Questa’s Village Council focused on infrastructure improvements and a proposed water rate increase during its Dec. 13 Regular Council Meeting.
The Village received funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development office to expand municipal offices for the Administration Building and to build a new fire station.
According to Village Clerk Valerie Vigil, the $350,000 expansion of the Administration Building will accommodate a growing staff for future projects.
Construction of a new fire station is estimated to cost $3 million, $1 million of which has already been awarded. The Village is exploring additional funding sources.
A second fire station is at the Questa Business Park would allow for more effective fire fighting across northern Taos County and may also entitle the Village to more capital outlay funds from the New Mexico Legislature.
Additionally, another station can potentially impact the village’s ISO (Insurance Services Office) fire rating, which indicates how well-protected a community is by the fire department, and which affects home insurance rates.
Water rate increase deferred
The Council did not make a decision on a water rate increase. Finance Director Karen Quintana Shannon did a presentation to the Council on the Village’s water department, sewage department, and wastewater department, comparing revenues with expenses. The Village is losing money in all three of those municipal departments with expenses outpacing revenues.”
Each fund has to be self-sufficient within itself when it has no money from the general fund coming in,” Quintana Shannon explained.
Starting Jan. 1, 2023, New Mexico’s minimum wage went up to $12 per hour, which will place more strain on the Village to maintain infrastructure upkeep while paying its employees a fair wage.
Inflationary cost of living increases are putting strains on Americans all over the country. Councilor Louise Gallegos stated that the Council has avoided raising rates to keep pressure off Village residents. “We’ve known for a long time that we had to raise rates, we didn’t because we didn’t want to burden our residents; but the time has come,” Gallegos said.
Questa currently has the lowest water rates compared to the municipalities of Eagle Nest and Angel Fire as well as other municipalities across the state. “We need to be more fiscally responsible,” Mayor John Ortega acknowledged.
The Village current base rate for water is $19.76 per month. The considered increase of $7.04 (subject to change) would bring the base rate up to $26.80. The proposed increase would boost monthly Village revenues from $14,721.20 to $19,966. “The new revenue will almost be enough to pay for one additional employee for the Village’s Utility Department,” Quintana Shannon explained. “And that will just be for a salary with benefits, nothing else.”
A public hearing on water rates is tentatively scheduled for February. No date for a public hearing on water rates has been announced. The staff has done the research, but the information wasn’t ready to meet this publication’s deadline. More information will be available in the February issue. Stay tuned!