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County Commission Rejects Water Rate Hike

Divided vote shows commissioners' concerns over business impacts

November 29, 2016, 12:20 am

Water costs won’t be going up for Santa Fe County residents and businesses. 

Local lawmakers on Tuesday rejected a water rate hike for Santa Fe County residents and businesses. The proposed increase was a move county public utility employees said was necessary to meet increased operating costs, about $1 million worth. 

The proposed ordinance would have increased monthly service costs, as well as the fee per 1,000 gallons of water used, over two years beginning January 1. The average residential water customer, who uses about 5,000 gallons a month, would have seen their monthly rates increase from $44.50 to $51.09.

Before the vote, county Utilities Division Director Claudia Borchert said failing to pass the rate increase would force her department to make tough choices. She checked off a list of hypotheticals: "Do we stop providing good customer service? When people call the county, we answer the phone. Will we put people who want new meters on a new schedule?”  

The Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 against the rate increases.

Commissioner Liz Stefanics, who represents the district that includes Santa Fe Community College, asked Borchert how the county can accommodate businesses who will see particularly high increases. Stefanics, who ends her term this year to move back to the state Senate, voted against the increases along with Commissioners Henry Roybal and Robert Anaya.

During a public comment session, representatives from the Rancho Viejo South subdivision and the Club at Las Campanas spoke against the ordinance.

"The service charge rate hike punishes conservationists. No matter how much they use, they still pay that rate hike up front,” said Linda Perrone, a resident of the Rancho Viejo subdivision.

Anaya, who represents a predominately rural district south of Santa Fe, suggested that the increased costs for operating the water utility could be sorted out in the county budgeting process for next year, rather than “at the 11th hour in December."  

Commissioners Miguel Chavez and Kathy Holian, both of whom end their terms at the end of the year, voted in favor of the ordinance. Holian, who represents the district comprising the east side of the county, said the hike was “fair,” adding, “Customer water rates should completely cover the costs of the utility, and it’s not fair to make other taxpayers who are not using as much water subsidize the cost."

The changes failed despite an amendment to exempt some low-income households from the increases.


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