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New water fee 'the last straw'

In a guest commentary in the June 17 Review-Journal, Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy explained her agency's cost-shifting for water treatment and delivery facilities following the economic debacle of 2008.

In an attempt to "make growth pay for growth," the authority's 1990s model drew nearly 60 percent of revenues for such projects from new connection charges. But revenues from new connections plummeted by 95 percent in 2008 as new construction "virtually ceased," Ms. Mulroy noted.

As a result, to help pay down roughly $2.5 billion in construction debt and finish building an $800 million intake (the "third straw") designed to keep water flowing even if Lake Mead continues to shrink, the water authority in May started levying an infrastructure surcharge on fire-prevention sprinkler systems and hydrants - a charge which can run $400 a month even for a modest enterprise.

Agency officials acknowledge businesses bear the brunt of the new fee, which whacks especially hard companies with large but little-used water lines feeding their fire sprinkler systems and hydrants.

The surcharge is slated to remain in place for three years, but water authority board members are talking about revisiting it in response to the barrage of complaints from angry customers.

"If fire line surcharges are reduced, someone else will have to make up the difference," Ms. Mulroy warned last month. "So the question becomes, is commercial fire protection everyone's responsibility, or is it incumbent upon the property owner to pay for the facilities that protect their investment, employees and customers?"

To which, in the current economic climate, one more question may still have to be added: And what if they can't?


Las Vegas Review-Journal