Ute pipeline may cause water rates to double

Jack King

TUCUMCARI — Monthly water rates in some area communities could double or triple once the Ute water pipeline is in place, a financial study says.
The rates of all communities participating in the project would rise and beyond some communities’ capacities to pay without various types of support, Clovis Public Works Director Harry Wang told Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority board members at a meeting Wednesday.
The projected increase covers the cost of purchasing water in the system, plus each community’s share of the system’s operation and maintenance expenses, Wang said.
To combat the increases, board members are discussing strategies like raising water rates or taxes, or “cost leveling,” where more financially able communities bear slightly extra costs so that other communities can afford to buy water from the project.
Wang has been consulting with communities participating in the project, developing a set of tables showing the cost to each. The study is in preparation of a report on each community’s ability and willingness to pay that will be necessary to get Congressional funding, said Clovis Mayor David Lansford, the board’s chairman.
On a table of figures — unadjusted for rate or tax increases, or cost leveling — that Wang provided Wednesday, Tucumcari’s monthly rate per user goes from an average $31 under current rates to $106 when using Ute Lake water — an increase of 242 percent. Melrose’s costs increase from a current average of $18 per month to $83 per month — an increase of 368 percent.
Wang said he didn’t figure rate increases for Curry, Roosevelt or Quay counties, or Cannon Air Force Base, also project participants, because the counties don’t have water systems even though they have reserved water under the project.
Discussing cost leveling, Lansford noted that by increasing Clovis’ proposed monthly rate under the project by a dollar, from $72 to $73, one could reduce Melrose’s proposed monthly rate 290 percent, from a $83 per month to $32 per month.
But he added cost leveling should be used only after each community had increased water rates or taxes, or both, as much as it could.
“Cost sharing won’t be hard to sell to the public, unless it seems that the other communities do nothing. Each should go back (to his community) and ask, ‘What can we do?’” he said.
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega suggested that cost sharing should be done within counties, so that communities are supporting their neighbors.
Melrose representative Darrell Bostwick said a gross receipts tax increase in Melrose should bring monthly costs down, but, he said, he’s beginning to look more favorably on cost leveling.
“I didn’t want it to begin with, but when you stop and think, the people of Melrose shop in Clovis. We’re part of Curry County. I can see it could work for all of us,” he said.
But for some communities cost sharing may not be the solution, officials said.
Wang said Tucumcari has a large cost because it has reserved a large amount of water, 6,000 acre feet. But there is no other community in Quay County wealthy enough to share its costs, he added.
Tucumcari Mayor Calvin Littlefield said his town still is not willing to give up its water share.
“Economic development is fixing to get real active. If we get two or three businesses that use water, we’ll need it, and we’ll be able to afford it. When the time comes (to decide on ability and willingness to pay), we’ll either make provision for Clovis to take some of it or we’ll pay for it,” he said.
San Jon representative Jim Lafferty said his community faces still faces problems.
“The majority of our citizens are senior citizens and our community can’t afford a 90 percent increase. Cost leveling doesn’t look as if it would work as well for Quay County,” he said.
In other business, board members interviewed four candidates for a project manager, but said they will not make a final decision until later this month. The candidates are: Michael Barnes of Tucumcari; Daniel Israel of Boulder, Colo.; Scott Verhires, who would work with two other representatives of the Louis Berger Group Inc. engineering company — Peter Polk and Joe Pratt; and Richard Smith of Clovis.