Camino Real Regional Utility Authority document

The following statement was made at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, for a press conference in the Commission Chambers of the Doña Ana County Government Center regarding the merger of the Doña Ana County and City of Sunland Park water and wastewater utilities into a unified entity named the Camino Real Regional Utility Authority.

Good afternoon –

Thank you for coming. Our purpose today is to place into the hands of the media – and thereby the interested public – the actual documents that show the history and process of the creation of the Camino Real Regional Utility Authority. These documents have no spin and no agenda; they speak for themselves, and we place them in your hands hopeful that you will read them and refer to them closely when covering the utility and its importance to the economic engine that will drive job creation and better qualities of life for the residents and businesses the utility will serve.

Some history: Doña Ana County and the City of Sunland Park are near the final stage of creating a historic agreement that will merge water and wastewater systems in southern Doña Ana County. This merger opens the door to significant border development that will benefit all residents of the region that the utility system will eventually serve.

From 1998 to 2005, Doña Ana County and the City of Sunland Park were competing for the rights to serve the area that the merged utility will serve. The litigation during that period of competition cost millions of dollars on both sides and paralyzed development, because developers were unsure of the outcome and unwilling to invest until there was certainty about utility provisions to their investments.

In 2004, the voters of District 2 elected former Sunland Park City Councilor Dolores Saldaña-Caviness to the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners. During her first meeting as a commissioner in 2005, she committed herself to ending the litigation and putting the region’s economic best-interests ahead of the political posturing that was fueling the litigation from both sides.

Within a few short months, an interim agreement known as a Memorandum of Understanding was reached to end the lawsuits and merge the utilities for the benefit of the region’s taxpaying public and the potential users of the integrated regional system. At the insistence of then-Sunland Park Mayor Ruben Segura, the governing body of the merged utility was formulated to include two city representatives, two county representatives and the state senator and state representative representing the city’s residents, or their designees, as well as a seventh, neutral party agreed upon by all the other board members. That regional governing structure was created and remains in place.

With the board in place, work began in earnest to create the parameters and operational structure of the Joint Powers Agreement that would eventually form the foundation for the new utility. The draft agreement of that document went for review in 2008 to the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration and was sent back for modifications. A second draft was subsequently submitted and approved in 2009. It should be noted that three of the City of Sunland Park’s signatories on that document remain on its governing board, one as Mayor and two as city councilors. That document is in the packet you are about to receive. Later in 2009, both Doña Ana County and the City of Sunland Park signed documents conveying their utility inventories and assets to the new utility. On that document, four of the City of Sunland Park’s signatories remain on its governing board, one as Mayor and three as city councilors. Those documents also are in your packet, along with documents that show the relative value of the two inventories at the time of conveyance.

Since that time, ancillary contracts have been executed between the city and the county in anticipation of the finalized merger. The existence of those contracts and anticipation of the merger’s finalization has spurred a renewed interest in significant development in and around the City of Sunland Park and the Santa Teresa Port of Entry

Also in anticipation of the merger, both entities – operating in good faith – have physically linked portions of the two systems to better serve the existing customer base, as well as new customers who are expected to come on line as development progresses in the region. The physical merger of the systems is complicated by the relative age of both; the city’s system is more than 25 years old, while Doña Ana County’s is significantly more modern, which creates technical challenges. These challenges can be met, and will, upon completion, improve the efficiency and overall delivery of services to Sunland Park residents.

Upon its finalization, the new utility will absorb debt in the amount of about $7 million from Doña Ana County and about $5 million from the City of Sunland Park. It also will assume responsibility for maintenance and improvements to the city’s existing water and wastewater systems. Those improvements are conservatively estimated at a minimum of $16 million, because the city’s systems are operating under two state and one federal order to upgrade operations for environmental reasons. In fact, the EPA has shut down the city’s north wastewater plant and is requiring significant modification or wholesale replacement. Doña Ana County is operating under one state order to improve, and those improvements are budgeted and planned for implementation. The merged utility authority is positioned to finance and complete all outstanding upgrades that will benefit, primarily, the residents of the City of Sunland Park.

Although the city’s present attorney contends that a referendum is needed before the merger can be finalized, both the City of Sunland Park and Doña Ana County are in possession of two opinions – by the New Mexico Attorney General and the Department of Finance and Administration, respectively – that the merger is not subject to a referendum for any reason. Those documents are in your packet. The deliberate and good-faith negotiations that have brought the merger forward, coupled with the board’s representation by city, county and state elected officials, is sufficient for the initiative to proceed.

There’s more to this, obviously, but every question you have is almost certainly answered in these documents. The hard work of many people for many people and significant investments by both the City of Sunland Park and Doña Ana County have led us to this historic moment that awaits only the approval by the Rural Utilities Department of the federal government for finalization. That approval is needed because RUD funds were used to build some of the original infrastructure that the new utility will operate and maintain.

At this late hour of the process, there remain a few people who want to stop or stall the creation of the Camino Real Regional Utility Authority. Whether their motives are political or financial is unclear. What is clear – and what these documents demonstrate – is that the process has been deliberate and transparent, and the resulting utility will improve service and spur new development. As I said at the onset, the documents speak for themselves. (The documents also are available on the DAC website.)

At this time, we’ll entertain questions. Afterwards, I will be available – along with a Spanish-speaking colleague – to give individual interviews.

Thank you.

Jess Williams, Director of Public Information