PRESCOTT - The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors is contemplating cutting the county's County Water Advisory Committee dues in half, following suit behind Prescott and Prescott Valley.
The county is the largest contributor to the committee since all the local government members pay according to their population. The county pays about $89,000 for about the same number of rural residents, who mostly depend upon personal wells for their water.
The Prescott and PV councils sent letters to the water committee in April saying they wanted to cut their dues in half or they'd quit the group.
Supervisor Chip Davis of the Verde Valley said at Monday's board meeting he also supports cutting the county's dues in half during the next fiscal year that starts in July, but the board couldn't vote because it was a study session.
Davis suggested eliminating the county's contribution to the Upper Verde River Basin Protection Coalition that has members only from the Prescott area, too. Coalition members have talked about cutting their dues by 20 percent; Chino Valley and Dewey-Humboldt didn't pay dues this year.
Verde Valley municipalities generally want to keep paying their full Water Advisory Committee dues, but suggested they could keep half in a separate account for projects in their region next year. Davis said that's a good plan.
"It keeps everybody at the table," Davis said of his overall proposal, adding that he hopes all sides return to paying their full dues in FY2014.
Water Advisory Committee members are likely to talk about the issue when the full committee gathers June 19 for the first time since deciding in March to meet only a few times each year. Subgroups in the Prescott area and Verde Valley will meet more often.
New Water Advisory Committee Co-Chair John Martinez, a Sedona City Council member, worried that all the dues cuts will hurt the committee's ability to continue its work in the coming year.
Supervisor Craig Brown said the municipalities that decided to cut their dues should have considered how it would affect other members.
"They're the ones that started this ball rolling," Brown said. "They made the decision. They put us in this corner."
Water Advisory Committee Coordinator John Rasmussen said the committee would have enough money for its main project this year, a continuing U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study about how the region could meet its future water needs as its population grows.
The Upper Verde Coalition also has set aside some money for its large-scale pilot project to try to capture rainfall that otherwise would evaporate.
"The county's not in the water business," Brown said. "We're throwing taxpayer money in to help others."
Supervisor Tom Thurman countered that county officials felt like they needed to know the potential limits of water supplies when the county was growing faster around 2005, and he wondered out loud when that growth rate would return.
Supervisor Rowle Simmons, Prescott's former mayor, said after Monday's meeting that he didn't want to comment about Prescott's decision at this time, but he wants to see the Water Advisory Committee stay alive.
"If we have to let them cut to keep them on board, that's what we'll do," Simmons said.
He said he probably supports cutting the Water Advisory Committee dues in half, but hasn't decided on the Upper Verde Coalition dues.
Many of the rural county residents live in the Prescott Active Management Area where groundwater supplies are dwindling.
A new U.S. Geological Survey study notes that aquifers across the U.S. are being drawn down at an increasing pace.
It states that during 2000-2008, more than half (66 percent) of the wells in the Prescott, Santa Cruz and Tucson areas showed falling water levels.