Passage of SB 1171 would be great for business - The Explorer: Voices

Passage of SB 1171 would be great for business

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Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 4:00 am

Marana has a proven track record of success.

We complete projects on time and on budget to the benefit of the entire region.

We have built large-scale public infrastructure projects, such as the Twin Peaks Interchange, that serve current citizens and open the door to future economic development opportunities. We have constructed many outstanding recreational facilities, including the popular Crossroads at Silverbell Park, which opened last year. The town has successfully hosted the Accenture Match Play Championship for five consecutive years. We worked closely with developers to ensure that an incredible Ritz-Carlton hotel and golf course were brought to town and completed on schedule.

Most important of all, our town council and staff have kept our budget balanced without raising taxes or development impact fees.

Unfortunately, Pima County’s wastewater system hasn’t been as successful. When the county makes constant references to “economies of scale” and “regionalism,” what that rhetoric really means is that wastewater ratepayers from across the area are expected to continue subsidizing what has been a poorly run public utility. With a $1 billion bill due to bring two regional plants up to proper environmental standards, the county wants as many businesses and residents as possible paying the tab.

Of course, had this sewer system been run properly, with money from ratepayers’ monthly bills set aside for necessary upgrades, the county would be better able to control its rates. Instead, ratepayers are being hit with a 300-percent hike in a 10-year time period that ends in 2013, and the county won’t stop there.

Ratepayers deserve accountability from the people who run their utilities. Steep rate increases have forced many wastewater customers to pay more for that service than they do for water, a precious commodity in the Sonoran Desert.

If Marana is allowed to enter the wastewater business, any ratepayer here would immediately gain better access to the people who make decisions about rates and service. The development process will undergo instant improvement. No longer will business owners who want to expand or relocate in Marana have to work through the county’s drawn-out process only to be denied sewer service.

Local decisions would be made by local decision-makers, not someone sitting in a county office. The same would hold true for any other municipality that sees wastewater service as a priority.

Senate Bill 1171, the legislation that Southern Arizona legislators developed to address our wastewater concerns, would give any city or town located in Pima County the rights that other municipalities in the state already have. The county’s stranglehold on sewer service would be released, opening the door to a new era of economic development and prosperity across the region.

Cities and towns would be allowed to sometimes compete and sometimes work in collaboration to lure companies that offer high-paying jobs, which is standard operating procedure in Maricopa County. A prime example is the announcement earlier this month that Intel will build a $5 billion manufacturing plant in Chandler that will employ 1,000 people permanently and thousands more during construction. The ripple effects of that project are huge and long-lasting. The facility, when completed in 2013, will be the most advanced and highest-volume computer chip factory on earth.

Imagine a project of that magnitude never getting off the ground because of something as routine as sewer service.

It’s not out of the question. Under the current arrangement, no city or town in this region can move forward without first checking with Pima County on wastewater capacity. Marana’s first-hand experience is telling: 19 projects have been stopped dead in their tracks because the county claimed it couldn’t offer sewer service. So much for regionalism.

SB 1171 deserves to pass. It is great for business. It is great for ratepayers. It is great for local control. This legislation is a good thing for our region because it gives everyone a fair shot at success.

Ed Honea is mayor of Marana, Arizona.

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