ENMRWA members lose patience with late studies

By Jack King: CNJ staff writer

Studies of the financial capacities of members of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority to pay for the project remain incomplete, consultants said Wednesday, at the authority’s meeting in Clovis.
The incomplete reports drew a sharp expression of impatience from at least one board member.
Jason Bass, an economic consultant from Dornbusch Associates of Tucson, Ariz., was hired by the authority in October to do an ability and willingness to pay study and a water rate study. He missed the latest in a series of monthly meetings Wednesday, causing board member Larry Wallin of Logan to urge he be fired.
Bass was scheduled on Wednesday’s agenda to make a report on the water rate study, but Project Manager Scott Verhines told the board Bass had a family conflict and couldn’t be there.
Wallin, the village of Logan manager, told Verhines it is taking too long for Bass to report to the committee.
“Look at the agendas, February, March, April. It’s always ‘Jason Bass can’t be here and will be here next meeting.’ Let’s fire him and get somebody who’ll do it,” Wallin said.
Verhines said he was responsible for keeping Bass from making a report, because he keeps suggesting new directions for the report and providing Bass with new data.
“If you’re going to fire someone, fire me,” he said. “As soon as we give him information, he gets it back to us. It’s a fluid situation.”
Verhines said past estimates of the project’s cost, and past rate plans, have been based on assumptions about what the project will be like when it is fully on line and is delivering all 24,000 acre feet of the water it will provide to project members.
But, Verhines said, he has asked Bass to revise his spread sheets to show what the project’s costs will be at different stages of its development.
“How much do we build in one year? How much will be the capital costs be over a five-year period? Replacement costs don’t start up until sometime later. Debt repayment could be finished at a certain time,” Verhines said.
In response to a question from Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega, Verhines said Bass would make a report at the board’s next meeting.
Kevin Powers, a representative of Dain-Rauscher, a bond consulting company hired in April to study project members’ financial capacities, reported that Dain-Rauscher has not yet completed its study.
Powers said company representatives have not yet visited Melrose, Grady, Texico and Roosevelt County. He said he anticipates providing a full report in June.
Powers said the communities studied so far have a “fairly positive outlook on things, at least on the capital side.” Most local governments have put tax or water rate increases in place to fund building the project’s infrastructure. However, on-going operations and maintenance costs may be more difficult for some communities to provide, he said.
Dain-Rauscher’s study will identify economic resources for each community and recommend how to obtain them, but some communities are going to have more options than others, Powers said.
“Some communities have more taxes available. Some are fully maxed. The other thing that varies are water rates. The lower the rate, the better the ability to raise them. In some cases, there are limitations in the sheer numbers (of rate payers) in the rate base,” he said.
“In smaller communities, there’s going to be a greater emphasis on looking at grants for capital costs. But (operation and maintenance) is going to be an on-going issue and, quite frankly, we’re still exploring options,” he said.
Project members said last year they hoped to have legislation to get federal money for the project drafted by January or February and introduced before the election season. But, Verhines said Wednesday Senate staffers are “non-committal” about when they expect to introduce the legislation.
He denied that the hold up in developing ability-and-willingness-to-pay or water rate studies has contributed to the legislation’s delay.