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The Marana Town Council recently took action to address the presence of contaminants—or “unregulated compounds,” in the official parlance—in part of its water supply. Preliminary plans call for two new water treatment facilities, though some residents are hoping the town will provide assistance until those facilities are built.

Those hopes recently manifested when town staff were contacted by residents in affected areas asking for either credits on their water bill or for a delivery of bottled water courtesy of the town.

To be clear, Marana is offering neither of those services to its residents.

 The confusion and requests for aid come from a post by the “Water Quality Taskforce,” a resident-founded social media group, which stated Marana Councilwoman Roxanne Zeigler “instructed town staff to look into the cost of either discounting our water bills, or having safe drinking water delivered to the impacted communities.”

That post apparently was inspired by a statement made by Zeigler during the Sept. 4 regular session meeting. After hearing from several residents on the ongoing water issue, Zeigler asked Deputy Town Manager Erik Montague to consider supplying bottled water to affected residents and spot-testing in-home water filters—the latter of which was floated as a possibility by Mayor Ed Honea at a previous meeting.

While Zeigler conceded that she mentioned evaluating the cost of supplying bottled water to residents, she categorically denied mentioning discounts to resident water bills, and Tucson Local Media is unaware of any such request.

Marana Town Manager Jamsheed Mehta touched on some of the miscommunication in an Oct. 3 memo sent to the Mayor and council.

Mehta also laid out the difficulty of the situation from the perspective of the council and town staff. Because the Environmental Protection Agency only issues health advisory levels for the contaminants found in the water, there is no requirement for the town to address any presence of the compounds (though I think we can all agree choosing not to address the issue would be, at best, tantamount to political suicide). 

With that in mind, the town is left to address the uncertainty regarding these compounds: Will the EPA one day regulate these chemicals? Will the current levels in Marana’s water supply exceed those levels if they are set? Not willing to wait and see, the Marana Town Council has decided to head things off with the development of water treatment facilities. According to Mehta’s memo, the project—which could cost up to $15 million—will take “approximately 20 months” before the water can be treated.

As for providing bottled water, issuing credits or testing in-home filter systems, Mehta told Tucson Local Media last week that he would advise the council against all such courses of action. The town manager said that Marana is not in the business of quality assurance, and should not be issuing tests on home filtration systems of various makes, models and efficiencies for select homes. 

“For those residents who wish to expect a different composition of water in the interim, they can indeed opt for other alternatives on their own,” Mehta wrote in his Oct. 3 memo. “Certainly with media headlines and unsubstantiated statements repeated on social media, such a reaction from some residents is not unexpected.”

As for bottled water, Mehta told Tucson Local Media that staff has not received official direction from the council to look into such an arrangement, only a question on the topic from “a single councilmember.”

As part of its Sept. 25 decision to move ahead with treatment plants, the council also authorized the application for a loan from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona to pay for the multi-million-dollar project. Mehta told Tucson Local Media last week that staff are working to identify revenue streams to repay such a loan, and that maintaining the facilities would be included as part of the operating budget. The town is already underway with a water rate study, which Mehta said they expect completed in the next six to eight months, and presented to council at the end of the fiscal year.

 

Dropping the bond

The Oro Valley Town Council gave the final OK to a multi-million-dollar bond package last Wednesday night, though redevelopment of the community center and work on the associated golf courses were not included. 

The now $8.2 million bond was included in the town’s current budget (as a $14 million package) to fix older sections of the water system, complete the construction of a new police evidence facility, reconfigure the community center and improve golf courses. On Oct. 3, council unanimously approved the authorization of those bonds, without the $6 million earmarked for the community center fund.

In a February memo explaining some of her suggested changes for the community center and golf courses, Oro Valley Town Manager Mary Jacobs said the center’s Overlook restaurant “is no longer a viable model,” but could become a financial success if relocated downstairs with reduced operations. The restaurant would operate from what is now the Garden Café, which would then function as a bar and grill. Jacobs suggested at the time that the revamped operation would better cater to golfers and create a space to host events.

Plans also included revamping the current restaurant space to expand the offerings of the community center and its fitness programming, among other changes. In all, the community center project included roughly $3.8 million in turf reduction, bunker reconfiguration and irrigation replacement on both golf courses over two years, and $2.2 million to reconfigure the center itself. 

After council approved the bond package last week, Tucson Local Media caught up with Jacobs to find out why she removed her recommendation for redeveloping the community center.

“With the outcome of the election, I felt it was prudent to honor the incoming Mayor and councilmembers’ focus on wanting to fully consider the future of the community center and golf courses,” Jacobs said. “So, I asked [Chief Financial Officer Stacey Lemos] to hold off—I pulled back on all activity that we were doing on those until we can get further direction.”

All four challengers in this year’s election—mayor-elect Joseph Winfield and councilmembers-elect Melanie Barrett, Joyce Jones-Ivey and Josh Nicolson—campaigned on the idea of “returning” to the National Golf Foundation study the town received last summer, which analyzed the different operational strategies under which the town could run its golf courses in the future.

The consultant’s report suggested that Oro Valley reduce its current 45 holes to 27, which would require a dramatic reconfiguration of the Conquistador and Cañada courses and possible redevelopment of the nine-hole Pusch Ridge facility into a 12-hole, par three course. During a Feb. 7 study session, Jacobs delivered her recommendations for the property alongside Rob DeMore, president of the Troon Privé Division (Troon is contracted to operate the courses). At that time, a 36-hole strategy was introduced, as were planned changes to the community center.

According to the town, the annual debt service on the bonds will be about $718,000 over 15 years. The town pledged sales tax revenues to repay the debt, though Lemos told the council she anticipates the town will actually use Water Utility revenues and police impact fees to make the annual payments.

And with the current council’s decision to authorize a bond package without inclusion of the community center and golf courses, it seems Winfield and his team have already delivered on a key campaign promise of taking a “step back” to reassess the community center.

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