Council adopts resolution about turbidity levels in water system

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BLOOMFIELD — Bloomfield residents could see their property insurance rates increase, Fire Chief John Mohler warned during a City Council meeting Monday.

Insurance rates are partially based on the Insurance Services Office rating of the fire department. The Bloomfield Fire Department has an ISO rating of 2. The ISO ratings are a scale with 1 being the highest and 10 being the lowest. Mohler said that rating could decrease to a 4 because of a lack of staff members.

The department's rating of 2 was earned when the number of full-time staff members at the fire department was increased through the use of a federal grant. But that grant expired in 2016, leaving seven positions unfunded.

Residents voted in favor of a gross receipts tax increase that was marketed as a way to pay for firefighters’ salaries. That tax revenue went into the city’s general fund, but it was not specifically allocated to the fire department.

Now, the fire department needs to hire at least five additional full-time employees or attract 96 certified volunteers to maintain its current ISO rating, Mohler said. He said eight firefighters must be present at the station at all times to maintain the current rating. Currently, there are only three paid firefighters on the entire staff, and the department has less than 30 volunteers.

The department has never had more than 35 volunteers, he said, and most of the current volunteers are not certified by the state, which means they have not completed the training required to earn their certification.

In addition to impacting property insurance rates, a drop in ISO ratings would mean less money for the department from the state fire fund. Currently, the fire department receives $180,000 a year because of its ISO rating.

The City Council approved a loan agreement with the New Mexico Finance Authority on Monday for the purchase of a new fire truck. The $300,000 loan will be paid off over the next four years using state fire funds.

Mohler said the fire department will still make the payments each year even if its ISO rating drops.

In other business, the City Council adopted a resolution on Monday setting goals for the drinking water system as part of the New Mexico Environment Department’s Area Wide Optimization Program.

Bloomfield is one of about half a dozen water treatment plants in New Mexico that is participating in the voluntary program aimed at fine tuning the filtration process in water treatment, according to Public Works director Jason Thomas.

The program is run through the New Mexico Environment Department. The City Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the program during its Monday meeting.

The program involves regular training, and the city will try to keep 95 percent of its turbidity readings below 0.1 Nephelometric Turbidity Units. Turbidity measures the cloudiness in the water and drinking water standards require readings below 0.3 NTU.

Thomas said the turbidity was only being measured at each filter every six minutes. He said the location of the turbidimeters has been moved closer to the filters, and the turbidimeters now are taking readings every minute.

Councilor Ken Hare asked Thomas how much participation in the program would cost the city.

“They’re noble standards, but how about the cost to achieve it?” Hare asked.

Thomas said most of the cost associated with the program was for upgrading the turbidimeters and other equipment, and said those upgrades already had been scheduled. He said the turbidimeters the city had were outdated and becoming obsolete. The cost for the new equipment was about $64,000.

The program is voluntary, and Thomas said the city will not be fined or penalized if it does not meet the turbidity goals.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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