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EXPLORING NEW DEPTHS

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wants us to drink straight from the toilet! Like dogs!

Well, not exactly, although Huckelberry's recent memo to the Pima County Board of Supervisors laying out the parameters of a water study with the Tucson City Council seems to have set off another weird wave of anxiety, similar to the one we recently saw from members of the business community who felt all left out of the conversation.

The supes voted last week to move ahead with the joint water study, which will include a survey of the state of the infrastructure and resources of Tucson Water and Pima County Wastewaster. The study will also look at ways the city and county could better use treated wastewater, whether for turf irrigation, industry or recharge.

That element of the proposal has political gadfly John Kromko and others complaining that The Powers That Be were just waiting for their chance to pipe sewage into our taps.

So you've got the business community complaining on one side, and Kromko and Ko. complaining on the other side that Huckelberry has teamed up with City Manager Mike Hein to take control of the water supply, serve us crappy water and rule the world.

"Some people out there think Mike and I are hatching a secret plot," Huckelberry says. "If we knew what the answer was, we would. The problem is, there's no answer."

But there are plenty of questions, including a couple of really big ones that deserve to be answered:

• How much water do we have?

• How much future growth can we accommodate?

• Should Tucson Water provide water outside the current service area?

The answers to those questions will allow the Tucson City Council to finally set some real water policy. For all the talk about water over the years, that's something we've never seen the council members do.

Both Huckelberry and Hein say that they'll include opportunities for the public--whether it's the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association or Kromko--to weigh in as the study moves forward.

Is this the first step toward a giant new governmental authority that takes control of the water? We don't think so. It appears to us that the steps Hein is taking--putting a moratorium on new water hookups outside of Tucson Water's current service area, for example--is actually moving away from regional control.

When they approved the water study, City Council members made it clear that they were not interested in giving up control of Tucson Water, which is a mighty big impediment to any kind of new water authority.


FLOATING OFF

One person who won't be part of the upcoming conversation: Tucson Water Director David Modeer, who announced last week that he was moving north to take over the Phoenix water system.

Modeer's departure doesn't come as a huge surprise; the rumbling around City Hall had him a bit miffed that the City Council passed him up when they picked Mike Hein as city manager back in 2005.

And the most recent dust-up at City Hall--the revelation that Modeer was talking to the town of Marana about selling the northwest-side city the pipelines and water rights for the Marana customers now served by Tucson Water--didn't seem to sit well with Hein, given that the city manager cut off the negotiations as soon as he heard about them.

Hein says that before he starts negotiating with Marana over the price of the pipelines that Tucson Water owns inside the town, he expects Marana officials to explain where they will come up with the water that Tucson Water now provides those customers--and what rates they'd charge their customers for that water "to determine whether it's even feasible to begin discussion."

Hein remains diplomatic regarding Modeer's departure, saying: "I appreciate all the great things that Mr. Modeer has done."

Shortly before he announced his departure, Modeer told The Skinny that he didn't see much likelihood that a single water authority would ever take over all of the local water companies.

"That will be very difficult to accomplish," Modeer says. "Not only the city of Tucson, but other jurisdictions are going to be very reluctant to give up the ability to set their own policies and rates for their own citizens."

Modeer says the local water providers could band together to seek out new supplies of water, using a regional voice to have more influence than, say, Metro Water might have on its own.


GUESS THIS MEANS WE WON'T BE GETTING RID OF THE TRASH FEE ANYTIME SOON

A flat financial forecast means the Tucson City Council won't be able to sustain all the parts of its sustainability plan next year.

City Manager Mike Hein says some of the goals will have to be delayed, like hiring more cops and firefighters.

The good news: The city won't have to lay off any of the 80 cops or 75 firefighters and paramedics that it has hired in the last two years.

Hein hopes to have $7.4 million to continue to repair those crumbling residential streets, as well as about $800K for upgrading parks.


BORROW FOR TOMORROW

The money squabbles continue up at the Arizona Legislature, although GOP leaders conceded an important point last week: They will have to borrow money to build schools in order to resolve a budget shortfall that's now estimated to be somewhere around $3 billion for the current and upcoming fiscal years.

Unfortunately, even after draining the $750 million in the rainy-day fund, borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars and sweeping all sorts of state funds that are dedicated for various programs, there's still going to be a major shortfall--which means that lawmakers will have to cut state spending.


CURTAINS FOR CERTAIN

Herb Stratford, the executive director of the Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation, is stepping down next month.

Stratford led the charge to rehab the historic movie palace, which finally occurred after the city gave the Fox a big loan to make it happen.

But now that the Fox is all fixed up, Stratford was struggling to rent out the theater frequently enough to make any money.

Stratford sent out an e-mail earlier this week announcing that he would be leaving the foundation by April 25.

"After nearly 10 years of work on the Fox project, it is now time to move on to other opportunities," Stratford said. "I plan on staying in Tucson and finding other creative activities to keep me busy for years to come."

Our guess: Rich Singer, head of the Tucson Convention Center, will take over management of the theater.


CLASH OF VALUES

Feel like challenging your most recent property valuation? The cantankerous coots with the Pima Association of Taxpayers are sponsoring their annual forum to make the process a little easier to understand this Saturday, March 29, at the Pima Community College Downtown Campus, 1255 N. Stone Ave.

Pima County Assessor Bill Staples and members of his staff will be on hand to answer questions about how to appeal your valuation. If you're serious about it, you'll want to bring along your valuation notice, a pen and a pad of paper.

Need more info? Give Mary Schuh a call at 887-0112.

More by Jim Nintzel

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