DPU budgets potential for water rate hike

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By Kirsten Laskey

Drink up, Los Alamos.

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) indicates residents may soon be paying more for water.

How much?

Nothing is official, yet.

Janet Bettinger, deputy utility manager for administration and finance, told the Los Alamos Monitor she does not have a dollar amount for how much more DPU customers would have to pay. She added, just because these rate increases are in the preliminary budget does not mean they will ultimately be approved. Public hearings need to be conducted and county council has to approve the rates.

The preliminary 2012 fiscal year budget, which totals more than $72 million, shows a 5 percent increase to the water production rate, a 6 percent increase to the water distribution rate and a 10 percent rate increase for wastewater.

Bettinger reported the rate increases to the DPU board during its regular meeting Wednesday night.
The final budget report will be presented at the board’s March meeting and will go before the county council in April.

DPU customers’ utility bills would reflect the 6 percent water distribution increase and the 10 percent increase for wastewater, she said. The Department of Energy would see the 5 percent rate increase in water production.

According to agenda documents, the larger number of capital projects is the reason for the rise in rates.
The capital projects forecasted for the next 10 years include electric upgrades at the Abiquiu and El Vado hydroelectric plants and upgrades to the Abiquiu Governor Software.

Other projects include replacing cables, junction boxes and pedestals in Los Alamos and White Rock, replacing underground switchgear, work on N.M. 502, water line replacements in the eastern and western areas, sewer line rehab or replacement and DP Road lift station replacement.

DPU Board member Tim Neal asked if all capital projects for FY 2012 were equal in priority. The DPU fiscal year is from July to June.

Bettinger said the FY 2012 projects were prioritized and they all have priority. “The plan is to do all of them in 2012,” she said.

A hike in water rates is not the only thing going up in the budget. Bettinger also reported there will be a 3 percent planned salary increase for DPU employees, but there will also be a reduction of two full-time equivalent positions.  

There also is an increase of .35 percent for the bottom line for the engineer, customer service, meter reading and administration. The actual total for the administrative division for FY 2011 was $3,485,498 and the proposed budget for FY 2012 is $3,688,175. Bettinger said this is partly due to moving the Water and Energy Conservation Specialist to the engineering division. The engineering division also budgeted for software modifications to support an interface with the county’s accounting system, utility billing and GIS system.

In the electric production piece of the budget, Bettinger said there was a major increase due to the Los Alamos National Laboratory predicting an increase of 100,000-megawatt hours. The total operating expenses for electric production for FY 2011 was $37,840,538 and the proposed budget for FY 2012 is $45,226,810.

Additionally, Bettinger said, “We need to add $100,000 to $150,000 for a study for the Cabello Reservoir, It’s a pretty exciting project.”

In electric distribution, the superintendent, and miscellaneous direct administration are slated to increase due to an addition of $125,000 contract for software and service to model the electric system.

The total operating expenses for FY 2011 was $11,138,047 and the proposed budget for FY 2012 is $12,041,872.

Bettinger pointed out that the electric division has a negative cash flow and needs to borrow from other divisions.

She added DPU is trying to fix that by introducing a 5 percent rate increase. It will go before the county council Feb. 22. Bettinger said another proposed electric rate increase will be needed in 2013.  

There are no proposed increases for gas distribution.

In looking at the proposed budget, Bettinger said, “ I do feel like we have looked our expenses, cut where we could. You have to spend money in the utilities area (to keep it running and we have) gone through and prioritized those projects and looked at those expenses. We really have examined the expense and proposed what is necessary.”