The Board of Commissioners approved in a 3-2 vote the prohibition of both public and private utility franchise fees in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County. The board voted to protect rate payers from franchise and right-of-way fees that are typically passed on by utility companies. The Resolution to Provide Protection for Bernalillo County Rate Payers was sponsored by Commissioner Wayne Johnson.
“This resolution is filling a public need ,” says Commissioner Wayne Johnson. “County residents should not have to pay additional fees to receive basic necessities nor pay for expenses that are already covered by their tax dollars.”
Bernalillo County maintains public rights-of-way on behalf of the public. Taxpayer dollars provide the necessary funds for that maintenance. In some cases in the past, franchise fees have been imposed on utility companies, public and private, who use county right-of-way to provide necessary and desired services to residents, services that the county cannot provide.
Franchise fees and right-of-way agreements are often drawn up between the utility companies and Bernalillo County that make the fees a recurring annual expense for those companies, an expense that eventually is passed on to utility rate payers.
“Bernalillo County is the steward of the rights-of-way that are in fact owned by the taxpayers,” says Commissioner Johnson. “Utility rate payers and county taxpayers are one and the same, they should not have to pay twice.”
Currently, the county has in place franchise fee and right-of-way agreements with the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, Comcast, MCI Metro and Century Link formerly Qwest. Those agreements will likely remain in force until they expire. However, with the approval of this resolution, the county will no longer be able to include a franchise fee in right-of-way agreements executed with utility companies who provide services that are considered basic necessities, including water, electricity, natural gas and land-line telephones.
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The resolution does allow the county to assess a design review fee that caps at $250 as well as reasonable permitting fees consistent with existing county-wide permitting fees.