Wednesday, January 18, 2012

VVWD Exercises: Bend Over And Grab Your Ankles

Okay everyone, it's time for our daily Virgin Valley Water District exercise class.
Step one - bend over.
Step two - grab your ankles.
Step three - prepare for some pain.
Step four - do it all over again.
At Tuesday's VVWD meeting, the board once again entertained an offer to purchase some river water shares from a local owner.
Once again, because that shareholder's last name wasn't "Hardy," they declined.
That's to their credit, because we still have people trying to soak the water district for $70,000 a share on water that just seven years ago was going for $6,000 a share.
As a reminder, we can thank greedy moneygrubbers like Dixie Leavitt and the Southern Nevada Water Authority for doing the exact same thing to the price of water shares that greedy realtors and land speculators did to housing prices a half-decade ago - driving up prices to artificially unreachable levels for no good reason other than to line their pockets.  Leavitt started the ball rolling when he sold a huge chunk of water shares to SNWA for an obscene amount of money. As it is in the real estate business, that set the "market price" for water, and was the starters pistol for the price race to the moon.
On Tuesday, VVWD general manager Ken Rock offered a sound fiscal warning to the board: If you buy a water share for $70,000, then turn around and lease it to the golf course owners for $250 a share (a horrendous decision the board made last year), it will take about 280 years to pay off the water share.  And that's without interest!
It was a brilliant piece of financial advice.  In fact, it sounds vaguely familiar.  Who said that exact same thing last year?  Oh that's right, it was US!
Unfortunately, Rock (who is the best thing to happen to the Virgin Valley Water District in more than a decade) also fired another shot across the bow on Ordinance II fees, the made-up fee the water district charges for the alleged purpose of buying more water on the open market.
He pointed out that collecting $3,300 in Ordinance II fees for every new house built in the Valley while spending $70,000 per share for river was another losing proposition. 
On paper, he's right.  Figuring $3,300 per house, two houses per acre foot of water, and about seven acre feet per share, it comes to around $46,200.  While VVWD math would call that "break even," the rest of the world would call it a $23,800 loss.
This is where today's exercise comes in.
Instead of adjusting the leasing costs of those shares to the golf course owners from $250 a year to $7,000 a year, which would pay off the purchased shares in 10 years, the board is once again hinting that they need to increase the Ordinance II fees.
The part they keep forgetting in their smoke-and-mirror calculations is this: The $70,000 figure is for Virgin River water shares, meaning irrigation water.  Guess how many homes and commercial buildings in Mesquite use irrigation water?  Show us the answer on the big board, Johnny!  That's right, ZERO!
VVWD does not and never has pumped river water into homes.  Every drop of potable liquid comes from underground aquifers.  So NONE of the irrigation shares the water district is buying for 70 grand is going to the new houses - you know, the buildings that are getting charged $3,300 a pop when built.
So once again, those who are building and buying homes are paying for water shares that are only benefitting the golf course owners!  And the rate increase that you know is on the way will once again hurt the home buyers, put more downward pressure on the construction industry and new housing (because when you pile on all the ordinance and impact fees charged by the water district and the city of Mesquite, it's basically cheaper to build a house in Palm Springs), and all to make sure the golf course owners continue to have all the cheap water they can waste.
By the way, that water we actually drink?  You know, the water that is pumped up from underground?  We can't buy shares of that water, because by law it is all owned and doled out by the State of Nevada.  We have to file for permits, and of course there are costs associated with that, but the water itself is 100% FREE to the VVWD.
But with the VVWD's smoke-and-mirror accounting system, that fact won't be considered in the next round of price increases.
Which is why ratepayers need to continue with their daily exercises, so they're ready when that inevitable fee increase is approved.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mesquite 2, Bank Robbers 0

Dear Bank Robbers,
You might want to rethink the idea of picking on a little town when trying to fill your pockets with ill-gotten gains.
We may be small, but we bite back.
Go back to robbing Las Vegas banks, where you have a better chance of getting away with it, and your crimes won't get nearly the attention of, say, a pedestrian getting hit in a crosswalk.
Once again, someone has taken a look at the peaceful little town of Mesquite and made the mistake of thinking us backwards and easy prey.
