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Friday, March 14, 2003

New City-County Utility Ownership Proposed

By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE A joint city-county water authority would oversee Albuquerque's $5 billion water utility under a measure heading to the Senate floor.
    The proposal replaces a previous plan by Senate Majority Leader Manny Aragon that would have allowed Bernalillo County to take over the city's water utility.
    The joint authority would own and oversee the utility as well as set water rates, county officials said.
    The county supports the proposal. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez so far does not.
    Aragon, who represents the South Valley, said the county ought to have greater say in the utility because rural residents pay rates and because the county has invested $111 million in North and South Valley water infrastructure projects.
    "The city of Albuquerque hasn't put in a penny," Aragon told members of the Senate Conservation Committee on Thursday.
    Aragon's new bill is SB 887 committee substitute; it replaces SB 793.
    The joint utility would consist of three county commissioners, two city councilors and Albuquerque's mayor.
    "I'm opposed to (joint authority) unless that's the only choice I have," Chávez said Thursday. Chávez also said the measure would violate bond covenants, something county officials deny.
    "The income that secures the promise to repay the bonds remains intact," said County Commissioner Tim Cummins. Cummins said the bonds for water-related projects are issued on behalf of rate-paying customers and the joint authority wouldn't affect that, he said.
    City Councilor Greg Payne also opposes the measure, calling it a "raw political move by the county to take something that isn't theirs."
    "If the county wants the utility that Albuquerque rate-payers built and paid for, they can write a check outright," he said. "But to try and take it over with legislative games and procedures is political theft."
    County lobbyist Dan Weaks said rate-payers would know their money is going to the water system under the proposal.
    "One reason the city has had money problems is because they have taken money out of the water and sewer operation to pay for other things," he said.
    Some senators are leery of the plan and wanted the committee to have more time to consider the measure before it was sent to the Senate floor.
   

    Journal reporter Dan McKay contributed to this report.