Council Considers Sewer Rate Increase Sept. 25

COUNTY News:

Officials with the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities (DPU) will request the Los Alamos County Council to approve a rate increase of 8 percent for sewage services.

The increase will help the DPU to establish sufficient revenue to sustain future debt service to replace the White Rock wastewater treatment plant while maintaining adequate funding for the entire wastewater collection and treatment system.

The public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25 in Council Chambers at 1000 Central Ave., in Los Alamos. If adopted, proposed Los Alamos Code Ordinance 02-288 will go into effect immediately.

The proposed rate increase is the continuation of a strategic plan developed by DPU staff, members from the Board of Public Utilities and County Councilors to respond to the need to replace the White Rock wastewater treatment facility at an estimated $14 to $17 million price tag. 

Designed to minimize the financial impact on customers, the original 2010 plan was designed to spread out the necessary rate increase over a series of years and limiting those increases to no more than 8 percent. The intent was to pay down an existing loan that was used to replace the Los Alamos wastewater treatment plant and extend the life of the White Rock wastewater plant until such time when the DPU would be able to qualify for a new loan to replace the White Rock plant. 

When it became apparent that the DPU was still shy of necessary funds to qualify for a new loan, DPU staff, members from the BPU and councilors convened to update the strategy. Again, with the aim to minimize the financial impact on customers. The new strategy included adopting a special ordinance to authorize a one-time transfer of funds in the amount of $2.5 million from the natural gas fund to the wastewater fund. These funds were used to pay down the existing Los Alamos wastewater treatment plant loan and refinance at a lower interest rate, saving more than $450,000 in annual debt service payments. 

The DPU is now in the process of obtaining a new low interest loan to pay for the White Rock replacement facility through the State of New Mexico revolving loan program. 

The 8 percent increase scheduled to go before the county council Sept. 25, will demonstrate sufficient revenue for the future debt service of this new loan, re-initiate a modest annual capital improvement program for the collection system, maintain adequate treatment and collection system operation and maintenance funds, and develop wastewater system cash reserves to meet the financial policy goals adopted by the Board of Public Utilities and presented to the County Council. 

According to Deputy Utilities Manager Jack Richardson, customers should not assume that if this 8 percent is adopted that the department is done with rate increases. 

“The DPU wastewater system 10- and 20-year financial plan models project that additional smaller increases will be required in the following couple of years,” he said. “The models also project a future period of three to four years with no rate increases. After that, any additional increases should be inflationary in nature.”

Under the proposed ordinance, the monthly service fee for all customer classes will increase from $10.27 to $11.09. In addition to the monthly service fee, the department charges a flat, fixed rate per dwelling unit to residential customers each month for collecting and treating sewage. The collection and treatment charge for single family residential customers will increase from $37.18 to $40.15. For residential customers that are not individually metered such as apartment complexes, the fixed charge per dwelling until will increase from $30.97 to $33.45.  

Unlike residential customers, commercial customers are charged a variable rate for the collection and treatment of sewage based on the winter average of potable water delivered with a minimum 2,000 gallons. The proposed ordinance will increase the variable rate from $17.50 to $18.90 per 1,000 gallons. The adjustment factor applied to the volume of water consumed by commercial customers will be reduced by 8 percent; with the adjustment factor projected to be phased out completely over the next two to three years.

A “Frequently Asked Questions” summary has been developed by the DPU and posted on its website at https://rebrand.ly/DPU-SewerRate.

Los Alamos citizens are invited to provide public comment at the public hearing at 6 p.m., Sep. 25 in Council Chambers. 

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) operates the county-owned electric, gas, water & wastewater systems under the jurisdiction of the Board of Public Utilities. Board meetings are held on the third Wednesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at 1000 Central Ave., in Los Alamos. The public is welcome. Funded by rates paid for electric, gas, water and wastewater services and auxiliary fees, the DPU has provided the community with these services for more than 50 years. CustomerCare@lacnm.us | 505.662.8333 | www.losalamosnm.us/government/departments/UTILITIES.

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