This article was originally published in the Southern Arizona News Examiner
The 2013 Marana election contains some decisions on finally putting away the long term, expensive and mostly symbolic fight over who owns the local Lockett Sewer Treatment Plant and the effluent it produces.
The first decision Marana’s voters must make is do they want to ultimately increase their town debt by acquiring a sewer plant from Pima County that they already paid for out of their Pima County taxes and fees.
The second is do they want to keep some of the council members who followed Mayor Ed Honea on his wild ride wasting millions of tax dollars for both jurisdictions on legal and lobbying fees over this and pushed aside some real issues that needed attention from the state legislature.
There are six candidates for four seats. Four incumbents are running for re-election – Patti Comerford, Herb Kai, Carol McGorray and Jon Post. The two challengers are Kent Crotts and former council member Dave Morales.
Candidates not receiving a majority of the votes in the March 12th primary election will go on to the May 21stgeneral. The sewer plant agreement has two parts, one authorizing acquisition of Lockett while the other authorizes acquisition of the smaller Rillito Vista plant. Both will be voted on in the primary
The ballot measures ask Marana to approve buying the two facilities to settle the long simmering dispute over effluent and who owns it by purchasing the major facility from Pima County, who won all the various court cases over the years including overturning the statute Marana successfully lobbied the legislature to pass.
Pima County offered Marana as part of a final settlement agreement two options.
One gave Marana 100% of all the effluent, guaranteed all hook-ups, and included Pima County picking up the costs of all future plant updates.
The other has Marana buying the plant from Pima County for $18.2 million, makes the town acquire the Rillito Vista treatment facility, and leaves Marana responsible for the costs of all future upgrades.
Marana’s Council picked the purchase option and Marana voters are being asked to ratify that decision – and expense.
Reason given is the need for local control of the town’s water needs for future growth. Only that hardly explains how they didn’t get that in the first settlement offer they rejected and why this huge cost item should overshadow other town needs
Some council members preferred that option, but others followed Mayor Honea’s unrelenting desire for acquisition in the executive session in which the town’s position was really decided. Some council members now supporting the measure are doing so reluctantly and just want the matter to get final resolution. The two incumbents most closely aligned with Mayor Eddie Honea’s position on the vital need for Town ownership are Comerford and McGorray, particularly the former.
Both challengers oppose the ballot issues on the purchase. Neither has done much in this mail-in election beside print hand-outs and plant a few signs. Crott is a political new comer while Morales is trying again to regain his old council seat and is this time running a coherent, if poorly funded, campaign.
What happens if the voters say no to the purchase?
The Marana Council could go back to Pima County and re-negotiate, or they could try to use a funding mechanism not requiring voter approval to borrow the money and over-ride the voter’s choice, something that would probably have them back in court.
Approval means Marana will need over $700 per resident immediately and that can only realistically come about by borrowing it. That’s over $700 for the principal alone, putting Marana’s per capita debt to over twice that of Pima County and approximating that of the City of Tucson.
Another question is what will happen if the sewer question fails and some incumbents don’t break 50%?
That could make the May election worth more time and effort from several directions.