1 Village and city strike new agreement on wastewater treatment plant

Reaching an agreement about the division of representation on the Joint Use Board that governs the Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant took years. litigation and arbitration, but officials with the village of Ruidoso and the city of Ruidoso Downs recently accomplished that goal along with others connected to the plant, subject to approval by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration.

The $33 million state-of-art plant serves the village, the city and portions of the Mescalero Apache Reservation. The village operates the plant, but the city is a partner and the reservation is a customer.

Under a new joint powers agreement, the original JPA approved in July 1974 forming the board and subsequent amendments were superseded and in the new Article II of the agreement. The article states the five-member JUB will be composed of three members proposed by the mayor of the village, confirmed by the council, and two members proposed by the mayor of the city and affirmed by that council, as well as alternates. Previously, the village and city each had two representatives and the county of Lincoln filled the fifth seat. But the county has declined to be part of the board and that left the fifth seat vacant.

In approving the change and others, the two councils acknowledged in the new JPA that circumstances have changed since the board was formed 30 years ago agreed that “a changing physical environment, population growth and changing regulatory framework may require the extension of (the plant) services to citizens of (the county) who do not currently reside within the jurisdictional boundaries of either municipality and desire to create a framework that is flexible enough to anticipate, react to and provide for (plant) services in these changing environments.”

That provision would allow the mayor of Ruidoso to use one of his three appointments to represents an area outside village boundaries.

The chairman of the board alternates every two years between the city and the village. Each board members is given one vote and their terms are for four years, coinciding with the mayor who made the appointment.

In a letter to attorney Frank Coppler, who headed the arbitration that led to the restructured JPA, Ruidoso Village Manager Debi Lee wrote that “both entities have successfully achieved an outcome that represents the best interests of both communities and the operation of this regional (plant).”

The three main issues resolved were approval of a new joint powers agreement between the two municipalities, a determination of the location of the main interceptor line and approval of a sewer line maintenance agreement, including a line extension ordinance.

After several joint meetings with both governing boards, Lee wrote they determined that the JUB would function most effectively as an enterprise fund with the village acting as fiscal agent, and that a budget committee would be established to issue a quarterly report. Previous village audits urged that the JUB be established as a separate entity, but in 2015, that finding was removed from the village’s annual audit and Village Finance Director Judy Starkovich said Tuesday the auditor agrees with the decision to treat it as an enterprise fund.

Identification of the main interceptor line was a contentious issue, she wrote. The location related to the costs associated with repair and replacement of the sewer line that was damaged in the 2008 Hurricane Dolly disaster and the infiltration in the line.

“Once this sewer line is repaired/replaced, the two entities have agreed to revisit flow conditions and revise the JPA from an 85-15 percent split (with the village handling the larger share of costs) to actual flow percentages,” Lee wrote. They anticipate the sewer line will be completed in the next five years, waiting on funding approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In the new JPA, village and city officials stated that they recognize changing conditions in the National Pollutant Discharge Eliminations Systems permit for the plant’s discharge of effluent into the Rio Ruidoso made it necessary to expand and improve the treatment capacity and capabilities of the plant to provide cleaner, healthier better treated effluent for discharge. They also recognized that capital costs and operational costs associated with expansion and improvement at the plant will require a significant revenue investment. While the 85-15 percent split will continue, “such a cost-sharing arrangement may be restructured at such time in the future when the main interceptor line is repaired, replaced and restored, and the method of payment may be changed based on the flow amounts of each entity.”

Both parties also approved a sewer line maintenance agreement for the area of Cardinal Drive, the only location where village sewer could connect into a Ruidoso Downs manhole.

“This is what created the litigation between the two entities and this maintenance agreement was carefully thought out where both entities agreed on a solution,” Lee wrote. A draft sewer line ordinance also is being presented for consideration of the municipal governing boards at their December meetings, she wrote.

Text by Dianne L Stallings / Retrieved from Ruidoso News