As the Town of Marana and Pima County continue to battle for possession of the Marana Wastewater Reclamation Facility, a recent ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals has the county optimistic about the potential outcome.
On June 14, the court ruled Marana’s takeover of the wastewater facility and annexation of land surrounding the facility to be invalid.
The court also deemed that the town’s 1988 special ballot question asking residents to approve the town’s involvement in the wastewater business was too vague.
“The ruling by the Court of Appeals strengthens our arguments against the legislation,” said Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
In a June 27 special meeting, Marana Town Council voted 4-2 to have a special election in November to allow voters to decide if the Town should acquire the wastewater facility.
However, following the June 14 ruling, Marana Attorney Frank Cassidy said the Town has filed a motion for reconsideration with the Court of Appeals regarding the mandate of a special election.
“We think the decision is incorrect based on preexisting law, and goes in a direction that is inconsistent with the way voter authorization usually goes, which is generally at a policy level.”
As the Court of Appeals considers Marana’s motion to reconsider, Marana Town Council has since reconsidered its vote mandating a special election in November. Council cast a unanimous vote to withhold the ballot question until the Town’s regularly-scheduled election.
“It makes sense because the court could come back and say they want the election done a certain way,” said Town Manager Gilbert Davidson.
The June 14 ruling by the Court of Appeals reverses previous legislature in Senate Bill 1171, which allowed Marana to take control of the wastewater facility from the county with payment of $16.5 million.
Huckelberry said the bill forcing the county to relinquish control of the facility unfairly targets the county, which is currently questioning the constitutionality of the SB1171 at the Maricopa County Superior Court.
“If the law is held unconstitutional, the purchase price increases from $16.5 million allowed by SB1171 to what we have in the plant, which is $27 million,” said Huckelberry.
Cassidy said if it turns out a special election is required for control of the facility, he is confident Marana residents will vote in favor of town control.
“Ownership of a wastewater utility is going to have a huge impact on our water resource portfolio,” said Cassidy. “Anyone in the town who cares if we continue to grow, or how we grow, would vote in favor of it.”
The Town also plans to oppose the lawsuit by Pima County claiming SB1171 to be unconstitutional. Cassidy said the county’s position on the bill comes with a double standard.
“The county is arguing the bill is unconstitutional because of a special set of laws that only apply against Pima County, but Pima County is also the only county in the state that is authorized to run its own wastewater facility, meaning they have a special set of laws applying to them,” he said.
Still, Huckelberry said the Pima County Board of Supervisors have been briefed on all issues, and are resolved to ensure that sewer ratepayers of the county are fully reimbursed for “the ill-advised litigation.”
Leading to this point, Marana has refused payment of the wastewater facility until the county handed over the permits for the facility. Huckelberry said if the state attempts to transfer the permits to Marana as SB1171 mandates, the county would sue to stop such a transfer.