Utility increase part of Alamosa budget

ALAMOSA — Alamosa residents will see an increase in utility bills in 2019.

Based on a study that showed what rates should be charged to cover the city’s expenses for providing water, sewer and trash collection, the Alamosa city council had previously approved regular annual increases. The council will consider at its November 7th meeting an ordinance approving rate increases that are about 1 percent higher than rates set by a 2017 ordinance.

Based on the ordinance before council on November 7, water rates will increase by 5 percent in 2019 (and subsequent years); sewer rates will increase by 8 percent in 2019 (and either 7 or 8 percent in following years); and sanitation rates will increase by 10 percent in 2019 (and 4 or 6 percent in subsequent years through 2023.)

Councilman Jan Vigil asked for examples of what this would look like on an average bill, and Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said she would provide that before the November 7th meeting. The city council during its October 17th meeting approved the rate increase ordinance on first reading and scheduled it for a public hearing during the November 7 meeting.

For example, the monthly fee for a 64-gallon residential trash container in 2019 will be $11.65 and for a larger 96-gallon container, $15.53 a month. Water rates depend on the amount used, with higher rates for higher usage, and sewer rates are based on a flat fee plus volume. (See the ordinance with specific rates at https://alamosa.novusagenda.com/Agendapublic/CoverSheet.aspx?ItemID=1482&MeetingID=274)

Brooks said the city’s 2019 budget is based on the proposed increase, so if the council approved a lower increase, the city would have to adjust its capital improvement projects accordingly.

“The budget depends on revenues proposed from these rate increases,” Brooks said. She reminded the council that it approved rates for five years so it would not have to approve rate increases every year. However, to meet the capital improvement project needs next year and maintain aging infrastructure, and with more accurate estimates of what those costs will be, the council will need to approve an increase that is 1 percent higher than it previously approved, Brooks said.

She said the additional rate increase is not that much higher but is necessary to keep up with the costs of providing these services to city customers.

“We need to bring in enough revenue to cover expenses,” she said.

The city council on Wednesday also approved its 2019 budget and pay plan. During the public hearing, the council heard comments from Ruthie Brown, an Alamosa business owner. She talked about performing landscaping work for the city about 30 years ago and how she believed the city needs to hire someone who knows how to take care of city landscaped areas. She added she did not want added work for staff in the parks department, but the city needs someone who can appropriately care for plantings around town. She said replacing vegetation with gravel was not the solution either, especially when it means destroying vegetation that city taxpayers have paid for.

Brown referred to one of the areas she still maintains, “Mom’s Garden,” that features more than 60 perennials and more than 25 shrub varieties plus a few trees.

She said the city needs to focus on making Alamosa more attractive to visitors like those coming in for Early Iron, so they do not see weeds everywhere and minimal landscaping.

“Somehow we’ve got to create some more pride,” Brown said.

Brooks said the city could not go back to contracting landscaping work, but city employees are trained in these areas. She said the city is increasing its landscaping budget and hiring another seasonal employee next year.

Councilman Michael Carson said Brown made a good point about weeds. He said the city code enforcement staff used to monitor the weed situation closely, and he encouraged more attention to that in the future.

Councilor Jan Vigil said the city is working on its landscaping and trying to bring diversity to different areas so they do not all look the same. He said everything is not going into rock and gravel, and he encouraged Brown to “give it a chance,” because he believed the appearance would improve over time.

Regarding the city’s $22.9 million budget, which the council unanimously approved, the city based its budget on revenue projections of about 3 percent in sales tax growth; city employees will be given a 3.5-percent cost-of-living increases and the city is added about $60,000 for minimum wage increases; and investments will continue to be made in capital projects, downtown planning, streets and the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program.

See more budget information including the ordinance at https://alamosa.novusagenda.com/Agendapublic/CoverSheet.aspx?ItemID=1471&MeetingID=274