Belen City Council unanimously approves water and sewer rate increases

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Belen city councilors voted unanimously to approve an ordinance for increased water, sewer and garbage rates.

The increases will be reflected in Belen residents’ and business’ March utility bills.

The increased rates are aimed at addressing the city’s crumbling infrastructure, which is dire need of improvements and replacements.

Councilor Mary Aragon made a motion to pass the proposed rate increases at the council’s Feb. 20 meeting, with Councilor Lorenzo Carrillo seconding the motion.

Aragon said raising utility rates is a hard decision to make, but it’s one that needs to be made.

“I think we’re going to have to do it, not only for our citizens, but for our infrastructure, for our pipes, for everything,” Aragon said. “We have do it.”

The increased rates have been the No. 1 discussion among city officials, who hosted three public hearing and one workshop to inform residents why the rates were needed.

During the public hearings, a Powerpoint presentation highlighted infrastructure problems in the city, including one out of five water wells that is shut down due to leaking, a 30-year-old waste water treatment plant needing to be replaced and aged water and sewer lines creating a larger problem when leaks spring up.

The rate increases would allow the city to qualify for grants through New Mexico Finance Authority for infrastructure needs, said Marcia Amaro, Belen Water Department collections supervisor.

In the amended ordinance, residents and commercial businesses are charged the same base and commodity rate for water, sewer and garbage.

Water rates for single-family homes, apartment complexes, mobile home parks and commercial businesses in the city limits increased from $19.77 to a base rate of $20.55 for up to 3,000 gallons used. After 3,001 gallons used, residents and businesses are charged an additional commodity rate of $2.87 per each 1,000 gallons.

Sewer rates increased from $20.61 to a base rate of $24.91 for up to 3,000 gallons used. After 3,001 gallons used, residents are charged an additional commodity rate of $3.60 per each 1,000 gallons.

With the increased rates, an average user’s utility bill will increase about $14 for using 6,000 gallons of water and sewer, Amaro said.

Amaro said residents she’s spoken to have said, “It’s about time,” city officials increase utility rates.

“They just want to see things happen if we’re going to raise them,” she said.

City officials said they secured the funds in each of the utility accounts to avoid future officials from siphoning the money to other funds and depleting the funds designated for infrastructure needs, which is what happened previously.

Although officials don’t know how much money will be accumulated by the rate increases, Amaro said it would take about three years before the city had enough money to move forward with infrastructure projects.

City officials are looking into setting up a good neighbor fund, which would give residents the option on their utility bill to pitch in money for residents who can’t afford to pay their bill, said Leona Vigil, the city’s deputy clerk.

Resident Sabrina Botts said this fund is a great idea, especially for her elderly mother, who is on a fixed income.

“I talked with my mother and a lot of her friends — they would even help, even though they are all on fixed income,” Botts said.

The increases are a step in the right direction, Amaro said.

“We’re really looking for the future and it does start now,” she said.

To see a detailed list of the water, sewer and garbage rates, see the document below this story.

In other business, the council:

• Approved an amendment to the Employee Personnel Handbook regarding conditions of employment when running for elected public office;

The amendment states that any employee who is declared a candidate for public office shall take a leave of absence 14 days before primary, general and other election days. An employee elected to public office is required to vacate their city position if the public office is full time or if the part-time public office is incompatible with the employee’s responsibilities;

• Approved a mutual aide agreement involving fire protection, emergency medical and related services between Valencia County and Belen;

• Approved old, unused or surplus city items for the Internet auction company, Public Surplus.

Amended Belen water and sewer rates ordinance:


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.