Monday, June 25, 2012

Brown Brown Dirt Of Home

There was an old country song recorded in the 1960's by Porter Wagoner, Bobby Bare, Charley Pride, and a whole host of other stars.  It was a sad song in which the singer looked longingly toward that day when he would return to the "Green Green Grass of Home."
We can only hope that the guy who wrote that song wasn't thinking of coming home to Mesquite.
If so, he would have to re-title the song "Brown Brown Dirt of Home."
At the rate we're going, by the time he gets here there won't BE any green grass.
On Monday another landscaping crew was busy at the Mesa Blvd./Pioneer Blvd. intersection tearing out the grass.  If you look at the rest of the property lining Pioneer Blvd., strips of dirt and gravel, you can pretty well guess what's going to appear at the new construction site by the end of the week.
Sadly, the stretch is simply joining the rest of the community in the de-greening of Mesquite.
When I first moved to Mesquite in 2004, one of the most eye-catching and breath-taking features of this hamlet in the middle of the Mohave desert was the amount of beautiful grass.  I hate to use the term of a now-defunct local casino, but the city truly was an oasis of green in the midst of some of God's least-impressive handiwork.  The medians on Pioneer Blvd. were green, as were the strips along the side of the road.  (Mesquite Blvd. hadn't yet been wrecked and ruined by the annoying medians which now clutter the town's main drag. However, since our town's logo on I-15 is a giant Pac Man eating a mountain range, perhaps the maze-like quality of those medians is a natural tie-in.)
Then you had those magnificent golf courses covered in emerald green. 
Once you turned into some of the neighborhoods, you discovered even more color of the Irish, with perfectly manicured lawns of verdant green.
Not anymore.
For the last four years, there has been a strong brown movement in Mesquite.  (And if that reminds you of a different kind of "movement" with a brown-colored result, you're not far off).  Homeowners Associations, deciding that the color was incompatible with the natural environs of the underworld from which too many HOA board members are spawned, voted to rip out the green and replace it with stone and dirt (as if this part of Southern Nevada didn't already have enough of that).  In addition to making their neighborhoods look more like Hell (or the bombed out parts of Afghanistan), it also saved them money on watering costs.
That's actually the primary motivator for most of the city's de-greening.  Water rates have gone up (may a pox be upon the Virgin Valley Water District), and the economy has cratered.
Add to that, somehow a contingent of "eco-friendly" environmentalists have used the Jedi mind trick to convince people that the dirt, gravel, and scrub are "natural and beautiful."  It's an appropriate explanation, since these zealots seem intent on making Mesquite look just like Tatooine.
After traveling through the heart of Nevada over the weekend on a trip to Reno, all I can say is that I'm thankful for the large multi-colored signs in front of the Eureka, CasaBlanca, and Virgin River.  Without those colors, drivers flying by our city on the interstate might easily miss Mesquite and it's taupe houses, taupe lawns, taupe medians, and taupe surroundings, writing it off as just more of Nevada's hideously ugly landscape.
Sadly, unless Hollywood is in need of a barren set to film a movie about the surface of the moon, this is going to continue to hurt our local economy.  Our insistence on looking more and more like Pahrump is going to result in fewer residents choosing Mesquite for their final retirement destinations.  If people wanted to spend their last days surrounded by dirt, gravel, and scrub, they'd simply allow their cars to break down on just about any stretch of highway in the Silver State.
There is, however, an upside.
Since it appears the federal government is intent on banning people from Gold Butte, perhaps this is our way to make a few bucks.
"Want to see what Gold Butte looks like?  Come to Mesquite, where you can see all the unsightly dirt, scrub, rocks, sand, grit, and complete lack of any living green growth any hiker would ever want to see."
Now if they could just figure out how to scrub the green off the money, Mesquite's brown movement would be complete.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

