Rates Could Go Down – Rate Payer Protection

Utility rates in the unincorporated area of Bernalillo County could see a modest decrease if a measure passes Tuesday night. The resolution entitled the Rate Payer Protection Resolution is designed to prohibit the county from charging a usage tax to providers of basic necessity utilities.

The concept is that the county should not be charging providers of power, gas, water, sewer, and public safety related telecommunications fees for use of the public right-of-way. Those fees are added to your bill making the whole thing just a back door tax from the county. It’s just one of the many hidden taxes that people pay every day.

The argument against removing the tax is that state law requires the county to charge for the use of the public right-of-way. But state statute also prohibits counties from charging more than reasonable and actual fees. County staff is also concerned that the resolution presents some sort of anti-donation issue.

The simple fact is that the county does not own the public right-of-way, the public does. Bernalillo County is simply the manager of that property. As the owners of the property (and those who will have to pay any rent, lease, or franchise fee imposed), the public should not have to foot the bill for a water line, gas line, or power line, that is simply sitting in the right-of-way that they own providing them with the very necessities of life. It’s hardly a violation of the State’s Anti-Donation Clause to allow people not to pay rent on property they already paid for.

The Rate Payer Protection Resolution also requires that the county recover reasonable and actual costs for installing the infrastructure. If a utility cuts a road to put in a line, it must pay for the project and pay for all of the costs incurred by the county to approve and inspect the project.

The two largest franchisees are Comcast and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority. Together their right-of-way rental agreements add about $1 million to Bernalillo County coffers. Rate Payer Protection would only affect basic necessities utilities meaning that the impact to the County would be about $500,000. Comcast would continue to pay their franchise as cable TV is not a basic necessity. (After all, no one ever died due to a lack of cable.)

County management has continually tried to find a way to impose a franchise fee for use of county right-of-ways. Hopefully, Commissioners will see that providing use of county right-of-ways for basic necessity utilities is in the best interest of the health and welfare of county residents.

P.S. – You can view Tuesday night’s full agenda including the Rate Payer Resolution here.