Talon News - Good Local News

By Debbie Israel
TALON 

CITY LISTENS TO UTILITY CONCERNS

Rate Study Continues

 


Emotions were running high - anger, fear, frustration, and worry to name a few, when Aztec residents packed the commission room on Monday evening, May 8, to discuss the proposed rate hikes for utilities. Many of the people attending the meeting were under the impression that new rates were already set in stone and there was nothing they could do about it. Others came with useful suggestions for commissioners. Some were accusatory, expressing their frustrations.

Since the first public meeting was held about a month ago, city staff and the members of the Raftelis team have continued to work toward utility rates that are fair to all the citizens of Aztec, and will hopefully, prevent the sticker shock that some are coming to expect. Again, no formal action has been taken on these rates, these are still proposals, and the subject is still open for discussion. This most recent meeting was to provide information and options to commissioners, mayor and the general public. Nothing was voted on, no action has been taken.

Before the meeting, talking to people around town, some were under the impression that their entire city utility bill was going to be increased by 60%, which is not what is happening, or what was proposed at the last meeting. During this meeting, the proposals had been slightly modified, and Raftelis offered up three different alternatives for consideration. The proposed increase to the wastewater portion of the equation was changed to a 45% increase during the first year, following by another 45% the second year and much smaller increases for the next three years. This is just on the wastewater portion of the bill.

The whole rate study is available on the city’s website: aztecnm.gov for anyone who wants to review all the options.

David and Linda Martin, retired residents living in the Kokopelli subdivision, wrote up a petition requesting that commissioners don’t raise the rates. They passed the petition around to their neighbors and also asked those attending the meeting to sign. When the petition was presented to commissioners, it had a little over 70 signatures.

Michelle Anthony, owner of Ramsey Realty, asked commissioners when the last rate hikes were for city utility customers. Mayor Sally Burbridge replied that there was an increase in the wastewater rates in 2013 and previous to that, an increase in the base charges for water and wastewater in 2010. “Those raises amounted to $4 or $5,” Burbridge said. Anthony was concerned about keeping her businesses going if she had to pay huge utility bills.

Former Aztec City Commissioner and current County Commission Jim Crowley, suggested that the city could look at using more of the reserves that are already accumulated to pay for some of the future projects that are planned, instead of incurring more debt. He also asked about “postponing debt until we hopefully have more revenue.”

Dale Anderson suggested that commissioners might look at assets and long-term bonding. “City bonds are very attractive right now,” he said. According to Mayor Burbridge, in order to pass the bond, first the city would have to see if they have the capacity for bonding, then it would have to be approved with a public vote during a special election, and then it would have to be purchased on the open market. “We would have to pledge some sort of revenue stream to help pay the bond back, which could be rate revenues or gross receipts taxes,” she said. That option might also cause the utility rates to be increased, but at smaller increments than the current proposal. Burbridge feels like it doesn’t make sense to use long term financing to pay for maintenance projects. “We need to do some prudent planning,” she said.

Bill Everett, who attended the meeting with his sister Blanche, both of whom are on fixed incomes, said that he understands the city can’t provide the services for free, but the potential of a doubled utility bill within the next five years is something he doesn’t look forward to. “I know it’s important to keep infrastructure up, but Aztec is populated by a lot of older people on fixed incomes,” Bill said, adding that “it is hard for those people to keep up with higher utility bills.” and “It sounds a little drastic and I’m not sure how it’s going to add to Aztec’s growth and prosperity.”

City officials said there is help available for those who cannot pay their utility bill, and all they need to do is ask in the utility office. That will get the ball rolling. They offer three different options, according to the utility office. One is assistance through the Salvation Army, one is a low income program through the state called “LIHEAP,” and the third is a payment plan. All three are available for those in need of financial help.

There will be one more opportunity for public input before the new rates go back to commissioners for a vote. The date of that meeting has not been determined.

 

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