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Sewer fees raise a stink

Sewer fees raise a stink

CREATED Feb 1, 2012

Reporter: Craig Smith

MARANA, Ariz (KGUN9-TV) - Marana fought to get a sewage treatment plant from Pima County.

Now Pima County's saying Marana will have a tough time paying for the privilege of treating that sewage unless it hits customers with huge rate hikes.
      
We depend on government to take care of dirty jobs we don't want to do--- and that includes getting rid of what we leave behind in the bathroom.
      
Pima County and the Town of Marana are actually fighting over the right to get rid of sewage.
      
State legislators passed a law that took control of a treatment plant away from Pima County and gave it to Marana.
       
Now Pima County is saying Marana will be forced to charge customers four or five times what they'd pay if the County were still running that plant.

A dispute over sewage has been churning between Pima County and Marana for about five years.
    
Pima County owned and operated the plant in Marana, but Marana wanted it because treated water from the plant gives Marana more ability to grow.
    
State legislators passed a law forcing Pima County to sell the plant to Marana. 
    
The County just turned it over; but now Pima County estimates Marana will have to charge an average customer 122 dollars a month instead of the 34 a month the county was charging.  That's not quite four times the difference.

KGUN 9 reporter Craig Smith asked Pima wastewater director Jackson Jenkins:  "Why is the free standing plant more expensive than the plant as part of your system?"

Jackson Jenkins: "The free standing plant, first of all it's a very small operation so economies of scale is the biggest impact.  I believe Marana has approximately 1800 customers.  When those 1800 customers have to divide the operating cost, the debt service and the principal of the money they would have to pay for the facility, as well as some of the other ancillary costs it adds up to a pretty big number when you divide by such a small number of people."

Marana says it never would have worked to get the plant if it thought it would have to charge average customers more than a hundred a month.

Town of Marana spokesman Rodney Campbell says, "It would have been irresponsible and we're not in the business of doing irresponsible things."
         
Campbell says Marana's own analysis says Pima County's pumped up its figures.  He says because new construction is starting to bounce back in Marana, the town will be able to match Pima County's sewer rates by adding revenue from a different source: growth in building and impact fees.

Craig Smith asked Campbell: "That's been a tricky thing for governments in the past when you bank on growth and growth slows down."

Campbell says, "It could happen. There are a lot of outside factors we have no control over but things are going pretty well right now.  We're not in the boom days we were in 2005-2006 but I think we're at a very sustainable level right now and we're doing pretty well."

Pima County is suing to overturn the law that forced it to give up the plant.  The county is so confident it'll get the plant back it's urging Marana to maintain it well so it's returned in good shape.
       
Marana says it's confident it'll keep the plant so it'll maintain the plant well just because it's the right thing to do.