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County looks to settle wastewater dispute

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Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

In 2012, the state allowed Marana to take control of a Pima County wastewater facility. However, legal disputes continue.

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After years of dispute over control of the Marana Wastewater Reclamation Facility, the Pima County Board of Supervisors is calling for an end to further litigation with the Town of Marana, recently extending two separate settlement offers.

The decision by the Board of Supervisors comes just before the lawsuit is scheduled to return to the Maricopa Superior Court to determine whether a Town-owned and operated facility is constitutionally sound as deemed by Senate Bill 1171, sponsored by state Sen. Frank Antenori in 2011.

Marana was forced to halt that particular litigation after the Arizona Court of Appeals deemed the Town’s 1988 ballot question allowing the jurisdiction to enter the wastewater business to be too ambiguous.

Marana will now return to its citizens in March for a revote after the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s decision.

According to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, as a result of the court’s upholding, Marana was forced to issue a check for $204,000 to cover the County’s legal fees.

Huckelberry has several times voiced his surprise that Marana continues to invest in legal fees while it has “not made efforts to pay off even what the state indicated they should pay, let alone the full value of the facility.”

Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said there is a reason for that.

“It was determined by the judge in this case that we did not have to pay anything until the lawsuit was resolved,” he said. “We were told to hold off until then.”

SB1171, if maintained, calls for Marana to pay the outstanding debt on the facility before it is taken over, though Huckelberry has called that unfair.

“We believe this is not in the best interest of our taxpayers, considering the full-invested value of the facility,” said Huckelberry.

The outstanding debt and principal is estimated at $18.2 million, while the facility is valued at $27 million, according Huckelberry.

It appears the Board of Supervisors is now willing to settle on the outstanding principal and debt as opposed to the full value.

“It is time to put an end to this costly disagreement,” said board chairman Ramón Valadez. “Pima County has in good faith proffered two generous alternatives that should allow both jurisdictions to move toward a successful resolution.”

The first option extended from the Board is as follows:

“Pending voter approval, the Town will continue to operate the facility for a purchase price of $18.2 million, which is the principle and interest on the remaining debt and which was the deal outlined in the Town’s legislation. The County would support a limited designated management area for North Marana, with the County providing sewer service for the balance of the Town.”

The second option, which Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson said is “the most cost effective for the Town’s ratepayers and allows for immediate growth,” reads as follows:

“The Town will return the treatment facility to Pima County, which will guarantee the Town and its developers the immediate ability to establish new sewer connections. In exchange, the County will guarantee that Marana will receive 100 percent of the effluent generated at the Marana Road facility originating from the Town boundaries, barring any challenge under Indian water rights claims.”

Davidson does not agree that the second option is befitting of Marana’s goals, however, nor does he think the first option does anything more than what SB1171 has already legally mandated.

“The law says that they can only transfer the facility at debt value,” he said. “They’ve used different numbers the whole time for what that amount is. In my view they’ve never wanted to settle, but anytime an effort is made to reach out, that’s a good thing.”

Davidson said the Town Council will discuss the settlement offer during an executive session scheduled for Thursday night.

“We are still analyzing the options,” said Davidson. “The heart of the issue is trying to find a number that we can agree to pay for the plant. There are some nuances put in the agreement that we need to think about.”

Much of that has to do with the timing Marana’s March election, where voters will determine whether or not the Town can own and operate the facility.

2 images

Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

In 2012, the state allowed Marana to take control of a Pima County wastewater facility. However, legal disputes continue.

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