Following several amendments, the Rio Rancho governing body on Wednesday unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that would help assist residents living within the poverty line pay their water bill.
The ordinance was first introduced and sponsored by councilors Jim Owen and Cheryl Everett earlier this month. The program would assist water customer applicants who are living within 133 percent of the poverty line as calculated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources. The poverty level for a family of four, according to the ordinance, is an annual $24,300 salary, and 133 percent of the poverty level is $32,319. According to most recent U.S. census data, the median household income in Rio Rancho is $59,243, with 11.3 percent of city residents living in poverty.
Rate-payers in the program would receive 30 percent in assistance of the total utility bill each month.
“We get a lot of calls that our water bills are significantly higher than other places and that does make it difficult for some people,” Owen said.
Everett said the governing body should consider residents who have struggled to keep up with the city’s five-year water rate hike, which has ended this fiscal year.
“We need to make the improvements to this system that these water rate increases are funding, but we don’t want to crush individual citizens under the machinery of going forward,” she said.
Before passing the ordinance, the governing body amended and passed a resolution that provided guidelines to the ordinance. According to the resolution, funds for the assistance program will be funded through monetary donations made by utility customers, citizens and other entities. By Sept. 15, the city will review if enough money has been collected for the program. The program will be established by Nov. 1 if sufficient funds are found.
Amendments proposed by councilors Jennifer Flor and Dawnn Robinson introduced time limits to the ordinance: Rate-payers accepted into the program would be allowed assistance for a maximum of three consecutive months and a lifetime maximum of 12 months. Rate-payers who are applicable can reapply for the program, as long as they are within the 12 months lifetime maximum.
Councilor Marlene Feuer said she was in favor of the program and any private donations that would fund the program.
“I am a fiscal conservative, but I believe there are times where people need fiscal assistance and it can become a health and safety issue,” Feuer said. “I had a homeowner in my district whose water was shut off and people were defecating in the backyard.”
In other business: City councilors unanimously approved an $891,869 budget adjustment to fund the city’s infrastructure fund for road crew equipment, materials and supplies.
The vote followed a decision made last June, when the governing body adopted a resolution that would provide unanticipated general fund revenues at the end of a fiscal year to be allocated to the city’s paved-road repair fund.
According to the resolution, 70 percent of the surplus revenue would be distributed to fund road repairs, 20 percent to city equipment replacement and 10 percent to address the city’s information technology needs. The resolution also requires the governing body to have funding to hire and equip a paved-road repair crew in the city’s budget and general fund five-year financial plan by 2019.
The resolution approved this week will help purchase new equipment for public work staff. The new equipment, the resolution states, will increase “paved-road repair production in crack-sealing miles from 3 to 5 miles to 12 miles annually and for crack patching miles from 3 miles to 10 miles annually.”