It’s not official yet, but the Town of Marana is expected to reach a population of 50,000 residents this year.
The small farming community that incorporated 10 square miles in 1977 has transformed into a 127 square-mile town serving an ever-growing amount of people and businesses. This has presented “special challenges” to the local government—as Town Manager Jamsheed Mehta puts it—which is tasked with providing quality roads, policing, drainage and water and sewer service to an expanding consumer base.
In just the past few years, town staff have completed several major infrastructure studies that forecast demand for services decades into the future. Mehta said the original infrastructure was only meant to handle a small, rural capacity, so the town is currently experiencing “growing pains.”
One such plan deals with sewer conveyance.
“About eight years ago we inherited Pima County’s sewer system with a very limited capacity and we’ve done some expansions to that original plan, but we never really looked toward the future and what our future needs might be,” Mehta said.
This new plan looks into where the town’s sewer system should expand and when that infrastructure should be built.
The staff also performed a wide-reaching drainage study focusing on North Marana, which generally encompasses the area north of Tangerine Road and west of Interstate 10. This study focuses on how to mitigate floods that heavily affect the area during monsoon. The study found that when it rains, water comes down the Tortolita Fan and takes about 10 to 15 hours to hit North Marana.
“It makes building in this area expensive because you’re essentially in a floodplain,” Mehta said. “With some massive drainage related structures, we could remove some of those developable areas out of the floodplain which makes it so much more advantageous for new buildings to happen economically.”
Another recent project is the pavement management study. Town staff electronically surveyed every lane mile of road in Marana, recorded the condition index (a measure of the serviceability provided by pavement to a motorist) and created a plan for when the public works department should repave or reconstruct each road.
This year, the town’s studies will continue. Mehta said they are preparing for a potable water study, which will determine how Marana should invest in their water system to service the expanding areas of town. He said they already have a fair amount of water reserves, but the study will look at how future demands might impact the system. It will also consider the Drought Contingency Plan, enacted by the state government in 2019.
“There will be conditions put on us and it’s only a matter of time, whether it’s five years away or 25 years away, water is always going to continue to be a very precious resource and how we plan and how we expand the water system to serve new areas is always going to be a challenge,” Mehta said. “Having said that, it doesn’t mean there’s any shortage, it’s just a question of extending the water lines in the areas at the right time, so you don’t invest millions of dollars into a facility where there is very little demand to pick it up as soon as the project is done.”
Another undertaking meant to address water needs is the Northwest Recharge, Recovery & Delivery System, which takes recharged Central Arizona Project water from a facility in Avra Valley and transports it to areas to the east with little water resources.
The system is a joint project between Marana Water, Oro Valley Water and Metro Water. Mehta says it’s all about taking water from where it’s abundant and delivering it to where it’s scarce.
Town staff believe that once the system is complete, an area known as the “Twin Peaks Corridor” will be booming with new homes and commercial development. Mehta said a lack of water service is the “only thing holding it back right now.”
Another area where the town expects new growth is Dove Mountain, where there are 10,000 planned residential homes and nearly half of that amount is already built. Saguaro Bloom, located in the center of town, currently has 800 homes built with a capacity for 2,500. North Marana has the most potential, with nearly 5,000 homes already online and a blueprint for 25,000 to 30,000 homes in the future.
These estimates will come to fruition over decades, not years, Mehta said, and the development will span farther than Marana’s recently adopted general plan that has a horizon of 2040.
With these expectations in mind, Mehta said Marana should be recognized as the community with “a quarter of all the new growth happening in Pima County.”
Keeping Marana Safe
With more people comes more criminal activity—a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Marana Police Chief Terry Rozema. He said every year the town adds more residences and businesses to the community, it serves as a great amenity for those who live here, but also creates an opportunity for people who want to commit crimes.
“It’s a large area and we have 17 miles of I-10 running right through the middle of our community,” he said.
Rozema noted that many of the people they catch breaking into cars, homes and businesses aren’t Marana residents, but from other jurisdictions. Because of the easy access to Marana via I-10, he believes it creates opportunities for people to prey on the community.
“It’s really easy to jump back on the freeway and head back up to Phoenix or head back to Tucson or wherever they’re from,” Rozema said.
The main challenge facing MPD in the future is to adapt to the growing needs of the community, mainly in terms of officer numbers.
Rozema takes pride in the fact that the department’s response time for non-emergency calls is 10 minutes. More importantly, they respond to the scene of a serious crime in under three minutes.
“Having the amount of staff to proactively intervene, prevent and deter crimes from happening is important,” Rozema said.
