City embarks on route to acquire co-op

........................................................................................................................................................................................

With low turnout at the recent Socorro Electric Cooperative annual meeting coupled with member complaints snowballing throughout the past few years, the city plans to take action.

During Monday’s city council meeting, Mayor Ravi Bhasker said the city has “embarked on the route to acquire the co-op.”

The mayor shed light on a recent study, which detailed energy costs – plus fees and taxes – in different cities around the state for houses “using the same amount of electricity.” While places such as Farmington (which had the lowest total cost) and Belen saw monthly costs at $56 and $66, respectively, the cost in Socorro landed just above the $100 mark.

Bhasker added that “PNM sells them this electricity; and on top of that, they’re a for-profit organization making 10 percent on this.”

The mayor said the city’s lawyer will be present at the May 19 council meeting to outline the city’s plan to deal with concerns surrounding SEC. Bhasker said he also hopes to have a representative from PNM attend; he said the city is not, as of now, considering PNM as a franchisee, but would still like their input.

A resolution will be presented to the council during their next meeting “to get the ball rolling,” Bhasker said.

If the council is on board, the mayor said pursuing a utility alternative will likely take a couple of years, and details, including which areas the city plans to cover, are still being discussed.

During the council meeting, a Socorro resident voiced an SEC-related issue that he is currently dealing with.

Robert Rincones said that about 2 a.m. April 26, he and his family were jarred awake — by smoke detectors — to discover an electrical fire in their home, caused by “a natural coming loose on the co-op’s line.”

After putting out the fire, he and his family soon noticed half of their home was without electricity.

“First thing in the morning, we called the co-op,” he said.

Approximately four phone calls and three hours later, they showed up.

“Everything that was plugged in was fried essentially. The linemen said ‘it’s our responsibility; we did something bad here and it came loose. Turn your bills into the co-op (and) they’ll write you a check,’” Rincones said.

Ten days later — after turning in itemized lists of the damages — Rincones said he is still waiting for a phone call from the SEC.

He said while he is grateful he was able to buy a $600 temporary fridge until the co-op gets back to him, he wonders “what happens to those folks who don’t have an extra $600 or the means to get a refrigerator down here?”

Councilor Gordy Hicks said the city needs to begin documenting and compiling these issues. The mayor said, soon, the city will begin collecting SEC-related concerns from the public at the cashier’s desk at city hall.

The council also adopted a resolution that will implement a GPS monitoring pilot program for use in city vehicles.

City Clerk Pat Salome said keeping tabs on the vehicles will be used for city business, enforcing policy and traffic laws, “not to follow people around (nor) check on someone’s whereabouts all day long.”

If there is a question about where someone is, a department head must first fill out a form and state the reason a specific vehicle should be tracked on a specific day; Salome said there will be documented evidence that it’s done “upon request.”

“That way, if something does come up, the employee doesn’t say, ‘well you watched me for four years, of course you’re going to find something.’ We would be able to say ‘we watched you three times, this is when we watched and this is what we found,’” he said.

The mayor said the purpose of the program is to evaluate GPS vehicles’ efficiency, productivity, safety and accountability of city operations. On top of this, he said the city will develop a policy explaining the usage of GPS units to existing employees as well as individuals hired in the future.

“GPS information can and will be used by department heads,” Bhasker said.

Salome emphasized that the information will be used “as needed as opposed to a 24-hour surveillance on city vehicles.”

“We are not fishing; there’s a reason for doing it,” Bhasker said.

Aside from requests from department heads, Salome said the “as needed” approach will include routine alerts — such as a complaints from individuals claiming their garbage was not picked up — and concerns regarding safety.

If someone calls, claiming they were almost hit by a city vehicle that ran a stop sign, Salome said that is something the city will look at “immediately.”

When a request is made and the city then creates a record of the individual GPS vehicle, that specific monitoring session will become public information.