City serious about SEC acquisition

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At Monday’s city council meeting, the mayor described a fork in the road that presents Socorro with two options in it’s future affairs with the electric co-op – continue down the current path or pursue acquisition of assets.

Mayor Ravi Bhasker said, administratively, he plans to steer toward the latter path. Council will explore appraisal of Socorro Electric Co-op assets at its June 16 meeting.

“The city is serious,” Bhasker said.

Attorney Nann Winter, who is going to help draft the resolution, joined in on the conversation and discussed what the future may look like for the city from a legal standpoint.

She explained that a month-to-month franchise, such as the one Socorro is currently involved in with the co-op, can be changed at the city’s initiative if the relationship degrades to the point where further action is needed.

“If you find them unresponsive, you can declare them a trespasser,” Winter said.

New Mexico’s eminent domain code – “a tool used by municipalities all over the state” – gives all political subdivisions the right to acquire real estate, buildings and property, she added.

“In this case, there could be real estate interest held by Socorro Electric; that would be easements. It is more likely that (the city) would be more interested in their poles, their lines, meters, substations (and) transformers,” Winter said.

She added that any current debt would remain with SEC.

Before condemnation, the code requires that two conditions be met: appraisal of assets and entrance into a good faith negotiation with the co-op.

For an appraisal of this scale, Winter said it would take some time.

“I would give it three to six months to get a fair evaluation of a system of this nature.

Once the appraisal is in, present your offer to the entity that you seek to acquire assets from and the negations begin,” she said. “Typically, folks are responsive to a good-faith offer.”

Bhasker added that the process, aside from appraisals and negotiations, will need to include the “political wheel of the council.”

If SEC is willing to negotiate its assets, finalizing the sale could one to two years; however, if they contest and the city is forced to “pull the eminent domain trigger,” it could take as many as three years of litigation, according to Winter.

“It’s not something that’s cheap or easy or fun for anyone,” she said.

The mayor said city hall will soon be opening a previously-discussed comment window for people to report both good and bad experiences related to SEC, as well as concerns about the new direction the city may be taking with the electric utility.

He emphasized that the city does not want to turn the co-op into an adversary.