Following the latest ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals, the Town of Marana may take litigation to the Arizona Supreme Court in its battle with Pima County over control of the Marana Wastewater Treatment Facility.
On June 14, the Court of Appeals ruled against allowing Marana control of the facility and surrounding land. 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.
Following the ruling, the Town filed a motion for reconsideration, but the court maintained its original ruling, and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has now refused the transfer any operating permits from the County to the Town.
Director of the Water Control Division, Michael Fulton, stated his reasoning for the decision in a letter to Town Manager Gilbert Davidson and Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
“Before a town can acquire all or part of a sewer system, it must comply with provisions which require the electors voting in a municipal election to approve the acquisition of a specific project, not general authority to operate a wastewater and sewer system,” it reads.
Though the ruling was unfavorable to the Town, Marana spokesman Rodney Campbell said it didn’t come as a shock.
“We weren’t surprised by the ruling, although we don’t agree with it,” he said. “The Court of Appeals rarely reconsiders and reverses or modifies its own decision.”
Campbell said Town Council will now decide in an executive session whether to pursue a petition for review to the Arizona Supreme Court.
According to Campbell, there are few other options in obtaining control of a Town-owned wastewater facility.
“The County has said that, although the Town owns the pipes that lead to the Marana Wastewater Treatment Facility, it will sue us if we try to build a plant to serve north Marana,” he said.
Campbell added that the County should have been aware the Town would attempt to provide its own wastewater services at some point.
“The Town and County have discussed wastewater service for many years,” he said. “The County has long been aware that the Town someday planned to provide service to a segment of its residential and business community. In 2007, when we elected to use our
legal right to end the IGA (intergovernmental agreement) we had with the County regarding wastewater, it should have come as no surprise to the county. We never wanted this issue to involve litigation, but we had no other option.”
Huckelberry said the most recent ruling is another step forward for the County, and said the County is prepared for further litigation if Marana decides to go that route.
“This is simply another ruling in favor of the County,” he said. “We are also hopeful the courts will invalidate Senate Bill 1171. We will continue to insist our ratepayers are fully compensated for all costs associated with the particular facility, and if that means more litigation, then such will occur. Marana is free to pursue further litigation if they so desire. If they do, the County will appropriately defend itself as we have been doing all along. We did not start the litigation.”
Huckelberry also claimed that if Marana were to own and operate its own wastewater facility, wastewater service prices would increase for Marana residents and businesses.
“We would hope someone would concentrate on the business concepts of the proposal, and if they do, it will be clear this is a very bad financial proposal for Marana residents,” he said.
Davidson and Campbell have refuted the claim that there would be an increase in prices, citing examples of how a Town-owned facility could actually save residents and businesses money.
As of press time, there has been no decision by Marana council on whether or not the Town will pursue litigation with the Arizona Supreme Court.