Since the recession began in 2008, both the cities of Farmington and Santa Fe have transferred cash reserves from their electric and water funds, respectively, to fund general city operations.
Such transfers are easy to do in those cities because the utilities are under the jurisdiction of their city councils. When our county was formed in 1968, the citizens worried that future Councils might jeopardize the economic viability of its utilities for political expediency. Utility infrastructure is long lived, and it is too easy for political leadership to ” kick the can down the road” and use utility revenues or reserves to avoid making hard decisions. The net result for the utility customer is often long term decline in utility service and new hidden taxes for citizens.
Article 5 of the Los Alamos County Charter puts the Department of Public Utilities under the jurisdiction and control of the Board of Public Utilities. The Board has very limited power in that the Department’s budget, rates and any significant purchase must also be approved by the County Council. The real power of the County’s Charter is that any significant decision regarding Utilities must be approved by both bodies. This one fact raises the bar for the use of utility funds for any purpose other than to operate and maintain the utility system. This provides important protection to the Utilities customer.
The Charter revision on the ballot changes this dynamic by providing a dispute resolution process whereby the Council can override the Board. Citizens set limits on the powers of its elected officials through the Charter. The existing Article 5 significantly limits the Council powers regarding the use of Utility’s revenues and reserves and this has served the County well for over 40 years. Utility customers do not have to attend Council meetings to defend their rates and reserves from competing interests, and they should not have to. I recommend that you vote no on Charter question 2 to retain the protections provided in our Charter.