BPU Recommending Water & Sewer Rate Increases

DPU Deputy Manager Robert Westervelt
Los Alamos Daily Post

It was a tough pill to swallow but the Board of Public Utilities agreed to recommend that Los Alamos County Council approve two ordinances that would give multi-year rate increases to water and sewer rates.

The ordinances were passed during the BPU meeting Oct. 16.

The ordinance for raising sewer rates was passed unanimously but the water rate ordinance passed 4-1. Board member Stephen McLin cast the opposing vote.

Now, the ordinances will be introduced Oct. 29 to council. Council will consider adoption of the recommended rate increases during its Nov. 26 meeting.

The rate increases for water would be 5 percent in fiscal year 2020, 4.25 percent in fiscal year 2021 and 4 percent in fiscal year 2022. If approved, a residential customer in a single-family home who consumes 6,000 gallons of water a month would see his or her monthly water bill increase from $41.75 to $43.81 in fiscal year 2020, $45.70 in fiscal year 2021 and $47.52 in fiscal year 2022.

The rate increases for sewer services would be 6 percent in fiscal year 2020, 3 percent in fiscal year 2021 and 2 percent in fiscal year 2022.

The monthly rates would increase from $51.24 to $54.32 in fiscal year 2020, $55.95 in fiscal year 2021 and $57.07 in fiscal year 2022.

While the ordinances didn’t receive a warm response from the board, there seemed to be consensus that they are a necessity.

“I think this stinks but I think it is the best thing to do, probably,” Board Chair Carrie Walker said regarding the sewer rate increase. “The multi-year (rate increases) are scary but I think we already know what the needs are, and I think to pretend that we don’t need further rate increases is a little bit dishonest.”

Board member Jeff Johnson said, “From my perspective, we have the financial policy, which guides our financial projections and that’s coupled with the budget; the process is very transparent. The department doesn’t hire extra people … it kind of is what it is.” 

McLin said he felt he couldn’t support the water rate increases because he felt the rates were not equal across all users. He pointed out that single family households would pay more than multi-family households and commercial customers. It seems single family residents are supplementing other utility customers, McLin said. 

“It’s just a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “I am not convinced the rates are equitable across all groups … I still have some mixed feelings about it.”

Department of Public Utilities Deputy Manager Robert Westervelt pointed out the proposed water and sewer rates are not set in stone. They can be changed, if needed, he said.

“We are proposing a three-year step increase … This doesn’t lock us into those three years, it makes those three years happen absent any other action,” Westervelt said.

The rate increases are needed because while DPU reinvested during the past 10 years close to $16 million in water infrastructure and $6 million in wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure, more is needed to continue maintaining and operating the systems. 

Additionally, the utility board approved a long-range financial plan, which included water and sewer rates. What is being proposed are in the final three steps of the rate increases.