fter more than 100 years of having their water system owned and operated by someone else, the citizens of Santa Fe will head to the polls next Tuesday, Sept. 17, to decide if the city should purchase—for about $32 million—the treatment facilities, miles of pipeline, wells, buildings, and vehicles and acres of land that make up the Sangre de Cristo Water Co.

But the decision to purchase the Public Service Company of New Mexico water subsidiary is a more complex process than a simple “yes” or “no” on a ballot. Along with that decision come other, perhaps tougher, choices for Santa Fe’s voters to make. Voters will also be asked to finance the water system, via an additional one-half percent gross receipts tax on local sales transactions. Half of that tax would go to the city’s capital improvements fund, and would be used to purchase and maintain the system. The other half of the gross receipts tax would go toward paying for start-up costs during the city’s first three years of operating the system, and would also serve as a financial buffer…

Those are the questions that will appear on the ballot Sept. 17. But behind those initial questions are many others, ranging from who will run the system if it is purchased by the city, to what are the long-term costs of maintaining such a system. 

In addition to the almost-countless number of questions are the promises being made by the Santa Fe politicians who back the water buy-out.

They promise that rates will drop by 46 percent once the city takes over. No more costly increases from PNM, they say; instead, the city will lower the cost of water through bond issues, by not having to pay taxes, and by running the water system that is beholden only to local residents—not PNM shareholders…The water vote is the end result of weeks of negotiations between PNM executives and a city water negotiating committee made up of three city councilors—Carlos Gallegos, Art Sanchez and Richard Catanach.

The long, often-intense negotiations ended in an agreement in March calling for the city to buy the system.

This year marks SFR’s 40th anniversary. Celebrate with us by reading excerpts of stories that have graced our pages through the years. Voters rejected this plan in 1985, but in 1993, they approved a different plan, and the city became the proud owner of its own water system two years later. Comments? Suggestions? Email: editor@sfreporter.com