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DPU eyes rate increase for spring

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Paying for White Rock plant > DPU plans rate increase by $29.28, or 6.25%

By Tris DeRoma

By spring, Los Alamos County residents could pay more for their water consumption, as the Board of Public Utilites considers a rate increase in the next few months.

The Department of Public Utilities wants to raise water rates by $29.48 this year, or 6.25 percent.

The rate increase was part of a previous rate structure plan approved last year to pay for new wastewater treatment plant in White Rock.

However, the increase has to be approved by the Los Alamos Board of Public Utilities, then Los Alamos County Council.

The department is planning on at least two public hearings through March, one through the Board of Public Utilities meeting in February and another through a Los Alamos County Council meeting tentatively in March.

“We’re trying to balance our revenue requirements of what we need to see in terms of revenue with the new rate,” Los Alamos Public Utilities Deputy Manager Westervelt said. “…We want to give our customers a chance to see the rates and see the rate on a modest amount of water consumption so they can make an informed decision on what they want to do with their springtime irrigation.”

The increase, if approved, would put the average resident’s annual water bill at just over $500, according to figures provided by the Department of Public Utilities.

The figures also include a comparison analysis with other northern New Mexican communities. Using a Los Alamos median household income of $109,707  the department based on a state average, .46 percent of that income would go toward paying for total annual water consumption, if approved.

In comparison, annual costs for water in Española based on a median household income of $30,336 is 1.25 percent, or $531.32 a year according to figures from the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities. In Santa Fe, residents pay $657.36 a year or 1.31 percent of an average income of $50,213.

The board plans to hold a public hearing in February. If the board approves the increase as is, it will be submitted for approval to the Los Alamos County Council in March, where another public hearing on the rate increase will be held.

Board of Public Utilities Chair Jeff Johnson, suggested to department officials they ask for a little more of a rate increase.

The reasoning being the high amount of snowfall may lead to a decrease in water sales by the Department of Utilities.

There was also another discussion on how upcoming well replacement projects may deplete the department’s cash reserves.

Board member Stephen McLin, however, thought it would be a good idea to keep the rate increase at 6.25 percent.

The  county already approved the department’s plan and a rate structure last year that would keep rate increases low while at the same time pay for a new wastewater treatment plant in White Rock. However, McLin said the increase is still going to probably be a “hard sell” to the public when public hearings on the increase start happening in February and March.

“The reality is we don’t like it, but we’re going to have to do it. Let’s not overdo it,” McLin said.

Johnson urged his fellow board members to reconsider.

“If you have to drive a hundred miles and you only have 90 miles worth of gas… that’s a tough sell too,” Johnson said.

In the end, the board recommended to the Department of Public Utilities to make its presentation before the board next month based on the 6.25 percent increase.