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Guest opinion

Romero: Tucson Water customers shouldn't subsidize pipes for big businesses

On February 21, Tucson's mayor and Council passed a new economic incentive, the Water Infrastructure Incentive, with a 6-1 vote. I was the lone opponent of this proposal, and I opposed it for a number of reasons.

The WII would take $2.5 million of Tucson Water's ratepayer dollars each year and spend them to run new pipes and build new booster stations to serve businesses with more than 100 employees in new areas of town, south of the airport and in several other targeted areas on the edge of the city.

The WII is not an appropriate use of ratepayer dollars. Tucson Water ratepayers shouldn't subsidize corporations and big companies that can afford to pay for their own infrastructure.

About 15 years ago, our community had a long conversation about who should pay for infrastructure. Residents in Pima County decided that the "developer pays" for new infrastructure that will benefit their businesses and pocketbooks, instead of the ratepayers paying for it. This new proposal flies in the face of that notion and seeks to reopen an issue that people overwhelmingly support. If we have an "extra" $2.5 million dollars per year in the water department, we should consider investing those dollars in something that would return value to the ratepayer.

A Green Jobs Program to help small, locally owned businesses that sell water-harvesting systems, rain-gutter installers, construction and landscaping companies that can build neighborhood-level green infrastructure is a great idea. The Green Jobs program could help create quality jobs and train residents who need a trade and a living wage.

We could also create a Green Infrastructure Fund to alleviate flooding issues in the city, while beautifying and cooling our neighborhoods.

These ideas would benefit the ratepayers and the entire community, not just out-of-town corporations.

This current proposal violates the intent of the city's Water Service Area Policy. The WSAP was drafted almost a decade ago to protect our water supply, promote infill development within the city and to discourage sprawl. This proposal encourages development at the edges of the Tucson city limits, because those high infrastructure costs would be absorbed by the ratepayers.

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This proposal really got me thinking about how we incentivize job growth and practice economic development in Tucson. I have been supportive of all of the city's 20-plus business incentives, even helping to create the Primary Jobs Incentives, but it is time for the city of Tucson to look beyond the "big fish" and be smart about investing in small businesses.

Small businesses, collectively, are Tucson's biggest employer, and that's why I asked the city manager to create incentives that will help them thrive in Tucson.

We need to recognize that what worked downtown in the midst of the Great Recession might not be the same mechanism that works today on South 12th Avenue, Stone Avenue, the Sunshine Mile or another of Tucson's many commercial corridors.

The Water Infrastructure Incentive is not a smart way to grow our city's economy.

Ward 1 Councilwoman Romero represents Tucson’s West Side.

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