Water bill is financially detrimental to ratepayers - The Explorer: Editorials

Water bill is financially detrimental to ratepayers

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Posted: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 6:00 am

The Town of Marana has come up with a costly and irresponsible scheme for taking control of the Pima County Wastewater Treatment facility that is located within the town but is part of the county’s overall treatment operations.

Senate Bill 1171, introduced in the Arizona Legislature at Marana’s behest, essentially transfers an asset that belongs to all Pima County ratepayers to the Town of Marana. By seizing control of the state-of-the-art treatment plant and the effluent processed there, Marana hopes to satisfy state water laws that will enable it to grow.

This tactic is a bad deal for Marana residents and all ratepayers in Pima County. The bill is Marana’s attempt to achieve legislatively what it could not achieve through litigation despite spending more than $1 million of taxpayers’ money on legal fees for a lawsuit that it lost last June.

When Maricopa County Superior Court Judge J. Kenneth Magnum rejected Marana’s claims to the treatment plant, he declared the facility is rightfully a Pima County utility paid for by all county ratepayers and never intended to be used exclusively for the Town of Marana. The judge also acknowledged that under the procedures established in the 1972 Clean Water Act, Pima County and not Marana is the Designated Management Agency for the region’s wastewater treatment facilities.

Marana’s strategy reverses sound regional public policy that has been developed and implemented, at considerable expense, over the last 30 years. The strategy will be financially detrimental to all Pima County ratepayers because all county ratepayers are responsible for the debt incurred through the upgrade and expansion of the facility that Marana wants to take.

Marana has offered no credible evidence to support its claim that its ratepayers will pay about the same amount they are now paying if it gains ownership of the facility. All of the town’s claims are built on an assumption that its population will grow by 11 percent each year over the next five years. Even though Marana’s growth rate has exceeded other parts of Pima County, their predictions also seem oblivious to anemic current and projected economic conditions.

Marana has acknowledged its attempt to gain control of the county’s sewage treatment facility is tied to a numbers game that makes urban growth possible by showing the town has a larger water supply than it does at present. Arizona law prohibits development in areas that cannot show the existence of an assured 100-year water supply. There are a number of options available to meet the standard, and Marana has chosen a route that is potentially the most costly for its citizens.

To try and resolve this matter, Pima County has offered to give all the treated water that originates from the town’s water utility back to Marana. Evidently, that is not enough.

Marana’s attempt to take apart this well-managed system is potentially an enormous financial burden to its own residents; would waste millions in public funds that have already been expended in the construction and operation of a state of the art facility; and is destructive of the best principles of regional planning; and, in fact, has already been declared illegal by a Maricopa County Superior Court.

The bill is a bad deal for ratepayers and deserves to fail.

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