usage of about 10% because of the rate increase.  “We believe that is conservative,” Smith told the board.

Board President Nephi Julien questioned whether or not water usage would drop more than budgeted given the recent water rationing decisions in California, which might influence people in the district to conserve more.  Smith told the board that with the new rate structure the district “will be able to absorb even more” and stay in budget.

The budget also includes a new line item for reducing district debt.  Because of the rate increase, the district plans on budgeting one million dollars for the next fiscal year.  Monies collected for debt reduction will be placed in a special account.  The district’s high debt and the cost of needed infrastructure improvements were two of the main reasons for the recent rate increase by the district.

Directors also reviewed four different options for salaries for the 19 district employees.  Options ranged from no cost of living increases to a two percent increase across the board.  All options included the district continuing to pay retirement costs through the state Public Employee Retirement System (PERS).  Board member Rich Bowler proposed that total salaries and PERS contributions be capped at two percent.

In discussion board member Robert “Bubba” Smith asked if “Medical insurance costs were included.”  District Secretary and Treasurer Mary Johnson said they were not, and that insurance costs were approximate 33% of salaries.  Board Vice President Barbara Ellestad noted that “Covering benefit costs are more important than cash,” for employees, and that staff had not had an across the board increase since 2009.

After discussion, the board approved the motion including the two percent increase cap on salaries and PERS benefits as proposed by Bowler.

The board then discussed the increasing use of credit cards by district patrons to pay monthly water bills.  District Manager Kevin Brown told the board that a $50 payment results in a 90 cent charge to the district.  In a year, the cost for credit card payments exceeds $30,000.  “I just wanted the board to be aware of the cost to the district,” said Brown.

Secretary Treasurer Johnson told the board that others had tried to cut credit card usage for paying bills but found that if credit card payments aren’t allowed, “Customers tend to come in and pay in person and that takes more time.”

After discussion, the board decided to leave the current credit card payment policy in place, but to educate the public about the cost of using cards and to encourage other payment options.

In other discussion the board noted that with the Lonetti payment on the water rights suit, construction would funded for a new water tank in the Northwest part of the City, near Del Webb/Sun City. Brown said that he was “Looking for property” in the area to place the tank.

The board also discussed needed repairs to the Flat Top Mesa reservoir and requested staff to come back to the board with options on whether to repair or replace the tank.  The current tank is undersized and needs repairs to stop leaks.

At the end of discussion, the board approved sending the tentative budget to the state.  The budget anticipates spending over $17 million of which over $7 million is for capital improvements.