Santa Fe County raising water, sewer rates

June 15, 2018

Santa Fe County will increase its water rates by more than a third in the next two years and will raise sewer service rates by nearly 5 percent a year for the next five years, meaning significantly higher monthly bills for over 3,000 residents and businesses.

County commissioners unanimously approved the increases Tuesday night, saying the county needs to fund more of the utility’s operations with rate revenue and less with property and gross receipts taxes. Commissioner Robert Anaya was absent.

The rate adjustments were the first for the utility since 2011.

“It’s important that people understand the county has been, for many, many years, subsidizing our water and sewer,” Commissioner Anna Hansen said. “With that, it’s understandable we need to do something in order to make our rates start to pay for the infrastructure.”

Monthly water fees for both residential and nonresidential customers will rise 36 percent for all meter sizes by 2020; some customers will see the full increase take effect in July, while most will see it phased in over the next two years. Fixed sewer fees will increase 4.7 percent each year through 2023.

The county says a recent water and sewer study showed the increases were needed “to adequately support the operating needs of each utility.”

“It’s inflation,” said John Dupuis, the county utilities director. “We see a continuous, steady rise in those costs over time.”

Water utility operations costs alone, Dupuis said, have been running some $4.4 million annually, while the county, under the previous rate schedule, had brought in roughly $4 million in rate revenue.

“This strikes a good balance,” Commissioner Ed Moreno said. “It gives the message that we are determined to use rates for the future but that it has to be measured with reality. If it’s gonna hurt a little bit [now], it would be a big hurt down the road if we don’t do this.”

The county utility also has experienced a “significant increase” in customers as a result of service area annexation, according to a county memo. Annexation roughly doubled the number of meter connections, as well as the customer population.

The rate increases are one step toward making the utility self-supporting, according to the county memo, rather than funding utility projects with gross receipts and property taxes — to the tune of roughly $75 million since 1997.

An “average” county water customer, according to the county memo, would see a monthly bill increase of roughly $11 by next summer.

Customers with five-eighths-inch meters — who make up the vast majority of the 3,400-plus utility customers — would see their monthly fee rise from $14.50 to $18 beginning in July — and then to $22.83 beginning July 2020. Commissioners pushed for the two-year increase rather than an all-in-one uptick.

“It’s much more a gradual transition,” Dupuis said.

All other customers would see the full 36 percent fee increase take effect this coming fiscal year, which starts July 1, according to the proposed rate schedule — although Dupuis said the county had worked out arrangements with some larger customers, such as Santa Fe Community College, to implement the increase in the fall.

Usage charges per 1,000 gallons will increase 4.7 percent each fiscal year.

For sewer service, the new monthly fixed fee is $8.59 — a 2 percent increase from the rate that was scheduled to take effect next month in the old rate calendar, established in 2014.

The fixed sewer fee will rise 4.7 percent each fiscal year through 2023.

Beginning in fiscal year 2024, the water and sewer rates will be adjusted annually in correspondence with the regional Consumer Price Index.

The monthly charge for excess usage in the new sewer ordinance — starting at $5.10 for every 1,000 gallons above the base rate next year — envisions a roughly 4 percent increase each year. That’s about the same rate of increase as in the previous fee calendar.

Follow Tripp Stelnicki on Twitter @trippstelnicki.

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