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Water rate hikes in Oro Valley, raises for Sahuarita Council and Pima County COVID bonus on tap

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Water rate hikes in Oro Valley, raises for Sahuarita Council and Pima County COVID bonus on tap

A quick look at what's planned for local government meetings

  • Water rate increases in Oro Valley will be just part of a week that could have local government leaders sweating their agendas.
    Steve Johnson/FlickrWater rate increases in Oro Valley will be just part of a week that could have local government leaders sweating their agendas.

Local governments are wading into dicey political territory next week. The Oro Valley Town Council is looking at taking the first step toward a water rate increase. The Sahuarita Town Council wants give themselves a 97 percent raise (just 58 percent for the mayor). And Pima County supervisors will quaintly discuss coronavirus restrictions and reconsider a vote from last week to make voting easier, before voting on a proposed something of a coronavirus bonus for more than 2,000 workers.

Never rains, but it monsoons.

Speaking of water ...

The Oro Valley Town Council will discuss voting on a notice of intent to raise water rates, following the advice of a study of water capital needs and rates in other jurisdictions.

Environmental consultant Willdan helped the town develop its 2022 Water Rate Study and Long-Term Financial Plan, which calls for increasing rates by 5 percent a year through 2025 and 4 percent in 2026.

Water departments work as enterprise funds, which means that bills are expected to cover the cost of providing service. It's like a business operates, or an enterprise (that's how I remember it).

The town has identified $6.9 million in capital improvements that must be paid for, and they've got to plan for a growing system with more miles of water lines.

The exact pricing is complicated and I'd overwhelm you with an avalanche of numbers relating to water line size, type of use, base rates and per-gallon charges if I started breaking it down. The study's executive summary provides the details.

Neighborhood meetings

The OV council is also seeking a return to pre-pandemic normalcy, voting on whether to resume in-person neighborhood meetings. These aren’t council meetings, necessarily. They are more related to town staffers going with a developer to a neighborhood association to discuss a rezoning.

These meetings have been halted during the pandemic but two council members want to bring them back, as the country also begins to discuss how and when to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

Honking raise

Raising water rates is one way to institute a popular uprising. Another way to provoke the pitchfork crowd is to give elected leaders a big raise.

The Sahuarita Town Council will vote during their regular meeting Monday on whether to all but double the salary of council members.

The vice mayor would get a 77 percent raise and the mayor would see his pay go up 57 percent.

It would take effect in November.

The percentage can create a mathematical illusion because it’s small increases of small numbers. Today, the council members make $500 per month, the vice mayor makes $600 a month and the mayor pockets a whopping $800 a month. Assuming it’s apart time time job at just 20 hours a week, then we’re talking about pay that is less than $10 bucks an hour — less than minimum wage.

The town's personnel department is making the recommendation after a study of other jurisdictions. Part of the resolution would make council’s wages part of a regular review of staff wages.

OK, but it’s not like the town has to worry about the Pima County Board of Supervisors or the California Legislature recruiting away a council member.

One way to look at the raise is that it's politicians feeding at the public trough are getting fatter.

Another way to weigh the proposal is that it's smart to compensate elected leaders a little better than pizza cooks to govern a town of 30,000. Not making elected office financially discombobulating will better attract new candidates if the problem is the existing crop. 

Not everybody feels the way I do. I have a hunch they live in places like Sahuarita.

They might want to consider doing it in steps — half the raise this year, 25 percent the next year and 25 percent the raise after next.

Lease deal for jobs

Sticking with Sauharita, the town's leaders will also discuss and, perhaps, vote on offering a lease to PowerPhotonics, a British optics firm wanting to rent the Sahuarita Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center. The 10-year lease come with a $1.2 million up-front subsidy to pay for the cost of start up and construction of a cleanroom.

PowerPhotonics will pay the costs maintenance costs associated with the property, plus taxes and insurance, in addition to he $109,200 annual base rent. A $70,000 security deposit will be refunded to the company at a rate of $10,000 a year for the first six years of the lease, basically wiping out the rent through 2029.

The upside is an expected annual payroll of more $1.9 million, with 20 jobs averaging $90,000 a year in salary.

New time

The town will also discuss changing the start time of the meeting, at the request of Mayor Tom Murphy.

This is how the motion reads: “I move to change the start time of regularly scheduled town council meetings to (insert time).”

