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Air Center water rights issue gets accounting fix

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The Roswell City Council has agreed to change the way the city accounts for water revenues generated from residents and organizations on or near the Roswell Air Center.

The change is meant to ensure that the same city utility that pays for water system maintenance is receiving the revenue from all city water customers.

City councilors did not ask any questions and passed the resolution during a Thursday meeting 7-0, with three councilors absent by that time in the meeting.

When the U.S. government deeded the former Walker Air Force Base to the city in 1967, the city entered into an indenture agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration agreeing to use the airfield and its assets for the benefit of airfield operations. Some of those assets included water wells and the rights to 2,500 acre feet of water on an annual basis, as well as water and sewer systems.

Since that time, the city’s water and sewer systems have become intermingled. While the city has continued to direct all the revenues from water customers at the Air Center or on nearby former base properties to Air Center budgets, the city’s water and sewer departments have been paying for repairs, maintenance and upgrades to the water and sewer lines at the Air Center. Recent expenditures have included $7 million for new water storage towers that will benefit primarily Air Center and former base customers, according to Mayor Dennis Kintigh.

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The resolution approved Thursday is intended to correct that by having all water revenues go to the Water Enterprise Fund in the future.

But, because city management does not want the Air Center to lose annual revenue, the city is also agreeing that the Water Enterprise Fund will provide about $548,699 a year to Air Center budgets.

City Manager Joe Neeb said that the changes in budgeting were the “cleanest way” to deal with the issue. He also said the Water Enterprise Fund payment to the Air Center and the price of the water rights are based on current annual water billings of Air Center customers.

“What we have done is that, based on how we have set the budget of taking the utility bills of everyone out there, that budget is $548,699.34. That equals $220 per acre foot of water for water rights,” said Neeb.

He added that citywide water rates are determined by the water department’s estimates of maintenance, repairs and upgrades, so having the Air Center revenues going to the Water Enterprise Fund will help to balance revenues and expenses.

“That will allow the water company and the sewer company, as the needs of the utility companies grow, that funds will go and remain with the utility company because that is how we set the rates for that purpose,” Neeb said.

Before the city council acted, the resolution was considered by the city of Roswell Airport Advisory Commission, which recommended its approval 4-1, and the Roswell City Council Legal Committee, which recommended it 3-0.

The sole objection was raised by lawyer Amy Coll. She said that, while she did support the idea of the city changing its accounting practices, she did not think that the city had the authority or expertise to determine the value of water rights.

The larger legal question of whether the city owns the Air Center water rights outright now after 53 years of providing city services, including water services, to the former base area has been put aside to focus on just the accounting issue.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.