I-Team: SNWA Takes Lead When it Comes to High Salaries

LAS VEGAS -- A new financial study confirms that water rates are about to take another jump. The money will pay for already-approved construction projects. Officials at two local water agencies say they've been doing all they can to keep spending under control but, salary figures obtained by the I-Team tell a different story.

The I-Team has been tracking salaries in local government for the past few years to see if public agencies are coping with the tight economy by controlling costs. It turns out, most local public agencies have reigned in their spending on salaries, but there is a notable exception.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority, which is often the source of stark, scary news about the valley's water future, isn't nearly as grim when it comes to generous six-figure paychecks.

As a board member for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, county commissioner Steve Sisolak has grown accustomed to hearing the monthly reports from water officials about how the sky is falling, along with the accompanying requests for more money.

"It's not every couple of months. It's constant," he said.

Water rates are about to take another jump and water officials are asking for more millions to spend on capital projects or to pay for what they have already spent.

Clark County Salary Tracker

When the I-Team interviewed Sisolak three years ago about pay hikes at the water agencies, he said, "That simply cannot be allowed to continue."

It not only has continued, it's gone through the roof. By a wide margin, the average pay for the water authority is the highest for any public agency. The average -- $89,000 per employee -- is an increase of more than $12,000 per employee since 2009.

SNWA's Response to an Interview Request

The water agencies do not grant interviews to the I-Team, but a statement from a spokesperson said the water agencies have been "vigilant about controlling labor costs" and that the labor budget for the water authority dropped by 5.5 percent.

Water boss Pat Mulroy has bragged about cutting her work force, eliminating jobs, and while it is true the agencies have fewer workers, those who are left are earning a lot more.

"What they have done is eliminated positions and raised wages for the people they have kept, which is difficult because the complaints you get is that service has decreased," Sisolak said.

To cut costs, for instance, the water district closed its offices on Friday, but those who now work a four-day week saw no comparable drop in pay. The water authority has seen remarkable salary growth at the top. Public records show it now has 426 employees with base pay of $100,000 or more. That's an increase of 125 six-figure employees in just three years -- a 41 percent jump -- and it is poised to go even higher.

Graph -- Employees Earning $100,000 or more by Agency

In addition to Mulroy, whose base salary is $298,000 per year, the water authority has 73 analysts making $100,000 or more, along with 61 managers, 47 supervisors, 15 administrators, 14 directors and 13 coordinators. Nearly all of those categories saw increases in six-figure pay checks.

"I don't know the difference between a supervisor, coordinator, manager. I don't know where they come up with these classifications. It's clear they are top heavy," Sisolak said.

He is one of the few elected officials to complain about water agency spending and salaries. He says he gets daily complaints from constituents about poor service from the water agencies, slow response times to problems because rank and file workers have been eliminated. But he says he's been unable to get fellow board members to say no to more water agency spending.

"We have to get a handle on it. I am only one vote out of seven, and I've lost a lot of 6-1 votes," Sisolak said. "People are saying, 'I'm getting hit from every angle. I'm paying more for my water. I'm paying more for my groceries. I'm paying more for my fuel, and these people keep getting raises.'"

Graph -- Public Agency Salaries

Water employees making $100,000 or more is actually worse than it sounds, because that's just the base pay. When you add in overtime, there are 497 water employees who made six figures or more which is about 30-percent of the entire work force.

Commissioner Sisolak says there simply is no good explanation for it. 


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