Somerton renews look at utility rate hike
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).”