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City of Tucson, Pima County sparring over differential water rates

Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 6:48 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Is it okay to charge Tucson water customers who live in unincorporated Pima County more for their water than customers who live inside the city limits?

That’s a debate that has split the city and county.

The Tucson City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether it will approve the “differential water rates.”

If the city passes the plan, a customer who lives outside the city limits could pay $70 per month for water that Tucson residents pay $50.

One hope of the plan is that it would induce some of the unincorporated communities to form their own government.

Why is that important?

Arizona doles out shared revenues to cities and towns, but not unincorporated areas.

That means the Tucson Valley leaves tens of millions of dollars a year on the table. If more towns incorporate, more money will flow from Phoenix to here.

But there’s a catch. Some Pima County officials don’t like the plan because “it’s unfair, it’s unjust,” said Rex Scott, the District 1 supervisor. “We will continue to look at options to fight this going forward.”

The Pima County Attorney’s office has issued an opinion as to whether the county can take some kind of legal action to stop it or not.

That decision is sealed and needs a vote of the board to unseal it. The board will vote tomorrow morning before the city takes its vote in the evening.

The city meeting is a continuation of a public hearing which ran long on June 8th because there were so many people who wanted to speak.

“I suspect the votes are there to adopt this, some form of differential water rates,” said Ward 6 City Council member Steve Kozachik.

Kozachik is leaning as a vote against the rates saying there needs to be a conversation among the two bodies before this is completed. He was disappointed the city/county joint meeting was cancelled two weeks ago.

Those in the city who are in favor hope the water rates will induce people in the county to incorporate or be annexed into the city.

“We haven’t had that conversation and I don’t think differential water rates is going to be an effective tool to cause people to want to form a new government,” Kozachik said.

Scott feels the same way.

“I don’t get positive motion towards annexation or incorporation by doing something negative,” he said. “You’re not going to get people to engage in something positive by hitting them over the head and reaching into their pocketbook.”

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