Pima County extends settlement offers to end Marana wastewater disputeby Pima County News on Dec. 18, 2012, under Board of Supervisors, Economic Development, Pima County, Southern Arizona, Tucson
The Pima County Board of Supervisors has extended two separate settlement offers to the Town of Marana to resolve the years-long dispute over wastewater services in the area.
“It is time to put an end to this costly disagreement,” said Supervisors Chairman Ramón Valadez. “Pima County has in good faith proffered two generous alternatives that should allow both jurisdictions to move toward a successful resolution.”
The Town of Marana last week issued a check for nearly $204,000 to cover Pima County’s legal fees after the Arizona Supreme Court let stand an appellate court ruling that determined the Town lacked authority to run its own wastewater facility, given ambiguous language sent to voters in a 1988 ballot question.
A second lawsuit remains in the courts, with Pima County contesting legislation in the 2011 legislative session that allowed the Town to acquire the wastewater treatment system for strictly the amount of the outstanding debt. Although the legislation allowed the Town to take the facility for $18.2 million, the cost of the facility in its entirety is $27 million.
The plant was turned over to Marana in January.
The outstanding litigation will be resolved if the Town accepts either of the two offers. Both offers are contingent on the repeal of the legislation that allowed the Town to expropriate the County’s assets at less than fair market value.
- Option A: Pending voter approval, the Town will continue to operate the facility for a purchase price of $18.2 million, which is the principal and interest on the remaining debt and which was the deal outlined in the Town’s legislation. The County would support a limited designated management area for North Marana, with the County providing sewer service for the balance of the Town.
- Option B: The Town will return the treatment facility to Pima County, which will guarantee the Town and its developers the immediate ability to establish new sewer connections. In exchange, the County will guarantee that Marana will receive 100 percent of the effluent generated at the Marana facility originating from the Town boundaries, barring any challenge under Indian water rights claims.
Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson said while both are fair offers, Option B is clearly the more cost effective for the Town’s ratepayers and allows for immediate growth.
“Not only has the state Supreme Court just determined the Town does not have the legal ability to operate the plant, but the Town also does not have the proper permits in place to allow for operation or expansion,” Bronson said. “That really puts a question mark on the Town’s ability to allow for new sewer connections. The northern portion of the Town of Marana is pivotal to the region’s economic growth and we can’t afford uncertainty when we’re trying to send the message we’re ready for business.”
Additionally, the second option means much greater cost savings for Marana. The small facility was the second most expensive to operate in the region. Expansions and improvements to meet future growth needs and to comply with environmental requirements over time will run in the millions. While the County can spread those costs across a large pool of ratepayers, Marana will likely have to either raise rates or provide a subsidy that will pull resources from other key areas, she noted.
Supervisor Ray Carroll said he hopes the Town Council weighs the County’s transparent offers and makes a choice soon.
Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías agreed. “I think this is a very important move by Pima County. It lets the ratepayers know we’re serious about putting an end to this litigation and moving forward with a solution.”