Pima County asks Tucson to reconsider differential water rates

The Pima County Board of Supervisors is asking Tucson to reconsider its plan to charge those...
The Pima County Board of Supervisors is asking Tucson to reconsider its plan to charge those living in unincorporated areas more for water.
Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 9:44 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Pima County Board of Supervisors is asking Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and the city council to reconsider its plan to charge those living in unincorporated areas more for water than those who live inside the city limits.

On June 22, the Tucson City Council voted 7-0 to go ahead with its differential water rate plan. On Aug. 10, the council voted to continue down that path and scheduled a public hearing for Oct. 19.

A customer outside the city could pay up to 40% more per month and the council said the change could bring in nearly $10 million more per year.

For the average customer, those who use less than 5,236 gallons per month, the increase will be around $48 per year. Those who use more than 33,000 gallons per month could see their bill shoot up by more than $1,440 per year.

On Aug. 12, the Pima County Board of Supervisors issued the following release.

“We are working to resolve this issue in a way that protects water supplies while not disproportionally placing the costs on one class of water customer,” Board Chair and Dist. 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson said.

Among the requests Supervisors made of city leaders are:

  • Rescinding recent actions that created a differential rate system
  • Requesting the city honor past commitments made as the leader of regional water resource management
  • Allowing the county to participate in a legitimate city cost-of-service study
  • Committing to a rate structure based on cost of service, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries

A 1979 Intergovernmental Agreement between the city and County established the arrangement of Pima County providing regional wastewater services and Tucson providing water for the region. The agreement also established a commitment to equitable treatment of customers in both jurisdictions.

“Pima County, as the single management entity, is committed to the concept of equal service for all users of the metropolitan system without regard to jurisdictional location,” the 1979 agreement reads.

Supervisors also requested city leaders establish a Water Sustainability Fund to supplement the water supply for the region.  The county also would agree to create a Water Sustainability fund and jointly use the collections to purchase “drought insurance” by acquiring Central Arizona Project surface water supplies and recharging that water in regional aquifers to be available for future use, if necessary.

The Board passed a resolution in April opposing Tucson Water’s plan to charge differential service rates for customers outside the Tucson city limits. The city later passed a differential water rate structure but singled out only those customers in the unincorporated areas for higher rates.

County officials said they are concerned that such a rate structure was enacted without clear justification or without conducting a cost-of-service analysis. Additionally, the rate structure combined with the city’s policy of denying the extension of water service to new customers outside the city limits would effectively force new development to acquire groundwater drilling permits further diminishing groundwater supplies.

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