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August 29, 2014

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Boulder City election issue No. 1: Debt

Nine candidates for two seats are vying to address this, a host of other concerns

Boulder City Elections

Cam Walker Launch slideshow »

Boulder City might seem the most stable and serene city in Southern Nevada, having limited growth and fended off the sprawl of Las Vegas.

But not all is well there, given City Hall’s $100 million debt.

The question of how to pay it off will fall to the City Council, including the victors in citywide races for two open seats. Councilwoman Andrea Anderson is not running for reelection and Councilman Mike Pacini cannot run because of term limits.

The primary election to whittle down the field of nine is Tuesday, with early voting concluding Friday. (A 10th candidate, Tim Clifford, has withdrawn from the race but his name remains on the ballot.) Unless a candidate gets more than half the vote, the runoff will be held in June among the top four vote-getters.

“What’s at stake is the very character of Boulder City,” said candidate Matt Di Teresa. “If we continue in the (financial) direction we’re going, we may find ourselves forced to sell land. Legally we have to sell assets before we go bankrupt.”

Some say Di Teresa paints a picture more dire than reality. But even his critics acknowledge that the debt brought on by paying for a third intake into Lake Mead to provide city water, a new untreated water line and the purchase of the 27-hole Boulder Creek Golf Course has put the city in a tight spot.

All candidates agree that continuing to lease land to renewable energy companies will be a top priority.

But there is a big difference between two groups of candidates.

Cam Walker, a project manager, and Duncan McCoy, a retired Boulder City Library director, have the support of Pacini and former Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, Boulder City’s favorite son.

On the opposite side are Joe Roche, a recycling consultant, and Di Teresa, an operating engineer, who want to be change agents at City Hall.

If either is elected, it would likely mean changes in city staff and the possible closure of the Boulder Creek Golf Course, which the city bought in January 2003 with hopes it would be a revenue source, but which has lost money ever since.

Somewhere in the middle sit Chris Gatlin, who owns a paint shop; Jim Reed, a retired Boulder City police officer; Anthony Pakula, a retired Detroit police officer; and John Schleppegrell, a retired government manager.

Something of a wild card in the race is 83-year-old Bill Smith, who served on the City Council from 1997 to 2001.

He is widely perceived to be sympathetic to Roche and Di Teresa, but he characterizes himself as a peacemaker.

“I would not commit to be the third vote to get rid of the city manager and city attorney,” he said. “I think I have the ability to bring the staff and council together. I’m not sure anyone else wants to.”

Council members Travis Chandler and Linda Strickland, both elected two years ago and subject to a subsequent recall effort that failed narrowly but is being appealed, have made it clear they are not satisfied with the work of City Manager Vicki Mayes or the financial performance of the golf course.

Roche or Di Teresa would give them the third vote they need on the five-member council to make changes in staff or the operation of the course.

Reed is also concerned about city management and continuing the status quo, but won’t commit himself to any action.

“The status quo is why the city is in financial trouble,” he said. “If you continue to go down the same path, what’s going to happen? The city will be bankrupt.”

McCoy and Walker have hinted they would likely side with Mayor Roger Tobler. They say they favor finding ways to make money from the golf course and want to work with the current staff.

Walker pointed out he opposed the golf course purchase but now thinks the city must do all it can to make it profitable.

The four other candidates are trying to be like Switzerland.

“I’d love to just be the swing vote and look at everything from both sides,” Schleppegrell said.

Campaigning has gotten nasty in the small town, including a series of automated phone calls — big news in Boulder City — targeting Roche. Such wholesale, negative campaigning doesn’t tend to play well in the community.

Despite the politicking, the concerns about multimillion-dollar solar plants and the golf course, most everyone says the election ultimately is about preserving Boulder City as a unique place in Southern Nevada — however that is done.

“Boulder City has always been a bedroom community,” Gatlin said. “I don’t think we need some lofty goal other than to be the community we are.”

And in this town the people care.

As a rule about half the voters turn out in Boulder City — five times the typical percentage turnout in neighboring Henderson.

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