Pima County sues Tucson over differential water rates

Differential water rate fight moves to the Pima County Superior Court.
Differential water rate fight moves to the Pima County Superior Court.
Published: Dec. 17, 2021 at 5:29 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County filed a lawsuit against the city of Tucson on Friday, Dec. 17, citing the city’s “unconstitutional” water rates imposed on Tucson Water customers in unincorporated areas of the county.

The lawsuit, filed in the Pima County Superior Court, argues that the city’s rates are discriminatory on the basis of race and violate a state law that requires municipal rates for utilities are “just and reasonable.” Officials say the new rates also violate the 1979 city-county Sewer Merger Intergovernmental Agreement, which includes the city’s vow to “to minimize costs to water rate payers in the city and county.”

The lawsuit comes after the city of Tucson’s move to increase water rates for unincorporated customers by 10% to 40%. The new rates went into effect on Dec. 1.

“Pima County and the Board of Supervisors didn’t want this,” Board Chair Sharon Bronson was quoted as saying in a news release. “We spent a year asking and even pleading with the city not to do what should be clear to everyone is unfair, unreasonable, and unconstitutional.”

The suit also notes that Tucson officials exempted some customers who use Tucson Water but aren’t within city limits, including those who live in the Tucson Unified School District, the Indian Nations and residents in Oro Valley and Marana.

The suit cites residents of Tierra Valencia, south of Casino del Sol, who will pay about $65 per month for water while residents of the nearby Pascua Yaqui Nation would pay about $50. Though the city says it costs more to deliver to customers out of the city, they county asserts, customers using the same main water pipe are charged differently.

County supervisors say the lawsuit points to the reason the city is adjusting these rates: annexation.

“When stripped of its post-hoc, pretextual, justifications, the City’s real reason for implementing differential rates becomes clear: It is using its control over the region’s water—a vital resource—to force Tucson Water customers living in unincorporated areas to vote in favor of annexation,” the lawsuit reads.

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