Tue, June 18

Water rate conflict underscores importance of voting

And that's something those who reside within the city limits of Cottonwood never have been able to figure out.

For example, as recently as May when voters approved the Cottonwood General Plan, only 7 percent of the city's 4,082 registered voters showed up to decide the issue.

Granted, ours is a nation in which the minority typically decides our most crucial issues at the ballot box. But seldom do you see such puny numbers of people voting as you do in good old Cottonwood USA.

Unfortunately, the city has failed to take a cue from the other municipalities around the Verde Valley who have converted to all-mail balloting. Those communities such as Clarkdale and Camp Verde can boast voter-turnout numbers that would rival those of any other community in the United States. At the opposite extreme, Cottonwood can cite statistics that would rank it among the nation's leaders in voter apathy.

Because of that, today we find ourselves in a situation in which the city council claims it was given a mandate by city voters to go into the water utility business. Let's clarify that. The city council was given a "mandate" by 634 voters in March 2001. That election, by the way, included the ballot question to remove the city's sales tax on food, and the city saw one of its higher voter turnouts in many years, and even that was sad. Only 23 percent of the city's registered voters cast ballots in that election. The number of voters who cast ballots in favor of the city becoming a water utility represented only about 16 percent of Cottonwood's total registered voters.

As for the unhappiness from those folks in Verde Village who are now water customers of the City of Cottonwood and didn't even get a chance to vote on it, there are two schools of thought on that issue.

The first is that you have every right to be mad. There is something suspect about this deal when you consider the city still has not found a way to acquire Cottonwood Water Works. The city's municipal water company has more non-city customers than it has customers who reside within the city limits.

But the flip side of the coin is that Cottonwood/Verde Village is one community. The Village long ago should have annexed into the city limits. There's a ton of hypocrisy from Verde Villagers who use the city's library, parks and recreation facilities and who put all kinds of wear and tear on city streets to complain about paying city water rates. You want to complain, then annex into the city limits and do your complaining where it counts — at the ballot box. Think about it, as apathetic as Cottonwood voters are, it would not be hard at all for Verde Villagers to dominate and control the city council.

Likewise, there are two distinctive sides to the coin on this water rate issue. Folks, if you don't like what's going on, you had your chance to kill this deal three years ago and you did not vote. But the flip side is this. The Cottonwood City Council needs to think long and hard about what a mandate really is. Don't tell us you have a mandate to do anything from the voters when the voters don't vote.