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City plans to separate water, solid waste funds

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Roswell City Council’s Legal Committee approved of a plan on Thursday morning to separate water and solid funds, to help understand individual city services better. Pictured from left, background, are City Councilors Jacob Roebuck and Caleb Grant and City Finance Director Monica Garcia; with Councilors Steve Henderson and Judy Stubbs, foreground. (Alison Penn Photo)

Potential separation of city of Roswell funds including the water, wastewater, solid waste and landfill funds has been reviewed by two committees.

City Auditor Juan Fuentes presented a rate analysis of the enterprise funds, long-term and sustainable funds pertaining to water or utility services, to the city’s Infrastructure and Finance committees on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

Fuentes said the goal is to separate the funds in order to see if each fund can cover its operational, personnel and capital project costs independently — and “in the black” from the fees associated — by the next budget cycle. He said the issue is that solid waste and water funding are “co-mingled” and revenue is in one category.

The city’s 2019-2020 fiscal year (FY 20) began July 1 and, after review from staff and other conversations, Fuentes said the plan is to have those funds separated for FY 21.

Saying this was common for municipalities, Fuentes has recommended such separations before. The water department costs $23 million “as an enterprise alone” and wastewater costs $5.1 million, with those numbers including personnel, operating costs, and other expenses. Large and expensive capital projects are covered in these funds, he said.

After separation and once collected data is reviewed, Fuentes said the costs being charged to customers could be assessed in order to see if the fees are appropriate and how much revenue they are generating.

“… So that just tells me that Daniel (Mendiola, superintendent of the wastewater treatment plant) and the guys have been doing a good job, but we have been undercharging our own selves on the utility rate for the sewer side,” City Engineer Louis Najar said during discussion of the fund separation and the wastewater treatment plant at the Infrastructure Committee meeting on Tuesday.

Councilor Caleb Grant, who is a member of both committees, said, “Wastewater is the biggest problem at this point” in covering its own costs, and he was supportive of the separation. At the Finance Committee meeting on Thursday, he said the city, before considering a fee increase, should be “confident” in the rate analysis and include trends in personnel services aligning with each city service.

Councilor Steve Henderson said the city can avoid large upcoming costs, such as new landfill cells or buying water rights, by setting said amounts aside for future uses. Councilor Jacob Roebuck said he wants the city to “move to be proactive for large capital projects.”

Fuentes agreed with Henderson, saying the same was discussed at the Infrastructure Committee meeting on Tuesday in reference to securing land for expansion of the wastewater treatment plant.

There was some question on whether or not the item was ready for the full city council. Finance Director Monica Garcia said it needed committee approval at this point and would be ready after there are fund numbers to present to council.

At the Finance Committee meeting, Henderson made the motion to allow staff to separate the water, wastewater, landfill, collections and solid waste funds. Roebuck was the second and it was approved unanimously after votes from Grant and Councilor Judy Stubbs.

At their less-than-45-minute meeting, the Finance Committee also recommended sending to full council a resolution for Pecos Trails Transit funding and a request for proposals for financial and banking services to Wells Fargo Bank.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.