Friday, September 24, 2010

Co-op Talks To Community Leaders

By John Severance

The Socorro Electric Cooperative gave local businesses, school administrators and government officials a heads up last week.
The beleaguered co-op said it was going to raise its rates, possibly by February of next year, interim manager Richard Lopez said.
How big an increase?
The co-op does not know yet, but Lopez said the increase should be known in November of December after a study is done by Catt Cobb, a rate analyst for SGS Engineering.
 Lopez told the audience that the co-op missed its margins last year by $410,000. And this year, the co-op is negative in its margins and it could get worse with impending litigation expenses.
 The news of the rate increase did not sit well with mayor Ravi Bhasker, who wanted to know about the breakdown of city and county taxes as well as the franchise fees for his hotels.
The mayor also wanted to know why the co-op never offered the city a better rate for electricity during off-peak hours.
“Your business has to be accountable and I just don’t see it,” Bhasker said.
Socorro Consolidated Schools superietendent Cheryl Wilson and her counterpart at Magdalena Mike Chambers said they have absorbed budget cuts the past two years and they didn’t know how much more they could cut if there was going to be an increase in electricity rates.
Wilson summed it best when she said, “I don’t have the ability to raise the cost of public education.”
County manager Delilah Walsh also did not have much empathy when she asked what the co-op was doing to shave costs.
Lopez answered that the co-op was going to refinance some of its debts and that the trustees had a cap placed on their expenses. Last year, the co-op board had expenses of close $480,000, which exceeded what the co-op’s negative margins were.
Lopez said the co-op owed close to $30 million to RUS and Cobb said if the co-op could not make its mortgage payments, the co-op would be taken over by the federal government.
“And if that happens, the rates are going to go up even more,” Cobb said.

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