Hose Job

Eastside residents get in a water fight with the Tucson City Council.

The year's Independence Day has passed. But despite opposition from the city of Tucson, residents once served by the HUB Water Company hope to get the freedom to vote for their representatives--something they don't have now.

The HUB system was a small, privately owned company with customers living near Sabino Canyon. In 1998, Tucson Water attempted to buy it, but its $960,000 offer was rejected. The Metropolitan Water District then purchased the company for $2.5 million--even though it is located several miles west of the HUB area.

Under state law, the 1,600 existing HUB customers could not immediately vote in the elections for the Metro Water board of directors. In order to do that, they needed to be formally annexed into the water district. Until that happened, they would be disenfranchised.

Last year, some residents of the HUB area began the annexation process with a petition drive and, as a courtesy, notified City Councilwoman Carol West. She then had the item placed on the council's agenda.

Citing the city's own potential desire to both acquire the HUB system and bring its residents inside the city limits, Tucson Manager James Keene urged the council to oppose the annexation by the water district. He also pointed out that some summertime delivery problems required Tucson Water to temporarily provide water to the area.

The council quickly and unanimously followed Keene's advice--without hearing from either HUB or Metro representatives.

Since cities located within six miles have veto power over water district annexations, the issue seemed to be settled. But backers of the HUB petition process would not be deterred. Eventually, almost 1,200 of the system's customers signed in favor of being annexed into the Metro Water District.

Rob Guillot, a 30-year resident of the area who helped lead the signature-gathering campaign, calls the pre-emptive move by the Tucson City Council "extremely petty" and says there were several reasons why his neighbors preferred to be affiliated with Metro.

"A number of people commented to me that they'd sign if it kept them away from Tucson Water," says Guillot, who estimates that the monthly water bill for the average customer would be slightly lower.

And there's another bonus: "As long as we maintain the boundaries of the HUB system, we won't have Central Arizona Project water," says Guillot. "The Metro District can't get CAP water to us."

Tucson Water spokesman Mitch Basefsky says rates for households that conserve water would be lower if they severed the HUB area. He adds that last summer, the residents did get CAP when they received some supply from Tucson Water before Metro installed a new storage tank.

HUB residents, upset by the council vote that apparently denied them the right to participate in Metro Water elections, indicated any chance Tucson had of bringing the area into the city had decreased substantially.

West admits the city "didn't handle it very well. There are a lot of compelling reasons for them to be part of the Metro District."

A few months ago, the annexation petitions were submitted to the elected Metro Water District board of directors. The board's chair, Dennis Polley, wrote Mayor Bob Walkup to ask that the council revisit the issue.

In his response, Walkup referred to last year's vote on the proposal. "Then as now we believe it would not be in the best interest of the citizens of Tucson or the Tucson Water customers and ratepayers to agree to the (Water District) annexation," Walkup said, adding that Tucson Water staff had "significant concerns" about Metro Water's ability to provide service in the HUB area.

Polley fired back a letter which read, "I am offended by such a statement because of the implication that the city knows best on water management issues when Metro Water is a professional, high-quality public water provider that does respond to its customers' needs."

The five-member Metro Water District board all signed a joint letter sent to every HUB area customer. Entitled, "Tucson Mayor Says No to HUB," it recounted the history of the issue and concluded that the board "believes that the city should support citizens who want a voice and vote in water issues."

Polley also said recently, "Our entire board is adamant about allowing our customers to get involved in the political process. I don't understand the city's position."

For his part, Guillot says his neighbors are "irritated, agitated and frustrated at the city's efforts to block their attempt at (political) representation. It was damaging to show how cavalier the city was toward (people's rights)."

Carol West has heard the same message. While she now believes the city should have bought the HUB system when it had the chance, she has asked the council on Aug. 4 to reconsider its earlier vote.

"Maybe allowing the HUB area's annexation to Metro Water District is the way to go," she says.

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