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A Grand Bargain Becomes the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Perspective by Councilwoman Cathey Rusing


“Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting,” goes the old saying. Water is a precious, scarce and finite resource, liquid gold in Arizona. We can’t sell it short.


Following a quarter century of drought, this summer we did not have our rainy monsoon season, an ominous sign for the natural recharge of our aquifer. Our temperatures are breaking records.We have to adapt to the reality of a hotter and drier Arizona.


The community-minded people of Prescott have been doing an outstanding job with water conservation. Beyond saving money for us individually, it’s the wise thing to do if we are to have enough water for future generations.


We should have growth that respects our values and values our town, and managing this vital resource carefully is key to growing reasonably and sustainably. The Prescott City Council sets the water policies that manage growth and development.


The annexation process is the normal way for a municipality to grow responsibly. An annexation/development agreement is an invitation to negotiate. With annexation and the commitment of City water and sewer, raw County dirt at the very least doubles in value. In the negotiation process the taxpayers receive something of value in exchange for providing – forever – water, sewer, police and fire, road maintenance and infrastructure repairs to a development.


The central question in considering any annexation is, “How is this in the best interest of the community?” Usually this value comes in the form of meaningful, public or private open space and trails, and commercial development that generates jobs and sales-tax revenue, which are important in the cost-benefit analysis.


Thanks to voter-initiated Proposition 400, an annexation requires a supermajority of six Council votes to pass. Two votes defeat it. This brings me to the proposed annexation deal with Arizona Eco Development and Save the Dells.


The local grassroots organization Save the Dells has worked tirelessly for over three years, negotiating to prevent the heart of the Dells from being bulldozed. Save the Dells, the City and AED hammered out a Letter of Intent for the south AED parcel, which encompasses the Dells, and were very close to concluding a “grand bargain” that would allow development to go forward without destroying this unique natural landmark.


But, breaking with precedent and sensible practice, the current Council is instead moving toward changes in water policy and ordinances that would provide City water and sewer services to vast amounts of raw County land. It can make these changes with a simple four-vote majority, circumventing the annexation process. With the possibility of policy changes that would provide the water it needs outside City limits, AED is no longer motivated to negotiate. It will be able to walk away, develop in the County with City water and sewer, and bulldoze the Dells as it pleases.


At the very least the City should have waited for the annexation to be complete. Rightfully, Save the Dells and the many Prescott residents it represents feel betrayed. This is being done unilaterally, with no input from the County Supervisors, County residents, or even Prescott residents. It will have a negative impact at the State level, particularly the State Land Department. Setting a new precedent, this policy will encourage a rush of applications that would all be rubber-stamped.


Water is our biggest bargaining chip, and giving it away amounts to selling Prescott short.


If the new ordinance is passed, we can’t change our minds and take it back. Prescott Valley will grow uncontrollably by annexing in County and State land watered up by Prescott. Our tax base can’t expand, because those future sales-tax-generating businesses will be in the County.


This new water ordinance was to be ramrodded through in the November 10 Council meeting, but after public outcry it was removed from the agenda. I’m sure that it will be making another appearance soon. Your voice matters in this.


I am a strong believer in the principles of good governance, and I will continue to put the best interests of the community first, above all else. You can reach me at 928-777-1343 or cathey.rusing@prescott-az.gov.



Cathey Rusing is a member of the Prescott City Council.

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