Wednesday, October 4, 2023

MRGCD Mill Levy Increase to Pay for System Improvements

Priority projects total $175 million


Landowners along a 150-mile stretch of the Rio Grande from Cochiti Reservoir to Bosque del Apache will pay more property taxes after the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District Board of Directors approved a 1 mill levy increase to pay for infrastructure improvements.

The mill levy increase will generate $4.3 million per year over the next four years. But perhaps more significantly, the increase allows MRGCD to leverage $26 million in grants and $8 million in loans. 

Jason Casuga, chief engineer and CEO at MRGCD, said it’s important to note the funding from the mill levy will be used exclusively for improvements to the water distribution system that provides water from the river to farmers, not operations.

“It’s very targeted to that so we as a district could seek grants and other funding sources,” he said. 

The property tax increase only applies to properties that fall within MRGCD boundaries, or what Casuga calls the “benefited area.” In total, that includes more than 60,000 acres of irrigated land.

“The system is old, and we need to invest in that system. The mill levy is a way we gain income from the benefited area,” he said, making a distinction between the mill levy and the water service charge property owners within the benefited area are charged.

The mill levy increase will show up on property tax bills each county sends in November.

The MRGCD Board of Directors in April voted to increase the mill level from 5.0693 mills to 6.0693. 

Owners of property with an assessed value of $100,000 can expect to pay an ad valorem of $33 per year. Landowners with property valued at $200,000 will see a $66 increase to the property tax bill, while taxpayers with property valued at $300,000 will pay $100 more. 

A perfect example

According to a letter from MRGCD to constituents in May, the district has identified about $175 million in priority projects over the next four years. The mill levy increase and grants the district plans to leverage takes care of only about $58 million of that need.

Other documents show that because so much money is being allocated to infrastructure repairs, the MRGCD has been operating at a deficit the past few years.

Casuga said one has to look no further than the failure of the Corrales Siphon in 2021 to understand the need for infrastructure improvements. The 80-year-old, 5-foot diameter wood-stave pipe that funneled water from beneath the river to irrigators in the Corrales area collapsed, jeopardizing farmers’ crops. The MRGCD rushed to patch the system and used diesel-fueled generators to pump water from the river. Those pumps have since been replaced by an eclectic pump system, but it’s only a Band-Aid. The total cost to replace the siphon is estimated at $9 million. 

Casuga said the siphon’s failure is another example of the importance of grants, often requiring matching funds, that will be freed up because of extra revenue from the mill levy.

“The (Corrales) Siphon project is a grant. We wouldn’t be able to do that without the grant,” he said.

Casuga said the Corrales Siphon is just one example of the critical need for system improvements. Just this year, the MRGCD has had to deal with six major failures to the water distribution system in Valencia County.

But examples of longstanding issues to infrastructure exist up and down the river. The Interior Drain at Isleta Pueblo, laterals and waterpasses in the South Valley, not to mention El Vado Dam, a water storage site in northern New Mexico.

Water is life

Aside from the Corrales Siphon, there are fewer priority projects in Sandoval County than the other three counties that encompass the MRGCD.

A brochure the district disseminates shows that the funding will be used to improve canals, vehicle crossings, pump stations and buildings, repairs to El Vado Dam among other things. 

Of the $175 million in priority project estimates, $8.5 million is in Sandoval County. That does not include the $55.4 million allocated for “all counties.”

The lion’s share, $73 million, is needed in Socorro County, where the MRGCD is completing the Socorro Main Channel South Distribution Hub, a $600,000 million project. 

There are $25.4 million in needs in Valencia County and $12.7 million in Bernalillo County.

One could argue that people in Sandoval County will be paying a disproportionate amount in property taxes, since most of the needs are elsewhere. 

“In terms of the mill levy, the vast majority of funds come from Bernalillo County,” he noted. The benefited area there is more dense, compared to other counties, meaning property owners in that county will contribute more.

“It’s awkward that we’re one entity that’s in four counties,” he said.

It’s important to remember that the MRGCD isn’t made up of four parts, he said. It’s one system that’s in charge of managing a critical resource. Not only is it responsible for getting irrigation water to farmers, who provide crops that sustain us all. It also plays an important role managing water efficiently to ensure New Mexico meets its obligation to deliver water to Texas under the Rio Grande Compact.


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