Pending voter approval in March, the Marana Wastewater Reclamation Facility could, after years of litigation, become the property of the Town of Marana.
Pima County, which has been on the opposite side of the litigation, recently extended two settlement options to the Town, one of which has been accepted, save some small nuances with language still being worked out.
The agreement brought forth reads: “Pending voter approval, the Town will continue to operate the facility for a purchase price of $18.2 million, which is the principle 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.”
According to Town Manager Gilbert Davidson, the agreement is attractive because it offers the Town a solidified dollar figure, while also potentially putting the Town in control of its water resources.
“This option gets us closer to fully managing those resources in an area of growth,” said Davidson. “It was a natural fit to settle on that to full-own, operate and manage our own system.”
The second option would have allowed Pima County to maintain control of the facility, while allowing Marana the benefit of 100 percent of the effluent generated from the plant.
Davidson and Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry agree the negotiation isn’t much different from past settlement offers, but differ on why it has taken so long to reach an agreement.
Huckelberry said the Town is likely more motivated to settle after the Arizona Supreme Court refused to hear its case, one that would have determined the validity of a ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals requiring that the Town again reach out to voters before entering the wastewater business.
Alternatively, Davidson said the delay has come largely due to a lack of consistent numbers, citing the fact the county has flip-flopped on whether it was seeking repayment for the facility’s value versus its debt only.
“The agreement isn’t really any different, it’s just that we were able to get a number on paper,” said Davidson.
If voters say no to a Town-owned plant, possession and operation would revert to the county. Should that be the case, Huckelberry said the county is equipped and ready to do so.
“We understand the importance of securing water resources for economic development,” said Huckelberry. “With the new expansion and modernization of our facilities, the county stands equipped to handle the Town’s wastewater needs well into the future as the Town continues to grow.”
Huckelberry encourages Marana residents to weigh their options when it comes to voting time.
“Every decision comes with tradeoffs,” he said. “As the Town notes on its website, with ownership comes more control. It also comes with more costs, whether for paying off the existing debt, funding future expansions, or paying for upgrades to comply with state and federal regulations.”
Davidson, though, argues any upfront expenses will pay for themselves in the long run.
“This money is an investment into making sure we have affordable water resources for our future, where we would otherwise be facing really tough decisions and really high costs, so much so that it discourages people from moving to Marana,” he said. “The cost impact is something we have spent quite a bit of time thinking through, and we intend to manage and operate the system like a business, with appropriate revenue streams and covered expenses.”
The agreement is contingent on the repeal of Senate Bill 1171 and House Bill 1152.