RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – Water isn’t free and in one city it’s definitely not cheap.
Rio Rancho is now seeing a lot of people paying a fee to reconnect their water and one city councilor said it’s gone too far. Others, though, think it’s necessary.
“It’s citywide,” Chuck Wilkins said. “It’s not one area of town, it’s citywide.”
All across Rio Rancho, city councilor Chuck Wilkins says people can’t pay their water bills. If water service gets shut off, customers have to shell out $75 to get it reconnected.
“We were reviewing the budget, we had budget hearings all week,” Wilkins said. “We’re probably going to hit $500,000 or more [from reconnect fees]. That comes out to about 6,700 reconnects for the year.”
Wilkins said that’s way more than they anticipated.
“We have a lot of citizens in need and when look at our water rates, our water rates are three times what Albuquerque is,” he said.
In 2012, the governing body voted on a five-year rate hike that ups it nearly 8 percent every year.
His theory on all those reconnects – people are struggling.
“Surely they must have foreseen that there would be some hard cases,” fellow councilor Cheryl Everett said.
Cheryl Everett said Wilkins voted in favor of those hikes.
She said that fee is needed to replace failing water lines as sinkholes are too common in “The City of Vision.”
“Those that are jeopardized and impacted by water main breaks, potentially, are far greater than the number who need to find accommodations to pay their water bill,” Everett said.
Everett also said many of the reconnects are repeat customers and that there are programs to help those people out.
Those who call Rio Rancho home have different opinions on the topic.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be cut off, but $75? No I don’t agree with it at all,” said one man.
“If they have it go toward infrastructure, that’s a good thing,” Ernest Hill said.
“I have had that reconnection fee and it was no problem,” added Jenny Ortiz.
As of now, Rio Rancho has roughly $9 million in its utility fund. Wilkins said he supports pulling some money from that to help out those in need. Everett isn’t on board with that idea.
In July, water rates will go up again in Rio Rancho by almost 8 percent. That trend will continue each year until 2017.