ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Kirtland Air Force Base is $564,744.77 behind on its sewer and water bills, Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority records show. Kirtland officials Monday admitted the problem, blaming cumbersome federal accounting processes and a billing address mix-up, and they say they hope to pay off their past due balance by the end of May.
“Paying our obligations is something we take very seriously and making those payments in a timely manner is very important to me and my staff,” Col. Jeff Lanning, one of the base’s senior officers, wrote in an email to the water utility Monday afternoon.
Monday’s pledge by Lanning to fix the problem came after an email sent last week by water utility chief executive Mark Sanchez to a long list of senior base officials and staff of New Mexico’s congressional delegation pleading for help with the problem.
“Hopefully someone in this email chain can get these bills paid and current going forward,” Sanchez wrote. “This level of delinquency is not something the Water Authority can carry going forward.”
Most of the money is the result of unpaid sewage bills. Kirtland pumps most of its own water from groundwater wells on the Air Force base, and the water utility authority disposes of the base’s sewage.
According to water utility authority records, $518,456.32 owed as of the end of April came from a growing unpaid balance in the base’s $84,284.13 monthly sewage bill. The Air Force last made a monthly sewer bill payment Jan. 31, according to water utility records.
Kirtland also pays $5,860.34 a month to maintain backup water line connections the base could use if it had problems with its primary water well supply system. Those bills have not been paid since December, according to water utility authority records.
Base officials said the recent accumulation of unpaid bills happened because Kirtland was not receiving the water utility authority’s bills in the mail. Water utility authority spokesman David Morris said his agency, when the Air Force said it was not receiving its bills, tried emailing them directly to the Kirtland staff member responsible for dealing with the problem, but the bills still went unpaid.
But even before the mailing address confusion, water utility authority records show the Air Force over the past year was routinely four to five months behind on its bills.
Base officials blame those delays on the bureaucracy of getting the bills through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Indianapolis, the Defense Department office responsible for actually processing the bills and sending the checks.
Morris said the email came after repeated attempts by water utility staff over the past year to get the bills paid. The water utility has no way to cut off service, Morris said, because it can never interrupt sewer service, and the other bills were for standby lines that are not currently in use.
Morris said the law also does not permit the water utility to assess financial penalties against federal government customers.