Marana officials announced last week the rates the town plans to charge for its wastewater services if it gets permission to act as its own sewer company.
The town has been locked in a battle with Pima County for a few years over whether it has that right and over ownership of wastewater infrastructure located within the town.
A senate bill is making its way through the Legislature that could resolve much of what remains in dispute. In the meantime, the town is working with the Pima Association of Governments - which is responsible for local wastewater planning - on an amendment that would allow Marana to become the third designated management agency for wastewater in Pima County.
The county and Sahuarita are the other two.
As part of the amendment process, PAG held a public hearing March 30 at the Marana Municipal Complex where the town outlined its plans and PAG took public comment on them.
Around 40 people attended, including town staff, councilman-elect Dave Bowen and all council members except outgoing councilman Russell Clanagan. At least eight representatives from the Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department also were there.
The town estimates it will cost about $54.6 million over 10 years - in 2011 dollars - to buy land and build new sewer facilities and upgrade existing ones, Thom Martinez, a consultant for the town from WestLand Resources Inc., told the crowd.
He estimated annual operations and maintenance costs of $2.8 million in 2011 dollars by the utility's fourth year of operation.
The town is projecting it will charge $6,000 in connection fees for residential or commercial connections, compared to Pima County's $7,803 and $15,611, respectively.
For a typical residential or commercial meter, assuming 5,000 gallons per month average winter use, the town plans to charge $36.18 for a month.
Pima County charges $36.18 for residential meters and between $36.18 and $96.11 for commercial, Martinez said.
Dan Jackson, Marana's rate consultant from Economists.com, said it's likely those rates would rise by about $2 a year for the next five years.
The fees collected would directly benefit the town, he said, without potentially subsidizing other system operations, and town ratepayers would have control over the system and its management.
There also would be a cost savings from having a combined water and wastewater system, he said, because they could share certain functions such as billing.
During the public comment period, Jackson Jenkins, director of Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation, questioned whether it's prudent for Marana to get into the wastewater business.
He offered a PowerPoint presentation noting all the uncertainties and risks Marana faces in starting a wastewater utility, including regulatory compliance, reporting and records retention, odor control, energy costs, and several other items.
He said Marana's rates will be higher than what Pima County charges because Pima County has 262,000 customers among which to spread all the costs of operation, while Marana will have just 12,000.
He said Pima County's wastewater department has kept up with Marana's growth even when it was booming, and he added that the department has gone to bat for the town with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which told the county not to approve any more sewer connections at the county's north Marana plant because it was at capacity.
The county expects the matter to be resolved by the end of the year, he said.
Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler told Jenkins it is wrong for the county to blame ADEQ.
"Had Marana had control of our wastewater, we would never have shut down businesses," she said, referring to the Town Council having to deny new business in north Marana because of the sewer situation. "We would have planned for it."
Former utilities director Brad DeSpain said if you teach people the right principles, they can govern themselves.
"It's time for the people of Marana to control their destiny, and let them govern themselves," he said.
Barbara Johnson, general manager of public services for Marana, thanked Jenkins for the county's concern but added, "I want to make it perfectly clear that your approach is not regional."
Regionalism means partners work together, she said. "Unified control is not a regional approach."
Marana has already considered the things on Jenkins' list of risks and concerns, and the town's course remains unchanged as far as what it wants to do, she said.
"By and large, we've done our homework."
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Contact reporter Shelley Shelton at email@example.com or 807-8464.