While every law enforcement agency struggles with recruiting enough people and actually getting them through the training process, Rozema said they have been able to stay on top of it. The department hires four or five officers each year, instead of having to hire 20 or more officers at once.
They’ve been successful at this thanks to the “Recruit Your 78” campaign. Rozema said the code 10-78 is a request for backup, so officers are essentially encouraged to recruit the person they want to work with.
He said MPD has a “very specific” type of person they are looking for in a potential officer. So current officers are encouraged to extend invitations to people they meet in the Marana community, someone who provides great service, has a great personality and is very humble, according to Rozema.
Another key development that has helped MPD grow with the town’s population is the recent completion of a state-of-the-art police station located across from town hall in North Marana. It opened in November 2018 and was funded by a temporary sales tax increase that ended in January 2019.
Rozema said their new facilities—which include an indoor shooting range, a virtual training room, a fully equipped fitness facility, training areas, defensive tactic areas, new technology, holding cells, property and evidence storage and more—have set them up for future success.
“This facility has certainly given us the ability to not only accommodate the growth of personnel in terms of numbers coming in, but also the growth of personnel in terms of advancement and becoming a well-rounded completely professional police officer,” he said.
The 50,000 milestone is significant because Marana is now a “bigger fish in the pond than we used to be,” according to Mehta, the town manager. He said a larger population brings a certain level of influence in regional politics, giving them a greater role to play than they had many years ago when the town was smaller.
However, that milestone is not official yet, as Marana’s current on-record population is around 47,000, according to Census data. The next Census count will happen this April. Mehta said the town estimates that they already have 50,000 residents based on state data and how many new homes are built in Marana each month.
Once Marana is a community of 50,000, as recognized by federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, they have a chance to be applicants for Community Development Block Grants. Currently, the Town of Marana receives this federal funding as a subrecipient under Pima County’s application.
“Instead of going through the county, and relying on the county’s redistribution of whatever funds they get, we can be applicants ourselves,” Mehta said. “That makes a big difference because we can make our case best to HUD rather than relying on the county’s staff to give us a portion of whatever they get, which is very limited.”
He expects any funding allocation they receive as applicants themselves will be “several times more” than the amount they are currently receiving from Pima County.
Recipients of the grants across the country can only use the federal money to provide affordable housing, anti-poverty programs and infrastructure development to their residents.
In Marana, older subdivisions known as “colonias” have existed for years with very limited and, in some cases, substandard, infrastructure, according to Mehta. He sees these areas as prime beneficiaries of the federal block grants.
Mehta said the funding could also provide housing diversity to the community by creating more affordable options. One such area where this is currently being done is at Marana Apartments, located across the street from the Marana Municipal Complex.
While more and more people are moving to the area, the town is not necessarily fully equipped with affordable resources. The median household income in Marana is an impressive $81,000, but there are still many residents who needhelp to make ends meet.
One of the only organizations working to fill the gap is the Marana Community Food Bank. Since the 1950s, the food bank has provided emergency food assistance to residents of Marana, Avra Valley, Picture Rocks and Oro Valley. But they haven’t stopped there.
“In response to what we were hearing from the people who visit the food bank, a couple of years ago we realized that we needed to do more than just provide emergency food assistance,” said Linda Hampton, the Marana Community Food Bank’s executive director. “That is the fundamental change that is occurring with the growth of Marana, is that there are additional needs besides food and there are not a lot of other service providers in the Marana community.”
The food bank has transitioned into a central location where residents can access the services they need. Inside their headquarters, they have created office space for partner agencies that send an employee in to meet with Marana residents. These agencies include the Pima Council on Aging, MHC Healthcare, Arizona Job Corps, Pima Community College and more.
Located on Grier Road just west of the interstate in North Marana, these food bank services are in high demand for local residents who live in parts of Marana that are mainly rural and do not have nearby doctors’ offices, grocery stores and other necessary developments.
But the food bank doesn’t stop there. They also provide their own programming to help meet the community’s needs. Their monthly cooking classes, taught by volunteer chef instructors who operate out of the food bank’s resource center, inform residents on how to use the food they are receiving from the food bank. They are also the only providers of diapers and incontinence supplies in the Marana area, which are distributed for free through their diaper bank program.
Hampton said the food bank isn’t going to solve issues of poverty with just a bag of food, so the organization looks at addressing broader issues and the different ways they can help people “move along a path out of poverty.”
“We recognize the growth that is occurring in the Marana area and that with growth there’s always going to be a percentage of people who need the assistance of a food bank or a resource center,” Hampton said. “We’re in construction with a new walk-in freezer so that we can accept more donations of food that requires freezing, because we expect the demand to continue to rise.”