Big Chino expenditures in question because of Prescott's Taxpayer Protection Initiative

PRESCOTT - In the wake of the recent overwhelming voter support for the Taxpayer Protection Initiative, questions arose Tuesday over how Prescott should proceed with Big Chino pipeline-related expenses.

Those questions resulted in a temporary delay by the Prescott City Council on the purchase of three new easements for the pipeline, as well as a number of additions to professional contracts for the project.

At issue is whether the city should spend more money on the multi-million-dollar pipeline if voters would be deciding the fate of the project soon.

By a two-to-one margin on Nov. 3, Prescott voters approved the initiative that requires any city project of $40 million or more to go to a vote of the public.

The Big Chino Water Ranch, for which Prescott and Prescott Valley already have spent more than $35 million, was the project that both proponents and opponents of the initiative focused on in the months leading up the election.

City officials earlier estimated the cost of the Big Chino project at $170 million, but have since reduced it, because they say a $29.7 million intermediate pump station is necessary regardless of whether the Big Chino pipeline becomes reality.

Several members of the audience at Tuesday's meeting, as well as members of the City Council, pushed for answers on whether the city should be spending more money on the pipeline when a future vote of the public conceivably could kill the project.

"Why go through the machinations before the actual date that (Proposition) 401 is effective?" asked local resident and former council candidate Michael Allen Peters. "It seems to me you are trying to go in the back door."

Resident Leslie Hoy, a supporter of the Taxpayer Protection Initiative, maintained that voters approved the initiative because of a lack of faith in the City Council to handle large projects. Now, she said, voters "want to see if you are responsive to what they just told you a few short weeks ago."

And resident Howard Mechanic, another supporter of the initiative, maintained that by buying new easements now, the council "would be taking a risk by spending public funds on something that might be worthless."

Prescott Water Resources Manager Jim Holt explained after the meeting that he took the three easements to the council this week as a "housecleaning" move to get details resolved before he retires from the position next week.

In addition, while Holt said he usually waits to group more easements together before taking them to the council for approval, he said, "I'm sensitive to the property owners."

For nearly a year, the city has been buying easements that it needs to build the 30-mile water pipeline from the Paulden-area Big Chino Water Ranch. The latest round of easements that Holt took to the council this week totaled about $22,000.

Along with the easements, the council's agenda also included additions to four professional contracts relating to easement acquisitions, totaling about $212,000.

City Attorney Gary Kidd said the initiative would go into effect 30 days after the Nov. 3 approval. He added that he planned to discuss the implementation of the initiative this week.

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