Strahl: Why can’t we just talk?

Eric A. Strahl
Bloomfield City Manager
Bloomfield City Manger Eric Strahl

Anyone living or working in San Juan County recognizes the significant economic impact that falling gas prices have on our community – rising unemployment, a faltering economy and the need to look for cost savings in local government whenever and wherever possible.

That’s why it just doesn’t make sense for the city of Farmington to drag out a legal process that would allow the city of Bloomfield to exercise its legal right to purchase the assets Farmington Electric Utility Service, or FEUS, owns within the city of Bloomfield – at fair market value – in order to create its own municipal electric utility.

Each year, electric utility customers in Bloomfield generate an estimated $1 million to $1.5 million in surplus funds. This money goes straight to Farmington’s general fund and has been used for projects such as Ricketts Park and Piñon Hills Golf Course, all projects designed for the residents of Farmington to enjoy.

We are simply seeking the opportunity to use funds generated by the residents and families of Bloomfield for badly needed infrastructure and quality of life projects within Bloomfield.

Our right to do this was established 66 years ago in a legal decision recently affirmed when the 11th Judicial District Court denied the city of Farmington’s motion to dismiss our lawsuit. We alleged Farmington breached its franchise agreement by not allowing us to buy the electric utility assets within our boundaries to operate our own municipal electric utility. This is a right afforded to local governments throughout the state.

In denying Farmington's motion, District Court Judge Bradford J. Dalley ruled, “A municipality must be able to control the utilities within its jurisdictional boundaries and acquire the necessary property and equipment...”  In response to Farmington’s allegation that the terms of the agreement have expired, Judge Dalley ruled, “It cannot be said that the passage of time extinguishes that role, especially when the right has been recognized in an agreement preserved in a court order.”

Now, in an effort to delay the process in hopes that Bloomfield will give up, Farmington filed yet another legal motion to split our lawsuit into two trials. Farmington has complained repeatedly about the cost of the lawsuit, but they are responsible for filing legal motion after legal motion. This latest attempt at delaying our effort to gain utility independence will be heard by Judge Dalley, in the 11th Judicial District Court at the end of October.

Farmington alleges that this new legal maneuvering will save time and money because it’s “time-consuming and extremely expensive” for our cities to determine a “reasonable price” for the assets to be purchased.

That doesn't make sense, because Bloomfield’s detailed inventory and analysis of the assets and the cost of those assets needed to be purchased to operate an electric utility is about 95 percent complete, and, in fact, Farmington was supposed to wrap up its own independent asset analysis by August, according to their own projections. Bottom line, both communities have already spent the money and are moving forward with this process.

In June, following the court’s denial of Farmington’s motion to dismiss, we proposed to cooperatively work out a framework that would fairly allow for the purchase of electric utility assets within Bloomfield's city limits. In return, we received a letter refusing our offer and directing us to send all future communications to Farmington’s very expensive legal team.

We are confident that we will prevail in court and regret that our two cities are bearing expensive and time-consuming legal proceedings that will, in the end, do nothing more than increase the cost of this litigation. The citizens of our communities should not have to bear this cost, which is better spent on necessities for the families of both communities to enjoy.

We are completing all necessary due diligence as we progress through this effort and are acting in the best interest of our city, our residents and our future.

Why can’t we just talk?