What is wrong with Pima County? That question probably isn’t unusual for most people who live here, but what many probably don’t know is just how far off base the county is when it comes to best practices for managing local governments.
My colleagues and I on the Marana Town Council have spoken frequently about the County’s lackluster operation of the local wastewater system. That it even has the ability to operate a wastewater system makes no sense. In fact, Pima is the only county in the state that’s permitted to do so, and that’s only because it received special permission from the state legislature in 1974 before Marana became a town.
The other 14 counties aren’t interested in this not-so-regional model because it doesn’t work. Having water and wastewater systems operated by two separate governments is like disconnecting the engine from your gas tank and hoping the car will still run. The two systems are interdependent and must function together to sustain our region’s future.
The vast amount of unincorporated area in Pima County also isn’t normal, nor is the fact that County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry tries his hardest to keep it that way. Counties were created as units of the state, intended to provide services like healthcare and criminal justice in rural areas far from the capitol.
Pima County has for years fought annexation and incorporation attempts by residents, which means the county now offers city services like parks and recreation and public works. That approach has amounted to the highest property taxes of any county in the state.
Huckelberry likes to explain that fact away with less-than-reputable math, but county roads remain in disrepair while Huckelberry recommends raising property taxes to offset revenue losses from the state.
Officials in Arizona’s other 14 counties support annexation and incorporation by municipalities. It means less work and expense for them in the areas of road maintenance and public safety, among other services. It also benefits everyone by increasing the amount of state-shared revenue that comes back to our local communities rather than being retained in Phoenix. Huckelberry’s need to control everything is therefore costing all of us more money while simultaneously bringing in less revenue.
It shouldn’t surprise you then to know that Huckelberry himself doesn’t follow best practices when it comes to serving as the county’s top appointed official.
Almost all city, town and county managers in Arizona are members of the International City/County Management Association and its state affiliate, the Arizona City/County Management Association, in large part because doing so lends credibility to the local government management profession and forces these officials to abide by the strict ICMA Code of Ethics. Not surprisingly, Huckelberry isn’t a member of either association.
Southern Arizona is a special place and we are fortunate to live in an area surrounded by natural beauty and filled with caring, intelligent people. Those qualities are what make our county special.
Where we should all find common ground is in a commitment to best practices and ethical behavior in government. Unfortunately, Pima County is lacking on both accounts.
Roxanne Ziegler is a member of the Marana Town Council.