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Revised utility fee would raise $6M for county

Commissioner, small utilities oppose usage charge on right-of-way

The Bernalillo County Commission will consider adopting an ordinance at its June 25 meeting that will institute a fee on utility companies that use county right-of-way to run water, sewer, electric and communications lines.

District 5 Commissioner Wayne Johnson, though, said he will not be voting for the new law.

“This is the county instituting a usage fee, which is really the imposition of a tax,” Johnson said.

State law allows counties “to impose charges for reasonable actual expenses” on utility companies using county right-of-way. In October 2012, the Bernalillo County Commission passed a resolution stating that the county could not charge a utility a franchise fee to use the right-of-way and established a set fee of $250 for the county to conduct design reviews on new projects.

The county also has a fee structure to cover the cost of damage to roads and other county property through the construction process, as well as maintenance.

The new ordinance, if passed, would repeal that resolution and institute a charge of 3 percent of the utility company’s gross revenue. That would be expected to raise about $6 million for the county every year.

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According to supporting documents from county staff, use of utility easements costs the county nearly $7 million each year. The ordinance would not only affect large utility companies such as Public Service Company of New Mexico, CenturyLink and Gas Company of New Mexico, but small neighborhood-based utilities as well.

Phil Pickman, board member of the Woodland Subdivision Sewer Cooperative Association, said rates would have to increase by nearly $20 a year for each of the association’s 73 members to cover the cost of the fee. Members already pay $360 a year to the association to maintain the small sewer system. With the ordinance, the county would be taking more money for the maintenance of the right-of-way than the actual cost, he said.

Entranosa Water and Wastewater Association, with about 2,300 members in Bernalillo County, also is opposed. John Jones, chief operations officer for Entranosa, said he doesn’t have a problem with the ordinance in general, saying the county has a right to “define responsibilities” in the use of utility easements. However, he said, implementation of the fees is contrary to what state law allows.

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