The Tri-City Regional Sanitary District’s Truth in Taxation Hearing took place on Wednesday, June 26, and in the end the handful of citizens left with a heavier tax burden and a lot of questions about the project.
The district board also approved its fiscal year 2018-2019 $6.2 million budget, which is contingent upon funding TCRSD expects to receive from the USDA’s Rural Development program.
The 41.6 percent secondary tax increase approved by the board will raise tax rates for residents within the boundaries of the TCRSD whether they will one day receive service or not.
According to legal postings by the district, the increase will raise $44,082 annually for operations, and the tax for a home valued at $100,000 will go up from approximately $70.28 annually to $101.33.
The dozen or so residents in attendance were against the increase, and from the outset of the hearing, TCRSD Board President Bob Zache was peppered with questions from the public beginning with why the tax increase was so high.
“It’s not very high: only $31 for a year,” Zache said. “It’s only a few dollars a month.”
Harley Farster, of Bechtel Tract, pointed out that many people in the district are retired and on fixed incomes. He also questioned the scope and cost of the system and who would have to pay for it.
“Who’s going to pay for the hookups?” he asked. “A lot of houses are quite a ways away and it’s going to cost a fortune.”
Zache said that some of the more remote properties in the district would not receive service, due to the cost of building infrastructure — although they still have to pay taxes in the district — and deferred many questions to the project engineer, who was not in attendance at the meeting.
Likewise, questions about the structure of the system went unanswered, such as how it would handle solid wastes, the location of the treatment plant and even the need for a new system, given that the City of Globe and the Town of Miami have excess capacity available.
“We can build a plant cheaper and maintain control,” Zache said. “We’re not going to put our constituents at the mercy of Miami.”
But information on the type of plant and the overall final costs of the project remained unanswered, in part because the district itself is not sure how it will work.
Initial USDA-RD funding will be in the form of a $28 million loan/grant, with $16 million in grant funding and $12 million a 40-year loan. As soon as the district gets a Letter of Conditions from USDA the project will begin, although the second and third phases will require additional requests to the USDA for more funding.
Cost and scope of the project
Estimates for the final project have ranged from $52 million to $64 million, and in 2011, TCRSD estimated it would be closer to $70 million, but by some estimates it may top $92 million.
The proposed project includes the installation of 58,000 linear feet of gravity sewer lines, 7,500 feet of forced sewer main lines, approximately 145 new manholes, 856 new service connections, several sewage water lift stations, and a water reclamation facility to process 250,000 gallons per day.
The system would serve Lower Miami, Claypool, Miami Gardens, Country Club Manor, Midland City, Bechtel Tract and Central Heights, encompassing five and one-half square miles with an estimated population of 4,022 with approximately 2,000 hookups.
The district is currently working on getting easements and rights of way for the project, according to Zache, and he even suggested piping part of the system in Russel Creek.
Current funding is for the first phase of the project, which includes building a yet-to-be-determined treatment facility and infrastructure for the first portion of the district.
The tax increase will help pay district expenses until Phase I is constructed and there will be income from the hookups.
Questions persist for those left out
The idea of being taxed for a system they will not be part of irked some residents, particularly business owners on the north side of Highway 60 that have little hope of being piped in.
Fred Barcon pointed out that his business property is across the highway and said the infrastructure would have to cross the road, which would mean the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) would have to get involved in the process, necessitating major road work.
But the district has not opened discussions with ADOT yet and Zache said that would be addressed in a future phase of the project.
He estimated the district is four or five years from Phase III, but that “these are just guesses,” and the project has not been planned out that far ahead.
When a resident asked why the treatment facility was going to be built in Bechtel Tract in what is presumably a floodplain, Zache explained there is a non-functioning septic tank that’s available and there would be more than one lift station involved.
Upcoming elections for three board seats
But when the question on whether residents of the area would get a chance to vote on tax increases or the workings of the district, Zache informed the people in the room that if they wanted to change the way the district was being run, they could run for the three seats opening on the board, to be decided in the upcoming general election.
According to Gila County Elections Director Eric Mariscal, local district elections are on a different schedule than offices such as county supervisor or city council in that they take place in the general election and there are no primaries.
Information packets to run for the district board are currently available and to get on the ballot, only five verified signatures are required. Interested applicants can submit completed packets from Monday, July 9 through Aug. 8. There are three officers whose terms are expiring, that of Zache, Robin Horta (Bradford) and John Chisolm.
The election is non-partisan and open to residents who live in the district. Business owners who do not live in the district are disqualified from serving on the district board.
At the conclusion of the Truth in Taxation Hearing, the TCRSD approved the budget for its upcoming fiscal year, which includes $40,000 for legal counsel, $50,000 for engineering and nearly $2 million for project design.
The next meeting takes place at the Tri-City Fire Department, located at 4280 Broadway, in Claypool, on Monday, July 9 at 5:15 p.m.