On Tuesday, for the second time in a little over a year, a bank in Mesquite was robbed.
And for the second time in a little over a year, the fast acting Mesquite Police Department quickly figured out who to look for and sent out the word after courageous citizens stepped forward and provided critical information.  For the second time in a little over a year, the robber did not get away with it.
In November of 2010, the idiot culprit (who didn't even have a getaway car, for crying out loud) was apprehended at a bus station in St. George after the MPD notified them that the Ohio man was on his way to Utah in a taxi.  Police were able to solve this one before the post-pubescent FBI agent from Las Vegas was even able to get his fancy sunglasses properly adjusted, thanks to witnesses who described the guy and helped the MPD detective (a guy named Tanner who now happens to be Mesquite's Chief of Police) piece together the thief's movements and escape plan.
On Tuesday another scumbag eyeballed Mesquite, believed he had found an easy target, and knocked over the Nevada Bank and Trust for a whopping $2,800.  At least this one remembered to bring a getaway vehicle.  Brave eyewitnesses were able to describe the car to police, and our first-class department knew exactly what to do with the information.
Since other police agencies know that MPD isn't prone to "crying wolf" every time someone steals a book of matches like a lot of other tiny rural departments, they were on the lookout and quick to respond.
A lot of news reports claim Tuesday's ending was "tragic" because the dirtball gave himself a lead-based brain enema rather than face up to his crime, shooting himself in the head after getting pulled over on I-15 by Arizona Highway Patrol.  In truth, the only thing "tragic" is that he didn't pull the trigger on his own noggin BEFORE terrorizing innocent bank employees with threats of a bomb and a gun.
Had he known beforehand that this sleepy little burg is actually home to one of the best police departments in the state, with one of the highest "solve" rates in the nation, the Florida loser might have picked on somebody else.  In fact, in December of 2009, Mesquite police took down a murderer from Indiana who had eluded every other police department in the country, earning himself a spot on the TV show "America's Most Wanted." 
In late 2010, barely a year before Detective Troy Tanner became Police Chief Troy Tanner, the department was able to make two arrests in a decade-old murder.  All our detective/chief needs is an inflated set of oversized, collagen-filled lips, and he could have his own "Closer" crime show on TNT.
Major kudos also go out to the Arizona cops who pulled over the thief on Tuesday.  Obviously, they were risking their lives against an armed nutjob who could have easily used their craniums for target practice instead of his own.
About the only screw-up in this entire affair was the desk jockey who made the ridiculous decision to shut down all four lanes of I-15 overnight out of fear that the vehicle might have contained "hazardous materials," a banal euphemism that technically encompasses everything from nuclear weapons down to an open bottle of cough syrup.  Even if the guy had a functioning meth lab in his back seat filled with every toxic chemical imaginable, was it really necessary to close the entire interstate?  Nobody actually saw the explosives the hoodlum claimed to have, and even if one existed, a closure of two lanes wasn't enough room to work for your bomb squad?  And since when does it take 18 hours to figure that out?
However, that snarky little observation aside, an enormous "thank you" goes out once again to the Mesquite Police Department, the "amazing little department that could."  Our sincere thanks also go to the brave Arizona Highway Patrol officers.  And finally, huge appreciation to the eagle-eyed community-minded witnesses with the courage to help the police catch the culprit.  One of the reasons it's easier to get away with bank robberies in metropolitan places like Las Vegas is because they don't have citizens like ours.
Now if we could just get a memo out to the interloping stick-up artists out there: Don't bother coming here.  We're known as the "Diamond in the Desert."  And as any fourth-grader could tell these losers, a diamond is one of the hardest substances on Earth.  Mesquite may sparkle and shine, but we're not going to be easy to crack.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Gustaveson Wrong Guy While Bowler Is The Right Guy For VVWD

The Virgin Valley Water District held their first meeting of the year on Tuesday, and immediately made a mess of things.
Fortunately, not all of the news is bad.
On Tuesday, only three of the board members bothered to show up.  As is frequently the case, Bunkerville's elected board member Kenyon Leavitt was absent.  Unfortunately Bunkerville's second board member, appointee Mark McEwen, is quitting the board, and wasn't in attendance either.
