A Lot of Talk, But Little Action
Legislature offers compromise bill to clarify new water utility authority
Following all the controversy surrounding the new Bernalillo County-Albuquerque Water Utility Authority, it appears the state Legislature has resolved to modify the bill that created the new, third government agency in 2003, instead of granting the wish of Mayor Martin Chavez, who wanted the water board dissolved.
The legislation that created the new water authority last year, senate bill (SB) 887, was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Manny Aragon, a South Valley Democrat, and consisted of two paragraphs basically saying a committee of three county commissioners, three city councilors and the mayor would be in charge of the city's water policies. Because the language was brief and therefore vague, the seven-member board didn't appear to know what they were supposed to do when it came to deciding when, where and why to authorize new water and sewage lines throughout all of Bernalillo County.
Mayor Chavez routinely called the new board an "abomination" and recently resigned his chairmanship, saying he didn't "want to be stuck in the middle of it."
But so far during this year's legislative session, it does not appear any of the Albuquerque representatives are going to challenge Aragon's original bill, although a so-called compromise bill is being introduced this week to hopefully clarify the board's mandate. Instead of two paragraphs, Aragon has offered a new bill, SB 422, that is 18-pages long and being heralded as a compromise.
"I think it was horrible," said Sen. Cisco McSorley, a university-area Democrat, speaking in reference to the 2003 legislation by cell phone from the Roundhouse last week. "I think the people in my neighborhood are going to pay twice for the city water system. The water mains and water work that needs to be done in older neighborhoods is not going to get done."
McSorley said a successful effort to dissolve the board would require a coordinated effort among city officials and Albuquerque legislators and "right now there seems to be no effort at all."
"I don't see any action on part of the city to deal with this problem," said McSorley. "We heard from the city at a luncheon (prior to the session) for what they want for capital outlay, but there was no coordinated effort to deal with the water problem."
Republican Sen. Ramsey Gorham, also speaking by cell phone from the senate floor last week, said she adamantly opposed the 2003 bill because it "takes facilities that Albuquerque taxpayers paid for and puts it in county's hands—it's like confiscating property." Still, Gorham said the issue has been "hush-hush" this year in the Legislature, and she hasn't heard "one word" from constituents that oppose it.
Gorham surmised that perhaps Sen. Dede Feldman, an Albuquerque Democrat, might introduce a bill to abolish the new water utility authority, but when contacted at the Roundhouse last Friday, Feldman said, "At this point, I'm not sponsoring any new bills. I have my plate full."
So while Mayor Chavez' hopes for legislative action appear to be dashed, he remains dissatisfied by Aragon's apparent attempt to clarify the board's role.
"You control your destiny with infrastructure and I can't do anything without water utility control," said Chavez. "For the state to take away Albuquerque utility and give it in great part to the county, which did not pay for it, is an abomination."
City Councilor Michael Cadigan, one of the three councilors on the board, avoided the terms dissolve and abolish, taking the milder tone: "My preference would be to go back to the old way."
However, Cadigan said the other city councilors (Eric Griego and Brad Winter) and the three county commissioners (Alan Armijo, Steve Gallegos and Tom Rutherford) on the water board all support Aragon's SB 422. Cadigan said, if passed, SB 422 would require a 5-2 super majority to improve rate increases and expansion of water lines to unincorporated parts of the county. In SB 422 there is now language requiring a super majority (5-2) to issue bonds as well, Cadigan said.
"It clarifies everything."
Perhaps. But then again, another vote for city-county unification could add more confusion to the city's water allocation problems as soon as this November.