Oro Valley residents will pay more for their water beginning July 17 following the Town Council's unanimous approval of higher rates June 16.

For 95 percent of the water utility's residential customers, those using 10,000 gallons a month, the rate will climb 3 percent from $31.50 to $32.45 a month. A groundwater preservation fee of 21 cents for each 1,000 gallons used will add $2.10 to the monthly bill, bringing the total to $34.55. The groundwater preservation fee was implemented in November 2003 and isn't being increased.

While increases overall will boost the utility's revenues by 3 percent, the percentage increase to be paid by consumers rises as the amount of water used climbs.

Monthly water bills for households consuming 15,000 gallons a month, as an example, would climb 3.6 percent from $44.25 a month to $44.85. The groundwater preservation fee would bring the total to $49. At 20,000 gallons a month, bills would increase 3.9 percent from $57 to $59.25. The preservation fee would bring the total to $63.45. At 40,000 gallons a month, bills will rise 7.85 percent from $118.50 to $126.35. The preservation fee would bring the total to $134.75.

The increases are based on the recommendations of the town's Water Utility Commission and projected growth of 420 customers a year for the next 10 years. The utility currently serves about 16,600 customers, said Shirley Seng, water utility administrator. Increases similar to those taking place this year are projected each year for the next 10 years to meet that growth.

In addition to improvements to its potable water system, the town also plans to complete the first phase of its reclaimed water system by June 2005. The system will run from Tucson Water's system near Thornydale and Tangerine roads east to La Cañada Drive and Moore Road and on to Rancho Vistoso. A second phase that would take in the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort, Copper Creek Elementary School, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy and CDO Riverfront Park is scheduled for completion by July 2007. The 18-hole golf courses at Stone Canyon in Rancho Vistoso, Vistoso Highlands and Sun City are to be taken off groundwater in July 2005. Another 36 holes at the El Conquistador would be removed in July 2007. The nine-hole course at the El Conquistador would not be affected.

Other water fees approved by the council include:

€A $40 fee, or $15 more, to reconnect lines turned off for delinquent accounts. For after-hours connections, the charge will go from $50 to $70.

€A new after-hours development construction fee equal to what the utility's inspectors are paid, plus 30 percent, and a new $15 development plan revision fee.

The council continued until July 7 discussion of a possible purchase of nearly nine acres at Oracle Road and Calle Concordia as a site for its Public Works yard. The town had sought more than two years ago to relocate Public Works operations at the Naranja Town Site, along with administrative offices and a police training facility, but received widespread opposition. Residents near the yard also filed a lawsuit seeking to force a Public Works relocation. Town staff has since narrowed its list of possible sites from 33 properties to the Oracle and Calle Concordia location.

In other action during the nearly seven hour meeting, the council assigned town staff to study a request from residents in the Rancho Catalina and Verde Catalina area for a one-way south extension of North Mountainside Avenue to Magee Road to provide an additional southbound access to Oracle Road by way of the traffic signal at Oracle and Magee roads.

Residents have only two outlets onto North Oracle, West Catalina Shadows Boulevard and West Mountain Vista drive, neither of which has a traffic signal. The situation, which they've been trying to correct for several years, makes it hazardous to motorists seeking to drive south on Oracle without heading out into a five-lane divided highway carrying an average of more than 51,000 vehicles a day and waiting for traffic to clear.

Town Engineer Bill Jansen recommended that a project assessment be done to determine right-of-way availability, the feasibility of the project and costs, a task that will take six months and $20,000 to complete. The possibility of adding a left turn signal at Oracle and Hardy Road also will be explored

Of the 16 people in an overflow audience who addressed the recommendation, 11 spoke in favor, but not before criticizing the council for the time it's taken to deal with the problem and reminding councilmembers of promises they felt the town made to do so when it was looking for support of its annexation efforts.

Foes said the town should first look to addressing problems with its major roads before taking on a project that would benefit a relatively few residents.

The council also unanimously approved an amendment to the General Plan that would allow Linda Polito and Sidney Felker, owners of two separate parcels totaling 19.4 acres, to increase the densities on a portion of their property from one home per three acres to one home per acre. The property is in the Linda Vista Citrus Tracts west of Linda Vista Boulevard and Egleston Drive. Town planners recommended approval on the basis that the change would provide compatible transition from higher density uses to the east in Vista Montana, Sunstone Estates and Desert Skyy Club while retaining rural low density residential uses on the west where existing homes are located. More specific restrictions will be addressed when zoning on the site is reviewed.

Some questioned the action.

"What kind of credibility does the town have if a person buys property on the basis of its zoning and it's constantly getting changed by you," one foe told the council.

The council immediately turned around, rejecting by a vote of 6-1, a request from William Dallman, owner of 5.96 acres in the same area, for a General Plan amendment to change its land use designation to a higher density. The Planning and Zoning Commission on April 27 had denied the move to locate three homes on the property. Dallman later agreed to reduce the number of homes to be built to two.

The council's denial, with only Councilmember Terry Parish in favor, followed a lengthy exchange between Dallman and Mayor Paul Loomis regarding a previous continuance granted by the council May 19.

During the exchange, Loomis inquired whether Dallman would waive his legal rights in order for council action to continue, then made note of the fact that Dallman did not have an attorney representing him, nor did the town. The remark drew both questioning looks and laughter since Mark Langlitz, the town's attorney, was seated nearby among the row of department heads and had provided advice to the council earlier in the meeting.

As Dallman left the rostrum, Councilmember Helen Dankwerth began making comments questioning motives behind Dallman's request. Loomis put a stop to it, calling Dankwerth out of order.

The council's vote left many in the audience wondering about the justification for allowing changes on the Polito property to the east and the Felker property to the northeast and denying Dallman's request when the mix of zoning densities surrounding the property were much the same.

"I didn't understand the difference between the prior item and his request," Parish said in a later telephone interview. Parish had also indicated a lack of confidence in how the western portion of the Felker-Politon property was going to be protected from further residential encroachment.

The council also denied in a 6-1 vote with Parish dissenting, Vistoso Partners' request for an amendment to the General Plan that would change the land use for 14 acres at the northwest corner of Rancho Vistoso Boulevard and Tangerine Road from commercial to residential uses. The request had been recommended for approval by the P&Z Commission.

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