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Legislative water issues loom

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Rio Rancho legislators said Monday they are hopeful state and local officials will reach an agreement to appropriate $5.36 million in capital outlay funds to fix broken water lines in the city and drill a new well.

“The Martinez administration supports both of these important projects,” Ryan Flynn, secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, said. These projects will “improve the city’s infrastructure and will provide a sound foundation for economic growth,” he added.

State Reps. Tim Lewis and Jason Harper said Gov. Susana Martinez has not yet finished prioritizing projects for which she wants to receive capital outlay dollars.

The two Republican lawmakers said the water projects meet the governor’s criteria: leverage matching funds, spend full funding in one budget cycle and have a useful life longer than the bond duration of 10 years.

Martinez in November proposed to spend $112 million, or 60 percent of all capital outlay, on water projects. At the time, she expected about $187 million would be available for capital outlay appropriations during this year’s 30-day legislative session.

The Legislative Council Service this month forecast severance tax bonding capacity for the legislative session at $222 million. Last year, the Legislature approved $218 million for capital outlay.

State lawmakers are expected to negotiate with the Republican governor on what share of the total capital outlay dollars her projects will receive. The remainder will go to the House and Senate, for splitting among their members.

Lewis said a competing capital outlay bill from Democrats will likely surface. He hopes both bills, which could reflect differing priorities, will appropriate funds for water lines and wells in Rio Rancho.

It could take the city more than a decade to fix its deteriorating water lines, but it could face a crisis if one of its wells went out.

Last year, several Rio Rancho legislators pooled $1.08 million of their individual capital outlay allocations to pay for work on broken water lines. The city waited several months to receive that money and hopes to soon hire a crew.

In September, the Rio Rancho Governing Body approved its legislative capital outlay priorities for 2014. Among them were $1.46 million for replacing water lines and $3.89 million to drill a new well that will compensate for wells that began deteriorating in the past two decades.

According to documents from Peter Wells, city spokesman, the new well will cost $9.3 million, but water impact fees, utility bonds and possibly a loan will make up the difference.

In recent summers, the demand for water by residents has exceeded 85 percent of the city’s pumping capacity. If one well or a couple booster stations broke down, residents would have to alternate their water usage, with perhaps different days for different residents.

The governing body last year decided to raise household water rates each year through 2017. Part of the increase should generate about a million dollars annually to fix water service line leaks.

Customers reported 805 service leaks and 35 main breaks in fiscal year 2013.

Recent estimates from the city, according to Wells, indicate it will cost $22.5 million to install copper pipes in the place of all 14,930 polyethylene water service lines, which were installed 15 to 25 years ago.

If the Legislature and the governor agree on the funding for Rio Rancho water projects, area legislators hope to spend their personal share of capital outlay dollars on other community priorities. Economic development, quality of life (including public safety) and road projects were raised as priorities during a public forum at City Hall last month, Lewis said.

Harper said Rio Rancho legislators will meet in early February to discuss combining their funds, prioritizing projects and getting the best bang for their buck.

The city submitted several other capital outlay priorities to the state last fall: $17.83 million for road projects, $3.2 million for an advanced water treatment facility, $2 million for fire department needs, $1.91 million for police vehicles and $608,000 for city parks.

Individual lawmakers, according to the Legislative Council Service, have until Sunday to submit requests for capital outlay.

The Legislature usually has more capital outlay requests than it can fund. And one local legislator wants to reduce the amount spent on capital outlay and save the state money.

The Legislative Finance Committee has already received several capital outlay requests from entities in Sandoval County, including $1.85 million to construct a Bernalillo senior center, $1.2 million to improve the Peña Blanca water system, $440,000 to build a Torreon senior center and $215,000 for senior center vehicles.

Harper has introduced a bill that aims to shore up the solvency of the severance permanent fund; legislators spend 95 percent of the fund each year. He wants 12.5 percent to go back into the fund annually. His plan would reduce bonding capacity but earn the state $63 million over 10 years.