The agenda for the governing body meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall includes a request from administration for permission to review the rates in light of potential buyers of Rio Rancho’s only golf course asking for lower recycled water charges to make the business profitable. At city administrators’ request, the utilities commission voted unanimously Tuesday to direct city staff to review rates.
If governing body members agree to revisit the rates, staff members will bring more information before them for discussion March 26, according to the city. That information would include any action from the March 18 utilities commission meeting.
Local businessmen Robert Gallagher and Jhett Browne have announced they’d like to buy the troubled Chamisa Hills Country Club, but say the venture isn’t economical if the current rates and schedule of increases for recycled water, which irrigates the club’s golf course, remain.
According to city information, a governing body vote to reconsider the rate structure would indicate intent to Gallagher and Browne, who have requested a response to their proposal for decreased rates by March 1.
“I hate to say it, that’s fluff,” Councilor Chuck Wilkins said of the agenda item.
Governing body members have already said they’re willing to consider an incentive for the golf course, he said. Wilkins said it would be more appropriate to wait until after the March 4 elections, since the replacement of two to four governing body members could cause a 180-degree change of direction.
“I would like to see it go through normal procedures,” Wilkins said of a rate decrease.
Normally, the utilities commission would make a recommendation and then the governing body would accept, reject or modify it.
On the other hand, City Councilor Mark Scott, whose district includes the country club, said in a mass email that he appreciates City Manager Keith Riesberg trying to move the issue along and get direction from the governing body.
“When the last potential buyer was before him, he spent a lot of his time and his staff’s time working on the golf course issue,” Scott wrote. “I believe that his due diligence is very important to the process and the protection of the city at large.”
Browne and Gallagher are asking that the recycled water rates be 20 percent of the rate for potable irrigation water. The current recycled water rate is 50 percent of the potable irrigation rate and is set increase to 70 percent within a few years.
Wilkins expressed hesitation to change the recycled water rate for all users. Most cities in the region charge 80 percent to 100 percent of the potable irrigation water rate, he said, so Rio Rancho’s eventual 70-percent rate would be proportionally lower than most municipalities.
Rio Rancho’s overall water rates are higher than Albuquerque’s, however, so a lower percentage still means a higher bill.
Water rates are set by ordinance, so any change would have to pass two readings at separate governing body meetings to take effect. Gallagher has said time is of the essence, so he and Browne can begin rehabilitating the golf course grass for the coming growing season.
The agenda also includes votes on:
- Budget adjustments to pay for remodeling of the fire department headquarters;
- A budget adjustment to buy police vehicles;
- Authorization of grant applications;
- Adoption of a drug-free workplace policy;
- Appointment of Frances Elizondo to the Senior Services Advisory Board; and
- Appointment of Christopher Daniel to the Investment Advisory Group.
A Presbyterian Rust Medical Center presentation is also scheduled.