Mesquite City Councilwoman Sandra Ramaker’s attempt to pass a resolution affecting representation on the Virgin Valley Water District Board of Directors never received a vote of her fellow council members at their Tuesday, Jan. 22 meeting. Rather, after Ramaker made a motion to approve it, the agenda item died for lack of a second on the motion.
Ramaker’s resolution advocated for a change of representation on the Water Board from the current three Mesquite elected officials and two Bunkerville elected officials to a four-one representation. Reading a written statement, Ramaker said it was a matter of fairness based on the number of water ratepayers residing in each location with Mesquite having 93 percent and Bunkerville having 7 percent.
“This is an economic and fair representation issue brought to the city council 11 years ago,” Ramaker said. “Two years ago I took it to the Committee on Natural Resources at the Nevada Legislature. It was suggested it be advanced by the Mesquite City Council at the 2019 legislative session. City Council makes decisions on how much water is consumed.”
She said that Bunkerville only had a few businesses while Mesquite businesses are “the economic driver of the Virgin Valley. Our business community deserves to have better representation on the Virgin Valley Water Board. Over time, the residents and businesses of Mesquite have spent a great deal of money to benefit Bunkerville shareholders such as rebuilding wells and improving infrastructure in Bunkerville.”
Ramaker said the change would take affect for the 2020 election if it was approved by the city council and then the state legislature.
A handful of citizens made public comment in support of Ramaker’s resolution. However, VVWD General Manager Kevin Brown said the 3-2 representation goes back to the establishment of the District in 1993.
Brown said that when Bunkerville and Mesquite water associations were discussing a merger into one district, Bunkerville had “more than adequate water supplies, distribution, and storage, and favorable rates. It also had a low debt ratio. Mesquite had a shortage of water, poor quality water, high rates and very high debt ratios. It would be a real inequality for Bunkerville to give all that up to be swallowed up by the city of Mesquite and pay higher rates and bigger debts.”
He said that the water district was formed between the two towns in spite of the Bunkerville concerns. “It would be bad government for you to go back on that agreement,” Brown said.
Speaking directly to Ramaker, Brown said all the spending on wells and infrastructure she referenced in her statement were for the benefit of Mesquite and not Bunkerville. “All that water comes under the Virgin River, through the Virgin River transmission line to Mesquite,” Brown said.
In answer to one citizen’s complaint about the city supposedly wrongly entering into a lawsuit begun by Wolf Creek golf course against the Water District, City Attorney Bob Sweetin said, “Wolf Creek brought us into the lawsuit. Wolf Creek made an issue in their complaint of the effluent agreement the city has with Wolf Creek. In order to protect our interests, we intervened. Initially, we intervened as a defendant. We had no interest initially for aggressively going after Wolf Creek. If Wolf Creek removes the effluent agreement from their complaint, we have no interest in it. We just had a [court] order filed this week, that the issue is back in. To the extent Wolf Creek is going to continue litigating it, we’re going to have an interest.”
Councilman George Rapson referenced an opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) issued in 2013 that said, “Given the narrow purpose of the Virgin Valley Water District, it is the opinion of this office that compliance with the one person, one vote principle is likely not required” by representation on the VVWD Board of Directors.
Rapson asked the political lobbyist for both the city and the water district, Warren Hardy, to explain the role of the LCB in the legislative process.
Hardy said the LCB, in essence, serves as the lawyers for state legislators and that it’s unlikely the legislators would go against the LCB’s advice. “The legislature will require that we resolve this issue here and not take it them to resolve. They don’t want to be the referee for local issues.” Hardy was alluding to the issue that the water district board does not support Ramaker’s resolution.
“It does violence to our reputation as a city to take our fights to Carson City. We have never done that,” Hardy said.
Councilwoman Annie Black said she finds the timing and the person presenting the resolution “curious” because of the appearance of Ramaker’s personal relationship with Wolf Creek golf course. “I would be remiss if I didn’t point that out.”
Black said that during the recent political campaign she knocked on more than 3,000 doors and “not one single person ever mentioned this to me. I find it curious that Wolf Creek tried to get this done in the 2013 legislature and there is an ongoing battle between Wolf Creek and the water district.”
Black added that Ramaker’s motivation to bring the resolution to the council is suspect since Wolf Creek donated $9,000 to Ramaker’s past election campaigns for the water board and council according to campaign finance reports.
“I have to ask who asked you to bring this resolution and are you or anyone close to you on the payroll at Wolf Creek,” Black asked. Ramaker said no.
Councilman George Gault said he appreciated Bunkerville and Mesquite putting their differences aside in years past and for coming together for the good of the community. “I have a lot of honor for that community-based, decision-making. I live in the Virgin Valley and that includes Bunkerville and Mesquite. To me, there’s not much difference [between the two].”
Gault said that he couldn’t support the resolution and that the 3-2 representation was equitable. “I think it’s a good deal and I appreciate those who have been around for 16 years working on it,” he said.