Funds moved to help control odor problem

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Portales city councilors approved a $250,000 transfer from utility fund reserves to pay for a short-term fix for odors emanating from the wastewater treatment plant during a special meeting Monday. They also used the opportunity to review a water, wastewater and solid waste rate study.

Freeing up the reserve funds will allow the city to quickly accomplish work to reroute flow between lagoons at the wastewater plant. Dan Boivin, an engineer with Smith Engineering, made the recommendation to the council at its regular meeting last week.

The plan would reroute the flow making the lagoon with the most aeration capability the first in line at the plant. He told councilors it would go a long way toward improving odor problems at the plant for a limited time. He said ultimately a new plant is needed.

City Manager Debi Lee said Boivin has started the design of the short-term fix and the city will get three bids to do the work by the end of May. She expects work could be complete in June.

Lee said she is exploring grant and financing options for a new plant. The cost is estimated at $15.9 million. She said she hopes to secure grants that will drop the city’s burden to under $8 million.

After review of the rate study — which would increase an in-town residential user’s minimum rates by approximately $6.69 for water, sewer and solid waste — the council requested staff to fine tune and put the rate increases into ordinance form for consideration in July.
“We’re wanting to revisit especially the wastewater side to make sure we’re covering the debt service (that will be incurred with a new plant),” said Lee. “The rates are what’s going to support that debt.”

Water rates would increase 12.2 percent in the first year of the five-year rate plan. Wastewater would jump 11 percent in the first year while solid waste (trash) would take the biggest bump at 16 percent in the first year. In subsequent years rates for all three would increase by 5 percent annually.

“The issue was comparison to the state average,” Lee said. “We’re still considerably below the state average with this plan.”

City councilor Mike Miller said he realizes nobody wants to raise rates, but keeping up with infrastructure needs as the city is experiencing solid growth is important.

“I question it to some degree because we have a lot of residents on fixed incomes,” Miller said.

He said its obvious the city has fallen behind the curve on infrastructure but doesn’t feel anyone in particular is to blame.

“We’ve always been pretty conservative (as a city) — maybe to a fault,” he said. “People are demanding services and services cost money.”

Of the 16 cities the study used in the comparison, only Silver City and Raton were lower on water rates. Texico, Raton and Farmington were lower on wastewater.

The study also discovered the city had fallen behind on its tap (connection) fees and large increases were needed to catch up to the actual cost. A in-town residential water tap fee would go from $300 to $800 under the proposal and a sewer tap for the same customer would jump from $250 to $400.