ecently, the Town of Marana laid out its position regarding the battle for control over the Marana Wastewater Reclamation Facility. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, quickly took the opportunity to respond.
Litigation relating to ownership of the facility has been placed on hold as Marana heads to the Arizona Supreme Court, where a judge will determine if the Town must go back to its voters before assuming facility control.
Leading to this point, Marana’s 1988 ballot question allowing the Town to be involved in the wastewater business was deemed too vague by the Arizona Court of Appeals. The Town is allowed to continue operating the facility until an official court decision is made.
If the Town eventually assumes control, it will be obligated by state law to pay the outstanding debt owed on the facility.
In a recent interview with The Explorer, Town staff said the County has not been transparent in what that dollar amount is, to which Huckelberry responded.
“The County has provided the Town with extensive documentation supporting the outstanding debt amount,” he said. “Our attached letter of Jan. 5, two days after turning over the plant to the Town of Marana, reported the amount of outstanding debt at that time, and offered a meeting with Pima County Finance Department staff. Marana never requested any meeting to discuss the matter.”
Huckelberry provided documentation, along with the referenced letter, which places the outstanding debt of the facility, as of May 24, at $16,529,501, interest included. Huckelberry argued the true outstanding debt to be $18.2 million when calculating land value.
“Senate Bill 1171 only states outstanding indebtedness for the facility,” he said. “Therefore, $18.2 million was reduced to $16.5 million, as some of the purchased land was not required for regulatory setbacks of the existing Marana facility, and thus removed from the outstanding indebtedness calculation.”
Pima County has challenged the validity of SB1171, arguing Marana should have to pay for the value of the facility versus the debt owed.
“Pima County ratepayers have invested much more than the outstanding debt in developing the treatment facility,” he said.
Marana Deputy Town Manager Del Post took issue with the Town having to pay full value for the facility, arguing that “Marana residents are also residents of Pima County, so to say that Pima County paid for a plant and now Marana should also have to pay (full value) for it too because it’s going to rip off the people of Pima County is disingenuous.”
Huckelberry refuted that claim as well, based on the population difference between Pima County and Marana, and the amount of residents served by the MWRF.
“The customers discharging to the MWRF have not paid enough to make up the difference between the cost of the facility and the current outstanding debt amount,” he said. “In fact, the difference between the cost of the facility and outstanding indebtedness has been paid by all of Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department customers. There are approximately 265,000 RWRD customers in Pima County, and approximately 2,500 of those customers are served by the MWRF. To allow Marana to only pay the outstanding indebtedness results in an unfair take from approximately 262,500 Pima County customers not served by the MRWF.”
Huckelberry also addressed an inquiry by Marana questioning why the County is pursuing facility ownership while at the same time requesting payment from the Town.
“The legislation providing for the MWRF to be transferred to the Town of Marana required that payment be made as of the date of the transfer,” he said. “Furthermore, the Town is benefiting from the fees paid by the customers discharging to the facility.”
In prior litigation, Pima County requested a payment of about $700,000 from the Town, which the Town appealed in court.
According to Huckelberry, the Town argued the payment should be stayed because it “should not have to pay for a sewage system that it operates but does not own.” The court ruled in favor of a postponed payment.
“At the time, the deed to the property had not been transferred to the Town,” said Huckelberry. “The deed was subsequently transferred. Payment has been justified in the deed, and the two-month extension granted ends in early September.”
Regardless of the outcome at the Supreme Court, the Pima County Board of Supervisors will determine how the County proceeds.