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County suggests suit to stop differential water rates

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 6:53 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - In a three page memo sent to update the county board on the city of Tucson’s imposition of differential water rates, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry suggested a lawsuit could be initiated.

The city voted June 22 to charge Tucson Water customers who live outside the city limits in unincorporated Pima County up to 40% more than city users for the same amount of water.

But in order to justify that, the city must do a cost of service study to prove that it actually cost more to deliver water to customers who live in the unincorporated areas.

The city has been doing that cost of service analysis, but the county feels there are problems with it.

“A cost of service study which appears to be. at least in our view, appears to be flawed,” Huckelberry told members of the board at its meeting this week.

“Seriously flawed,” said board chair Sharon Bronson.

But the city says differential water rates are a common practice and it’s doing nothing out of the ordinary.

“Differential water rates occur across the country, they occur in different cities across the country, all over Arizona,” said Paul Cunningham, Ward 2 City Councilmember, who has been leading the charge for the water rates.

It’s true that many cities in the state have differential water rates but it’s less clear they have gone through the cost of service analysis.

In his memo, which can be found here, Huckelberry says the county has standing to sue the city and if it decides not to go alone, it can join a class action suit filed by customers in the county who will be affected by the higher rates.

It doesn’t mean the case will end up in court but the Pima County Attorney’ office issued an opinion that the rate increase is a violation of the commerce clause.

At issue as well, the city exempted other incorporated towns like Marana and Oro Valley from the higher rates.

The county is in the process of determining whether that’s fair because some residents who will be paying the higher rates, border the towns.

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