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The Tucson agenda

Sahuarita to consider off-ramp to taking over water company

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

Sahuarita's plans to buy itself some water security may be changing.

The story is a little soap opera-esque with some twists, an "Oh no you didn't" and a generous helping of "If that's the way you want to play it ..."

The town does not own its own water company. It would like to change that. So when area pecan grower Farmers Investment Company put its water system up for sale the Town Council was ready to jump. But Phoenix-based Global Water Company swooped in with a cackle to buy it first. So the town said "Oh yeah, you ever hear of eminent domain, we can condemn the system and buy it from whomever owns it." Dun-dun-dun! 

The town even set an August election to give voters a say in the condemnation and sale.

But now there may be a deal to head off the legal wrangling. Council members told staff to go talk to Global Water and see if an accommodation could be made to let the private company own the system and operate it under terms and conditions agreed to by the town.

A tentative deal has been reached, which the council will discuss Monday. The council could also vote to postpone the election until November or cancel it outright.

The deal, as outlined in draft form, isn't half bad. It covers low-income users, technological innovations, hours of service at a Global Water office to be conveniently located and other provisions that show they thought through the scope of the arrangement.

A few things stand out. The language is without specific benchmarks and uses phrases like "reasonable efforts." Well, one person's reasonable effort is another person's atrocity. I'm not sure that's clear enough to head off legal problems later.

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Second, the company would be allowed to change water rates with only council consultation. Approval isn't required. I get where Global Water is coming from needing freedom to respond to the market and shareholders. But that's also the big problem with this deal. 

Global Water is a publicly traded corporation owned by shareholders and the company will make decisions accordingly. If the town wants to be masters of its own water fate, then shareholders are a huge obstacle. If Wall Street has taught us anything, it's that shareholders will insist on making money. The needs of the town will always be an afterthought and company leaders — based on decades of empirical evidence — will act accordingly.

Council members will also vote on a process to appoint a replacement for retired colleague Gil Lusk. 

Town residents can apply for a position between May 2 and June 1. Public interviews will follow and council will make the appointment in time for the August 22 meeting.

Rasslin' with inflation

Shooting up northwest, Marana wins whatever prize a local government wins for the arrival of the region's first Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget. 

Every town, city and school district must complete their budgets by June 30. Marana Town Manager Terry Rozema will submit his proposed budget for the Town Council to poke and prod during a study session Tuesday.

Budgeting in 2022 is a little bit of a trick because high inflation means high growth in revenues and rising expenses. Town management is rightly warning the 16 percent growth in revenues this fiscal year is not sustainable. The town is projecting between 3 and 4 percent in 2023-24 and beyond.

But next year, they're looking at a $73 million general fund (up from $55 million this fiscal year) with a $41 million general fund reserve. Holy cow. 

Governments tend to aim for about a 10 percent fund balance at the end of the year. Just five years ago, the town had a healthy $9 million in reserve. 

The big reason for the bump in expenditures is the $16 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. However sales taxes are also up from 17 percent.

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There's also a bit of a log jam in unspent federal funds that came in last fiscal year. 

Meanwhile all inflation means local governments will be budgeting on a wing and a prayer. It's hard to know what's coming. The Federal Reserve Board can raise interest rates to stave off inflation but that runs the risk of slamming the brakes on economic growth. What that means for growth, revenues and future years is not easy to predict.

Some kinds of expenditures will be smarter than others. Marana's proposed raises for employees may be necessary to keep competitive in a tight labor market but higher operations costs may abound making higher pay a tricky proposition. 

Fixed long-term debt expenses get a lot easier because today's dollars are bigger than yesterday's costs. So Marana is dropping $6 million on its Public Safety Retirement System unfunded liabilities.

Marana's the first town to wrestle with inflation's arms, legs and tentacles. But the challenge will be universal.

Textbooks and grading teachers

The Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board will vote to approve a math curriculum for grades K-5. 

The Kendall Hunt textbook will take students from the basics of addition and subtraction to "shapes in a coordinated plane."

Now concerned parents get 60 days to decide where math falls on the Woke-A-Meter. 

I have a quick quiz for any parent who thinks they have what it takes to decide what goes into math instruction: What's FOIL? What's a polynomial? Divide .2 by 0.09. If any of this makes your head hurt, maybe you shouldn't be deciding what kind of arithmetic kids learn.

Also, Sunnyside will alter how it evaluates teachers. Classroom performance will take an increased role and student performance will lose some prominence.

One would seem to be linked to the other but teachers know every class is different. Some are great and gifted others are rough and tumble. So a teacher who helps struggling students improve may be doing a better job than a teacher presiding over a gifted students shining.

Lull before the budgets

A quick round up of four school districts shows the boards are in a bit of a lull after the first of the year and ahead of the budget.

Maybe they just have spring fever. They are just doing routine business.

The Marana Unified School District Governing Board will discuss during closed-door executive session the future contract of Superintendent Daniel Streeter. There's no contract up for approval.

Aside from that it's just presentations on bond analysis, high-reliability schools, student literacy and out-of-state travel requests.

That's high drama compared to Sahuarita, Vail and Amphitheater district governing boards' business next week. 

I mean, the Sahuarita board doesn't even have a major expenditure on the agenda. I can't even bore readers with discussion of parking lot paving or HVAC installations. 

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Board members will vote on approving a student trip to Phoenix for a leadership conference and giving out student character awards to honorees from the district's nine schools. They will also get to decide on supplemental pay for band teachers and athletics coaches.

The Amphitheater board will be vote on a bunch of standard business. They are going to pay bills, appoint a slate of teachers, accept audit paperwork and vote on whether to approve travel.

The Vail School board will hold a study session to mull and ruminate over the budget process, federal coronavirus relief funds, student proficiency exam summaries, grants and summer camps.

At least someone is paying attention.

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Bobby Joe Smith/Special to the Green Valley News

The Sahuarita Town Council's plan to condemn the FICO pecan farm's water system may be scuttled by compromising with another prospective owner.

The Tucson agenda

Local public meetings this week:

Sahuarita Town Council

Marana Town Council

Vail Unified School District Governing Board

Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board

Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board

Marana Unified School District Governing Board

Sahuarita Unified School District

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