Smells Like B.S.

Evidently, there’s still some stink coming from the Roger Road sewage treatment plant—or maybe, just maybe, it’s just some good old fashioned Pima County campaigning.

Donna Branch-Gilby, who is challenging District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson in the Sept. 2 Democratic primary, sent out a press release right after the supes approved the county’s its 2008-2009 budget on June 17, wagging a finger at the supes to draw attention to what she sees as a lack of attention to infrastructure, such as the Roger Road sewer treatment plant.

Branch-Gilby contends in her press release that residents that live down wind of the aged facility told her they continue to smell odor du sewage. She told the Skinny that people living near the facility have been told something would be done the last five years.

“…they are still holding their noses from the stench coming from the plant,” Branch-Gilby wrote in her release. “They’re still waiting for the county to provide up-to-date sewer services. I find it astounding that in these days of shrinking county revenues, the board majority saw fit to adopt a budget that includes money to organize volleyball and softball teams at Sportspark, but not enough to complete the upgrade of our sewer system here in Pima County.”

Branch-Gilby says she sent the release to particularly call attention to the dollars spent on the money going to outside agencies, rather than fix the sewer plants, especially with the county anticipating a $28 million deficit.

But here’s the problem: Money from the general fund that funds those outside agencies doesn’t go to the sewer system, which is supported by sewer fees.

According to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, there are plans to fix the 50-year-old plant, which call for the facility to be completely demolished and the county to start from ground zero. A study the county did several years ago demonstrated the plant, built in the 1950s, needed more than a retrofit and tightening some screws. A completely new facility is in order.

The funding for the project, to be completed by 2014, will come from a 2009 bond proposal yet to make its way to the supes for final approval. The bonding committee earmarked $565 million for sewer improvements, with a majority of the funds going to the Roger Road project, according to Huckelberry.

Bronson, who running for her fourth term, says she wonders if Branch-Gilby knows enough about government finance, as well as the history of the Roger Road facility.

Bronson says her office has yet to receive calls from nearby residents complaining about the smell. She feels that’s because the county has worked to address those issues while developing a plant to build a new treatment center.

“The process is moving forward,” Bronson says.

The sewer fees collected by residents in the area go toward operations and maintenance, and can’t go toward capital improvements, which is why the plant is earmarked in the upcoming bond package. Bronson invites Branch-Gilby and anyone interested to call the Roger Road plant and request a tour to find out the challenges facing the facility. Doesn’t sound like much fun, but Branch-Gilby might want to consider it before she sends out her next press release.

Branch-Gilby laments that with a deficit of $28 million looming and a complicated budget process that includes millions given to outside social-service and economic development agencies, the county should have reinstated the citizens’ budget oversight committee to provide taxpayer input and more trust on this final budget.

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