By Steve Christy
On April 16, I received my first COVID-19 shot, deep in the heart – or should I say, “deep in my arm” – of our Vail Community, at Old Vail Middle School. The entire event went off without a hitch and I had the opportunity to observe our members of our region coming together and working together to support the vaccine distribution campaign. I arrived a little before 9:00 a.m. and already, vehicles were lined up with our area residents awaiting their turns for the “jab”. Members of the Rincon Valley Fire District were supervising the recipients and keeping folks moving and safe. I received my vaccine from none other than RVFD Chief Jayme Kahle, who administered my inoculation with the skill of a brain surgeon. Watching me get injected were several RVFD professionals, Kevin Carney from the Vail School District, representatives of UCHC, and Lucretia Free from our District 4 Southeast Region Office.
After comments from all of them such as, “Look out! When that needle goes into the Supervisor’s arm, there’ll be a huge explosion of hot air!” and, “Now, we finally get to stick it to the Supervisor”, it was plain to see that they were enjoying seeing me getting my vaccination a little bit too much. We owe all of the volunteers and professional a great big “Thank You” for their efforts, for their time, and for their commitment to our community in providing this important service.
As my previous Vail Voice columns have reported, our Southeast Region is facing a number of serious and complex issues. We’ve highlighted our area’s significant and mounting trash problems along our roads and highways. Annexation and incorporation, as we have previously noted, are topics building steam and interest throughout Vail and Corona de Tucson. Presently, another issue – and a troubling one, at that – has come to the forefront: differential water rates being imposed by the City of Tucson through Tucson Water.
My understanding of this initiative being proposed and supported by the Tucson City Council is that customers of Tucson Water who live in unincorporated Pima County and are not customers of any other water company or service, would be subject to progressive water rate increases in 10% increments, possibly up to 30%. The overarching question is, why?
This current development flies in the face of a long-standing agreement dating back to the late 1970s between the City of Tucson and Pima County. At that time, the original “Water Wars” which involved a number of water rates controversies, had reached their conclusion. These “Water Wars” also prompted the recall of three members of the Tucson City Council and helped create a different approach to regional water delivery. One result from that conflict was the generation of a formal understanding that the City of Tucson, through Tucson Water, would be responsible for our region’s water delivery service and that Pima County would be responsible for our region’s sewer and reclaimed water systems.
So, going back to the “why” for the presently proposed differential water rates, the City of Tucson offers several explanations and none are truly separated from the others. First, the City of Tucson suggests that the rate increases will encourage incorporation. More incorporation, the thought process goes, will lead to the region receiving more state shared revenues. That has been, and still is, a subject for another debate.
Tucson Water suggests that customers residing now in unincorporated Pima County can avoid paying the increased rates by either incorporating in what is known as “Census Designated Places” or accept being annexed by an already existing incorporated jurisdiction. Vail, Corona de Tucson, and Tanque Verde, for example, are all considered as Census Designated Places. The incorporation of these CDPs would exempt their residents from the water rate increases. Incorporation is a lengthy and complex process that should not to be taken lightly. Another answer to the “why” is a bit more problematic. Would threatening water rate increases to residents who now live outside of any city encourage those residents to capitulate to annexation by that city, or perhaps a city such as the City of Tucson?
A third reason included in Tucson Water rates increases really is over-the-top. It is perceived that most, if not all, residents of unincorporated Pima County are wealthier than those living within Tucson’s city limits. Therefore, as has been stated by a member of the City of Tucson’s Water Advisory Board in a recent Arizona Daily Star guest op-ed, it is justified that those wealthier residents living outside of the city limits should subsidize the water bills of those less-wealthy living inside the city limits.
A final answer comes from one of my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors who agrees with the imposition of the differential water rates by Tucson Water, because it will slow or even stop growth and development in Pima County.
I don’t believe that the enactment of differential water rates is fair, justified, or equitable. I am strongly against this being imposed upon residents of unincorporated Pima County. Not one of the answers being offered as a rationale as to the “why” I’ve outlined here is acceptable and I will continue to act and vote accordingly as your Supervisor. Clearly, the City of Tucson’s efforts to enact a carrot and stick policy only activates the “stick” part, and it is not right. And it does not hold water, no pun intended.