Somer­ton re­news look at util­ity rate hike

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY CE­SAR NEYOY BAJO EL SOL

SOMER­TON — A pro­posed util­ity rate hike, on hold for now, is ex­pected to be re­vived in the com­ing weeks, now that the city has hired a new fi­nance direc­tor.

Cza­rina Gal­le­gos will have as her first task re­view­ing the fi­nan­cial fig­ures sup­port­ing a con­sul­tant’s rec­om­men­da­tion to raise wa­ter and sewer rates charged to Somer­ton res­i­dents and busi­nesses. Even if the city coun­cil doesn’t ac­cept the rec­om­men­da­tion, Somer­ton’s mayor con­cedes an in­crease in some amount is nec­es­sary to fund wa­ter and sewer ser­vices that the city has for years sub­si­dized with other rev­enues.

Fol­low­ing a study, Wil­dan Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices last sum­mer pro­posed in­creas­ing the base wa­ter rate charged res­i­dents from $11.50 to $15.91 over five years, as well as hik­ing the monthly sewer rate from $38.50 to $48.86 dur­ing the same pe­riod. Those in­creases would also fi­nance an es­ti­mated $2.2 mil­lion in re­pairs and main­te­nance to the wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem.

The coun­cil pre­sented Wil­dan’s pro­pos­als at a pub­lic hear­ing in De­cem­ber that drew few res­i­dents. Rather than adopt the rec­om­men­da­tion at that time, the coun­cil tabled the is­sue pend­ing the hir­ing of a new fi­nan­cial direc­tor who could take a new look at the wa­ter and sewer bud­gets.

The city has been with­out a fi­nan­cial direc­tor since Oc­to­ber. Gal­le­gos, cur­rently deputy chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer for Yuma County, was hired at the Somer­ton coun­cil’s meet­ing on Tues­day and is sched­uled to as­sume the post Jan. 22.

“That is one of the main things that will be asked of her, that she look at the fi­nances and give us con­crete num­bers,” Mayor Ger­ardo Anaya said.

In any case, he said, an in­crease will be needed.

“Money is be­ing lost, the in­crease is un­avoid­able. Since 2007, the rates have not in­creased and that is

ir­re­spon­si­ble, be­cause ev­ery­thing else has in­creased (in cost). But we don’t have the con­crete num­bers. We have had two pre­sen­ta­tions and there are still too many ques­tions to be able to make a de­ci­sion.”

The city has been us­ing money from its gen­eral fund to sub­si­dize the cost of wa­ter and sewer ser­vices. In the wa­ter fund alone, ac­cord­ing to the con­sul­tant’s study, the cur­rent wa­ter rates an­nu­ally bring in nearly $200,000 less than the city’s cost of pro­vid­ing wa­ter ser­vice.

Anaya said he ex­pects the coun­cil will be able to de­cide once the new fi­nance direc­tor and pub­lic works depart­ment have had a chance to look at the is­sue.

“We were elected to make those de­ci­sions, but ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be taken into ac­count. We know the im­pact that any in­crease will have on res­i­dents. The in­tent is to keep the in­crease (to a min­i­mum).”

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