Belen sets up community water fund

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Belen residents can begin donating funds to help others within the community at risk of having their water turned off.

Belen city councilors approved a resolution to create the Community Water Fund, in which qualified residents will receive a once-a-year voucher they can apply toward their delinquent water account.

Collection for this fund began last month.

"I think it's a good idea," said Councilor Jerah Cordova. "I think it would be great for our community to have the opportunity to donate and help out those who aren't able to pay."

City employees will begin hammering out eligibility requirements for residents to receive these funds within the next year before disbursing them in January 2014, said Leona Vigil, city clerk.

"It's very important to get it started and get some collection going, then have 12 months to get it going for disbursement," said Councilor Wayne Gallegos.

Eligibility requirements should ensure abuse does not occur, which Councilor David Carter said he could see as a potential problem.

Gallegos responded that there are a lot of controls the city can implement to avoid abuse.

"I think it's very positive, but we have to be careful of that one bad apple or abuser, because that's not what it's designed for," Gallegos said. "It's designed to help the people that are in need."

The city's rates committee began researching how to set up a Community Water Fund after a resident offered this as a solution for those who can't afford to pay their utility bills.

"It's part of what the committee has been looking at to assist citizens in our area," Gallegos said.

These funds will aid residents, who can't pay their monthly utility bills, to avoid being shut off due to nonpayment.

The resolution highlights that "some citizens have had their water shut off due to delinquent payments and are living without running water."

The Community Water Fund is modeled after PNM's Good Neighbor Fund, Gallegos said. In the Good Neighbor Fund, customers can receive financial assistance once a year to help them pay for part or all of their past due electricity bill, according to the electric companies website.

The number of vouchers available through the Community Water Fund are based on the amount of funds received, the resolution states.

A donation line for the Community Water Fund will be added to city water bills, where residents can write in a donation amount and pay the donation along with their water bill.

"Anyone that's paying, wishing to commit or pledge an extra $2 or 50 cents or whatever would go to this," Gallegos said.

Donations will be kept in a separate city fund.


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