Amid funding woes Lovington’s City Commission discussed a possible cost increase to customers for wastewater and solid waste rates during Monday’s commission meeting.
Finance Director Gary Chapman told the commission wastewater has a loss of more than $345,000 during the past six months.
“These are just operational costs,” Chapman said. “During that first six months, we had almost a $347,000 loss for wastewater operations.”
Chapman explained to make up the loss the 3,890 Lovington customers would need to pay $89.20 more during the period “just to break even.” In a 12-month period, each customer would pay an additional $7.43 per month, according to Chapman.
The wastewater fund ebbs and flows, according to Chapman. Such as in the summer months, when more water is used.
“Historically the wastewater fund has basically lost well over $200,000 by the end of the year, over the last two years,” Chapman said.
Due to the amount of water used, increasing Chapman’s prediction of a decrease in the loss by the end of the year, he recommends only increasing the cost per customer by approximately $7 per month.
“Just to keep us from bleeding,” Chapman said. “Just to make sure that the wastewater operations pay from themselves.”
The discussion was a non-action item and no resolution was voted on by the commission.
Williams explained to the commission in 2016, the city adopted an increase in water rates by 2 percent every year. However, at that time those projects looked at the wastewater and water budgets combined.
“Gary pointed out the $288,000 loss in one year,” Williams said. “We can actually attribute that because the funds are divided. We actually see the true costs of what it takes to operate the water department as well as the wastewater department.”
Chapman explained that the city’s general fund balance as of Monday’s meeting is negative $872,000.
Due to the pandemic, the city has lost gross receipt tax revenue, which makes up a majority of the general fund. The general fund pays for a majority of the city’s expenditures, Chapman has explained in previous meetings. Following the $1.2 million losses, the commission voted last month to make cuts in staff and budgets in an effort to make up the amount and prevent more loss.
“We’ll know in about 30 days (how the cuts affect the budget),” City Manager James Williams said in the meeting, “once things stabilize and they are all fully implemented if it hits the desired effect.”
The commission also unanimously voted to send a letter opposing House Bill 4 in the First Session of the New Mexico Legislature. The resolution would allow New Mexican’s to bring a lawsuit forward to recover damages and inductive relief. Since it’s introduction, the HB4 has been amended to award any damages of up to $2 million.
Williams told the commission more litigation does not decrease bad behavior.
“Instead of talking about behavior and how to correct it, the civil rights commission, which helped draft this particular bill, just created more ways to sue our municipality,” Williams said. “The idea that …bad police officers will behave better when both good and bad officers can be sued more has no basis in fact.”
Williams explained solutions need to be consequence driven, and the city already knows how to do that. By hiring the best applicants, having the best policies and training, as well as holding the wrongdoers accountable.
“Every judgment, settlement, every single one is paid by the taxpayer, regardless if we have the insurance,” Williams said. “All of these risk management dollars are taxpayer’s dollars. We shouldn’t ask any of our citizens at Loving-ton, Lea County, or throughout the state of New Mexico to reach into their pockets.”
The commission also extended an agreement with Chevron for an additional five years to access two water wells in the city. The commission also approved a proclamation honoring Bill Lee, a longtime Lea County rancher who passed last month. During his time in the state legislature, Lee played a role in developing Nor-Lea Hospital.