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Councilors agree to discuss reused water rates again

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The Rio Rancho Governing Body has agreed to hear more about reused water rates, concurring with a vote of the utilities commission.

Governing body members reached the consensus after a debate at their meeting Wednesday at City Hall. The utilities commission considered the matter at its Feb. 18 meeting.

City Manager Keith Riesberg said the potential buyers of Chamisa Hills Country Club requested a special, lower rate on the recycled water used to irrigate the course. City staff members decided it was best to consider a different rate for all users, eliminating any accusations of favoritism and separating the issue from the country club discussion.

“Staff agrees with the approach of setting the rate as a percentage of the potable (irrigation) water rate,” Riesberg said.

The recycled water rate is set to increase to $3.28 per 1,000 gallons, or 60 percent of the potable irrigation water rate, in July, on its way to becoming 70 percent of the potable irrigation rate in 2017.

Riesberg said the reused rate was set in 2013 based on a survey of other systems instead of an analysis of Rio Rancho’s situation.

The governing body’s decision on whether it is interested in revisiting rates would send a message to the potential country club buyers about the likelihood of a decrease in rates later, he said. The businessmen have said the recycled water rate decreae is vital to the club and their plans to buy it.

Thomas DeLeo, who lives on the golf course, asked the governing body to vote against reducing recycled water rates. DeLeo said irrigating a golf course isn’t the best use of water.

“If the golf course continues to use this water, fine, but no deals,” he said.

Rio Rancho will grow without the course, DeLeo said. He said he would pay his water bill without asking for a special deal.

Councilor Tim Crum argued for reducing rates, saying the city would get revenue from the recycled water.

Councilor Chuck Wilkins said he’s already stated he’s willing to give incentives to the golf course, but reducing the rates wasn’t in the city’s best interest. He said decreasing the rates would be a subsidy, and reusing water could force the city to buy more water rights by reducing return flow to the Rio Grande below state requirements.

At a utilities commission meeting last year, city water rights attorney Maria O’Brien of Modrall Sperling said the city wasn’t endangering its pumping permit by selling reused water. The state allows the city to balance the purchase of water rights with return flow, and Rio Rancho is more than meeting requirements by having more water rights than required at this point, she said.

Mayor Tom Swisstack reminded councilors the governing body was considering whether to have staff review the rate, not whether to decrease it. Swisstack pushed for a consensus, and eventually every councilor agreed to have staff review the rate.

In other business, governing body members:

  • Approved a $52,500 budget adjustment to finish a training facility and emergency operations center being built into the fire department administrator building. Most the money comes from the sale of two fire engines;
  • Approved a $63,000 budget adjustment to allow the police department to buy three extra vehicles, for a total of 24, with the savings from equipping the vehicles:
  • Appointed Frances Elizondo to the Senior Services Advisory Board;
  • Appointed Christopher Daniel to the Investment Advisory Group;
  • Adopted drug-free workplace rules; and
  • Approved submission of three grant applications.

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