A big payout

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will also a consider actions meant to accommodate/reward employees for the hassles and mitigation of COVID-19.

First up, Acting County Administrator Jan Lesher is proposing a big bonus for some 2,200 county employees who have not used their COVID leave. She is asking the board to OK a payout for the unused leave, which would cost the county about $4.4 million.

“While these individuals are fortunate to have not been impacted by the virus, they have in many instances been the employees who have remained in the workplace providing critical services to the people of Pima County,” Lesher wrote in a memo to the board.

Additionally, she is recommending an additional 80 hours leave be granted to employees going forward. Lesher said this extension would not cost the county additional money because it’s already included in the budget. That’s not exactly how money works. Just because you budget for it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Finally, 261 county workers were furloughed during the pandemic and have burned through their sick time and vacation hours. She would restore up to 40 hours depending on their status as full-time or part time.

In-person county meetings

The supervisors will again take up whether to resume in-person board at the request of Chairwoman Sharon Bronson. She had originally asked for this discussion prior to the outbreak of the Omicron variant, which swept across the county from December through February but appears to be waning.

Lesher provided the board with guidance from the Health Department staff that's their way of saying “not yet.”

The county’s health experts aren’t telling the board to vote no on this item, but they are including a list of 25 recommendations that include temperature checks and mask mandates for anyone who enters. Once inside, attendees would be required to sit six feet apart and in alternating rows.

Anyone not complying would be asked to leave, which could result in quite the hullabaloo if COVID deniers were to stage some sort of protest.

The staff are also recommending the county install plexiglass barriers on the dais to protect board members and senior staff from one another in case of infection.

No guns at fairgrounds?

Meanwhile, Supervisors Rex Scott and Adelita Grijalva want to release to the public some written legal advice relating to the future of gun shows at the Pima County Fairgrounds.

Scott would like to ban gun shows at the fairgrounds but the Arizona Legislature has forbidden local governments from taking action to limit hand gun ubiquity. 

The County Attorney's Office issued an opinion on the matter. Scott and Grijalva would like to make it public as if to say "it's not us. It's the Legislature."

Supervisor Matt Heinz wants an update on coronavirus pandemic in the county jail and an update on the fentanyl crisis among those in custody and what Sheriff Chris Nanos has done to deal with it. Specifically, Heinz wants to know if Narcan is being made available to inmates to treat overdoses.


Bronson has asked to have the board reconsider a decision to more to using voting centers and electronic check-ins rather than precinct-specific voting, with paper rolls.

The idea is that voters can cast their ballots anywhere the county has a polling place and electronic rolls will allow election workers to print out individual voters’ ballots. Polling places will no longer be tied to precincts based on a voter’s address.

Bronson voted for the measure as part of a 4-1 majority and has the option to ask the board to reconsider it.

It’s not clear that switching her vote would result in anything less than a 3-2 majority in favor.

I quick talked to Scott about the odds of him changing his mind.

“Zero,” he answered. “I have no interest in changing my vote.”

Scott is the most likely swing vote as he is a Democrat representing the Catalina Foothills and Northwest Side, where voters traditionally elect Republicans.

If he's not moving, the vote from the last meeting will likely stand.

Nogales drama

Down in Nogales, there's a bit of cryptic legal drama a-foot. 

Councilmember Hector Bojorquez has put on the agenda for Monday's regular meeting a request for clarification from the city attorney for an opinion about council interference in staff work.

Typically, council members funnel all requests through a city or town managers, because they work directly for the elected officials.

In Nogales, the city manager is the city attorney. Michael Massee has both jobs. He's the city attorney and serving as acting city manager pending the hiring of a permanent replacement.

Bojorquez has had problems with this. 

The agenda came out late Friday and Bojorquez has not responded to my inquiry. 

Stay tuned for updates.

Santa Cruz floodplain

Finally, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors has odds and ends on their agenda for their Tuesday meeting but one of them could have an affect on some county residents.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has adjusted the floodplain map, which means changes to which property owners are affected by the floodplain regulations and how.

Property owners who's lots are in floodplains can face massive restrictions prior to renovations or new construction so the county can remain a part of the National Flood Insurance Plan.

The new map will take effect on May 19 during which time people can object to the new rules.

The rules are based on the land expected to be at risk of a 100-year flood. So those who do object better have a hydrologist handy. 

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