Pima County may seek legal action over Tucson’s differential water rates

Pima County make seek legal action against the city of Tucson over an increase in water rates...
Pima County make seek legal action against the city of Tucson over an increase in water rates for those living outside the city limits.
Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 8:27 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Some Pima County officials are hinting at the possibility of a legal challenge against the Tucson City Council’s vote to raise water rates on county residents.

Tucson water users who live in unincorporated areas will see an increase of at least 10% on their monthly water bills. Residents of cities and towns like Oro Valley, Marana and Sahuarita will not see an increase.

However, the more a customer uses, the larger the increase will be.

They are called differential water rates, which are common and legal in Arizona provided they meet certain criteria.

First, the increase must be “just and reasonable” according to a confidential memo released by the Pima County Attorney’s Office. The full memo can be read at the end of this story.

In passing the increase, the city also began a cost of service analysis which should be completed by Dec. 1, when the rates take effect.

As far as legal action, the county said it’s possible although not etched in stone.

“Now that the City has passed differential water rates the County Attorney will advise the Administration and the Board on next steps that could include litigation,” Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckeberry said in a release. “The Board is concerned a large number of unincorporated residents who may have been Tucson Water customers for decades are now facing an arbitrary water rate increase without representation and their only representation is the Board of Supervisors.”

Board Chair Sharon Bronson echoed those sentiments telling KOLD News 13 the county is “considering the decision of the Tucson City Council and potential litigation at this point, any further discussion with the city is off the table.”

A proposed joint meeting between the two governmental bodies two weeks ago was called off when the city could not produce a quorum.

“Nobody in the region benefits when the two major governing bodies are in a battle with each other,” said Tucson City Councilmember Steve Kozachik. “This is a time when we should be sitting down.”

But the division is not limited to city versus county. Two of the five county board members support the rate increases --- District 2′s Matt Heinz and District 5′s Adelita Grijalva.

Heinz said he supports it because it will provide payment assistance for those who can’t afford their water utility bill, limit urban sprawl and encourage conservation.

“The vast majority of my district, for example, are in the incorporated city of Tucson and it doesn’t make sense for them to be paying to push water up a hill, paying for extra pipe, extra repairs, extra labor,” Heinz said.

That’s determined by a cost of service analysis, which the city has not done.

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