That meant there was no representation for Bunkerville at a meeting where officers were appointed.
The result is that all three of the key positions on the board - president, vice president, and treasurer/secretary - will be filled by Mesquite representatives, meaning Bunkerville has been shut out of the top spots.
Since the three board members in attendance ended up delaying a decision on who to appoint to the city's Economic Development committee, the only other item on the agenda, it would have been a good idea to have scrapped Tuesday's meeting altogether until McEwen's replacement could be approved and appointed by the Clark County Commission.
To make matters worse, the three Mesquite board members in attendance repeated a horrendous mistake they made in 2010, namely the appointment of Mesquite City Councilman Karl Gustaveson as the president of the board.
There are at least a half-dozen reasons why Gustaveson is the worst of the five choices for the top job on the board.  For starters, he is a paid Mesquite city councilman, which means his first loyalty is and will always be with the city.  That doesn't work out so well in the real world, because the city and the water district are so often at cross purposes, and the city already abuses its smaller, weaker cousin at every turn. 
Second, it is improper for the president of a quasi-public board to not be one of those elected by the people.  He is appointed by the city, which means the top officer of the Virgin Valley Water District has not received the seal of approval from the electorate.
Then you have a variety of actions by Gustaveson over the last year while he was president of the VVWD that should have sent up enough warning flags to keep the board from repeating his appointment as president.  Chief among them was the way the local golf course owners had their way with him like a discount Vegas hooker while arranging whatever reduced rates they pleased.
Gustaveson has done nothing to distinguish himself during his reign in 2010. 
However, since the only people voting for his appointment on Tuesday were Mesquite representatives, led by his sycophant and nominator Sandra Ramaker, it's not a particular surprise.
Also, to be fair, it's not like there were that many options.
Leavitt, the longest serving member of the board, is the only elected representative from Bunkerville.  However, he misses way too many meetings to seriously be considered for the top position. 
The other Bunkerville representative won't be appointed until Jan. 17 at the earliest.
On the Mesquite side, making Ramaker the president would be the same as making Gustaveson the president, since they're basically the same person.  If you look closely during VVWD board meetings, you could swear Gustaveson's lips are moving whenever Ramaker speaks.  So if you're going to appoint a bad president, you might as well go with the original.
The other option would be Ted Miller.  Miller has been the courageously outspoken defender of the ratepayers.  Endowed with an abundance of common sense and occasional downright stubbornness in standing up for the little people of this community, his gruff and direct manner hasn't won him many friends inside or outside the board room.  As such he would be a tough sell even though he is the second-longest serving member of the board behind Leavitt.  He isn't enough of a soul-selling politician to play the games necessary to win the presidency, particularly among this collection of escapees from the island of misfit toys.
Fortunately, some good news is on the way.
Rich Bowler has been tapped as the new Bunkerville appointee to replace McEwen.  McEwen wasn't a bad guy, and always made the board stop and think.  His only weakness was a myopia when it came to putting the best interests of Bunkerville over the needs of the entire community.  He also tended to agree with Leavitt too often, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Leavitt can be a good watchdog for the ratepayers when he bothers to show up.
Bowler will be an excellent addition to this board. 
For starters, as a real estate broker, he will be the only current business person on the board.
Second, it's hard to believe how long the Virgin Valley Water District has functioned without direct input from a member of the real estate community.  No facet of Mesquite's economy is as directly affected by water decisions as the real estate market, yet he will be the first full-time Realtor to sit on the board in a while.
Also, Bowler is a Bunkerville resident whose business happens to be in Mesquite.  As such, he will bring the kind of balance that is needed in decision making for the entire valley.
His family has been a part of this community for decades.  Bowler Elementary School in Bunkerville and the Bowler Plaza in Mesquite where Smith's Food and Drug is located are both named for his grandfather, J.L. Bowler.  His father, Joe Bowler, has been a philanthropic blessing and longtime business icon in this valley for years.  Yet even with those deep roots, Rich Bowler's name is rarely mentioned among the area's nefarious network of "good ole boys."
Hopefully, the "Caucus of Common Sense" including Bowler, Miller, and Leavitt will be able to keep the "Gustamaker twins" in check during the coming year.