Utilities budget tops $35 million (May 11, 2022)

BULLHEAD CITY — The number is big. Mark Clark readily admits that.

But Bullhead City’s utilities director also explained why his department is seeking a $35 million budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year and why that number is so large in the first place: The city’s water and sewer systems have critical needs.

The utilities department includes the water operations (budgeted at $17.189 million), wastewater operations ($16.7 million), utilities construction ($1.16 million), and $532,000 of the city’s engineering budget.

The department’s budget — not counting close to $20 million in capital improvement requests — is funded through the water and wastewater enterprise funds built on residential and commercial water and sewer bills.

We have to live on what we have in revenue, Clark said of the operational budget during a broad presentation at Tuesday’s Bullhead City Council budget hearing.

The water utility’s budget includes $9.98 million in capital outlay and both the water and wastewater budgets are buoyed by a $1 million contingency fund that was not part of last year’s budget.

Those are the really the two differences on the water side (of the utilities budget), Clark said. The capital improvement requests of more than $11 million and the $1 million contingency account for about 72% of the wastewater department’s budget.

It is the first true utilities budget — last year, the spending plan was created as the city was in the process of taking over operation and eventual ownership of EPCOR Water Arizona’s local delivery system. And this year’s budget includes far more in capital projects than last year.

It’s a little tough to do an apples-to-apples comparison between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 budgets, Clark said.

Clark began his presentation with a slide show, displaying some of the problems the utility department has encountered, both with the water system that previously was owned by EPCOR and with its own aging wastewater system.

Yes, there’s a lot of things that need to be fixed, City Manager Toby Cotter said.

A lot of our system is approaching the end of its useful life, Clark said, adding that it was incumbent to address the needs sooner rather than later to stay ahead the curve.

The water system’s new needs, addressed in the capital improvement requests, include two new wells and transmission lines, one on each end of the city. Wastewater system needs include three lift station well rehabilitation projects, a citywide manhole rehabilitation project and a new headworks at the Section 10 pump station.

Cotter said the utilities department’s balanced budget should allow for water rates to remain unchanged for local residents for the next two years. A 2% increase in the wastewater rates already has been approved.

Cotter said the city has saved over $1 million to local water ratepayers since taking over the EPCOR system last September, preventing an Arizona Corporation Commission-approved rate increase from going into effect.

The utilities department presentation followed a presentation by Human Services Director Jeff Tipton and staff and preceded presentations by Public Works Director Angie Johnson and Cotter’s department-by-department recap of the city’s budgeted capital improvement projects, many of which had been addressed during departmental presentations.

The council completed the budget hearing on Tuesday, avoiding the need for a third day. City staff will present a preliminary budget — one containing a few modifications directed by the City Council — for consideration at the June 7 council meeting with the council expected to vote on a final budget at its June 21 meeting. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Source: Bill Millen, Mohave Daily News