VVWD Budget Problem A Warning Bell Against Water Conservation

The Virgin Valley Water District board had to take on the unpleasant task of "budget augmentation" this week, a typical sweet-sounding political term that means "we spent more than we took in."
But shortfalls and deficits are standard operating procedure for all governmental agencies these days, so it's really not a big deal.
What IS a big deal is the reason for the shortfall.
The water district admits that revenues have fallen $200,000 short of projections for one simple reason: "a decline in customers' water use."  In other words, we're using less water, so there's less money coming into the water district.
Read that again, because it's important.
It's something I've warned about for years, every time some misguided soul starts chirping about Mesquite needing to implement water conservation measures and water restrictions.  It's also what I predicted when the water district took that huge rate increase two years ago.
It sounds loony, but the truth is that conserving water will actually make our water costs go UP!
Here's how it will work:
The water district has a certain amount of fixed costs.  A BIG part of their fixed costs is debt service -- paying back on the bonds they've already taken out to drill wells, build arsenic treatment plants, and buy unneeded irrigation water shares from greedy, well-connected good ole boy profiteers.
The water district (meaning us, the ratepayers) is stuck with these costs. 
So for the sake of easy math, let's say the district needs a million dollars a year just to make their annual bond payments.
In a normal year, again for the sake of easy math, assume they take in a million dollars a year in water payments from homeowners and businesses.
Along comes someone's brilliant idea to raise water rates.  In the middle of a recession.  Sounds like a great way to increase revenue, right? 
Because there happens to be a way to turn a faucet off and leave it off, people begin intentionally using less water.  Less water means less money to the water district.
The water district has bonds that must be paid, so to make up the shortfall, they bump up the rates a little more.
People stuck in the throes of a down economy, looking for ways to squeeze every penny, get even more water-conscious.  They flush every other visit to the bathroom, put timers on their showers, tear out their nice environmentally-friendly grass (which happens to be the best weapon in the battle against greenhouse gases, since green plants convert carbon dioxide to oxygen) and replace it with gravel.
Water usage drops even further, reducing revenue to the water district.
See where this is going?
Every time the water district takes a rate increase, or even worse, starts implementing "water conservation measures" (programs which, ironically, cost them money and increase their operating expenses), cash-strapped rate payers use less water and wind up paying less to the district.
Eventually, the district reaches the point where their revenues aren't enough to pay their bonds, and they default on their notes.  The downward spiral has reached critical mass.
This scenario has already played out once in Utah.
Here's why: Most businesses have costs associated with their product.  If you're selling automobiles, you need to buy steel, tires, plastic, and other parts necessary to make the cars.  When you raise your price and sell fewer cars, it can balance out because you're not spending as much on supplies and parts.
With water, the district doesn't pay anything for the product.  To be sure, there are expenses -- electricity for the pumps, well maintenance, pipe repairs, etc. -- but the product itself is free.  If you're selling less of it, those expenses don't go away, or even go down very much.  So your cash outflow isn't going down when people use less water, but your cash inflow IS.
So before we start drinking the Kool-Aid about water conservation and the need for more rate increases, pay very close attention to this model.
And heed the warnings that are becoming evident at the water district.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mesquite’s New Slogan

The City of Mesquite has been working lately to develop a catchy new slogan that will dazzle potential visitors and hook passing motorists off the interstate like Roland Martin parked in an overstocked bass lake.
Of course, if past performance is an indicator of future action, the new slogan they choose will immediately be placed in a desk drawer and kept hidden from anyone that might think it’s remotely interesting.  It’s the Mesquite Way.
There have been some interesting options.
In the past, we’ve actually had some catchy catch-phrases, like “Mesquite – The Diamond In The Desert” and “Come for a day, stay for a lifetime.” 
One of the new ideas is “Mesquite – Nevada’s Diamond In The Desert.”
A dramatic change from the old one, I know.
Unfortunately, some of the slogans came from the high-level creative souls at City Hall.  You know, the folks whose greatest literary contributions are phrases like “Point of Order!” and “we’re excited about the Desert Falls project.”
Of course, the city can’t just call it a slogan.  It has to be a “branding slogan.”  Sorry, but when government officials start talking about “branding,” I smell burning cow hair and hear plaintive moo’s.
But we do need a new line, and I’ve heard some good ones lately.
In an effort to help the city in their quest for a new “brand,” I’ve taken the liberty of coming up with a few suggestions for Mesquite’s new identifying tagline.
One of my favorites, and I use is often, is “a little slice of microwaved Heaven.”
It hasn’t caught on much beyond my living room, but I like it.
A friend suggested “Mesquite – Gateway to Bunkerville” or “Mesquite – Moapa’s bedroom community.”  Not a bad start.  At least they’re geographically accurate, unlike the notion that we’re a way station for Utah’s parks.
I’m always annoyed when the city’s brain trust continues pushing Mesquite as a place to stay for people going to Bryce and Zion Park, ignoring the fact there are about 11 towns which are closer to those tourist attractions. 
I think they should just go ahead and say it: “Mesquite: Nothing Here, But We’re Close To There.”
If we’re going to sponge off another locale’s popularity, we need to look in the opposite direction.  Such as “Mesquite – Las Vegas Lite.”
Or how about “What Happens In Mesquite…Happens Before 9 p.m.”
Here are a few more:
“Mesquite – Land of a Thousand Lies.”  This one will be popular with golfers, and anyone who remembers the previous City Council.
Another golf-themed idea: “Our 35 mph Speed Limit Means Every Drive Is A Long Drive.”
How about “Mesquite – Where Utah’s Bad Ideas Come To Die.”
Or “Mesquite – Proof That P.T. Barnum Was Right.”
Broadening our appeal to encompass the rest of the area, our phrase could be “Virgin Valley – It’s Not What You Think.”
And you can’t forget about our weather.
“Mesquite – Hell’s Hotter Neighbor.”
“Mesquite – Melting Plastic Shoes Since 1984.”
“Chicago’s Wind Sucks – Mesquite’s Wind Really Blows.”
When it comes to bringing new business to the city, our problem is balancing come-ons with federal truth-in-advertising laws.  But these might work:
“Bring Your Business To Mesquite – We Dare Ya.”
“Mesquite – Zonin’, Plannin’, Restrictin’, and Bannin’.”
“Bulldog Fleas Are Like Mesquite Business Fees – ‘Cept ours are bigger and there are more of ‘em,” or the more succinct “Our Bulldogs Have Bigger Fees.”
But enough of my ideas.  I want to hear yours.
What do you think would be an apt and accurate new slogan for Mesquite?
Leave your idea in the comment section below.