Being an elected official is no easy task. No matter what you do, somebody will not be happy. People take it for granted when everything goes well, but when there is a problem, people get angry quickly. You rarely get praised for doing your job well, but the complaints are never lacking. This is the burden you take on when you take the oath of office.
This conundrum is very nicely illustrated by the controversies surrounding Truth or Consequences' electric department.
First of all, we have to take about $1,500,000 each year from the department's income to supplement the city's funds. Everyone agrees that this is wrong, but the loss of one fourth of the city's operating budget would mean massive cut backs in services to our citizens. So what would we give up? Most departments already struggle with personnel shortages. Aging equipment must be replaced. Do we close the library, the swimming pool or the golf course? Do we take police officers off the street? Do we stop fixing the roads? Recently, former City Manager Juan Fuentes worked closely with city staff and reduced the budget enough to cut the amount transferred by $500,000, but we still need to cut three times that amount. Every year!
Now, we could raise taxes to make up this deficit, but that is a hard sell. To make up this amount from property tax, we would have to raise the mill levy to the point where everyone's total property tax bill would increase by almost 50%! To bring in an additional $1,500,000 from GRT, we would have to raise the total rate to 10.5%, making it the highest in the state.
No New Taxes! you say. We must increase revenues! So let's increase property values to bring in more tax revenue. Great idea. We only have to increase the assessed value of properties in the city by a factor of 10. Actually, we would need 10 new buildings for each structure presently standing. Or we need to increase GRT taxable transactions within the city by about $89,000,000. No easy task there.
I can show you how I derived these numbers, if you are interested.
Next we have the issue of operation and maintenance of our electrical utility. There is a constant stream of comments and complaints about maintenance, poles and transformers that need replacing, power outages, etc. We need to not only keep up with maintenance, but we also need to bring in new technology to make sure that the electrical system is operating at maximum efficiency, to prevent brown-outs, power surges, load imbalances and to minimize line loss. Everyone agrees that this is necessary. This is much more difficult today than in times past, since we now get a substantial fraction of our power from solar. The city's solar farm, the Walmart system, and the solar panels at our public housing units, residences and businesses can make up over 10% of our electric supply. Balancing this irregular supply of electricity with what we receive from our wholesale suppliers requires an additional level of sophistication in our control systems. Both the Federal and NM State Governments have directed utility companies to invest in the Smart Grid technologies necessary to properly manage a modern electrical utility.
Now, along with operation and maintenance comes the issue of metering and billing. Twice in the last five years we have endured a breakdown in our metering and billing process, generally precipitated by the loss of our meter readers. Low estimated bills were followed by large catch up bills, irregular meter reading schedules resulted in billing periods ranging from 20 days to 40 days or more. The high resulting bills placed an economic hardship on many of our citizens. Everyone agreed that we need to fix this problem.
So, after four years of public discussion, we have a solution that addresses both of these issues: smart meters that report electric consumption directly to the utility office for billing, and provide information back to the electric department to help them manage and balance the electric load. But, just as we are signing the contract, a small but vocal group of citizens steps forward in protest.
Although four years of research and discussion have revealed no objective scientific evidence of health hazards from the minimal amount of radio frequency (RF) energy emitted by these meters, especially when compared to the pervasive cloud of RF energy from cell phones and other communication systems, these people have sincere concerns about the effect of smart meters on their health. And these concerns must be addressed. An opt-out provision was proposed and sent to the Public Utilities Advisory Board for consideration. This would allow those concerned about the health effects of the meters to retain their old meters, while allowing the rest of the citizens, and the electric utility to enjoy the benefits of the modernized system.
A petition to block the acquisition of smart meters was circulated and sufficient signatures were obtained to force a referendum. But several factors forced the city to reject the referendum. First, the petition with signatures was not presented to the city clerk within 30 days of the passage of the resolution, as required by NMSA 3-14-17, backing out of the contract would have incurred legal and financial penalties upon the city, and finally, the fact that only legislative issues are subject to review by referendum, as affirmed by the court case Johnson vs. Alamogordo, Jan. 1996, and adoption of smart meters is clearly an administrative issue.
And finally, there is the issue of limits on the size of residential solar arrays. But this is where things get really complicated. You can follow this discussion at future meetings of the PUAB and City Commission.
So, remind me again why I want to get re-elected to my commission seat? It's because I want to continue to give all issues before the commission the fair and impartial consideration that they deserve. Because the citizens deserve a fair and impartial City Commission. And because I love this city and its residents, and I want them to realize their potential and make this a better place for all of us.
An informed citizenry is our strongest asset, and I pledge to keep you informed. That's why I'm asking for your vote. I want to represent you.
Candidate for City Commission, Position 5
(Paid Political Letter)