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Help pleaded for Somerton-area subdivisions
SOMERTON — Ernesto Ezrre figures the quality of life hasn't gotten much better in the Orange Grove subdivision since he moved to the area more than four decades ago. And maybe it's worse now, he says.
The houses are on septic tanks that are beginning to fail, the streets need paving, and lighting and stray animals are a growing problem, he and dozens of residents of Orange Grove and the neighboring La Mesa subdivision complained to Yuma County officials recently.
Ezrre moved to Orange Grove in 1969, he recalled during a public hearing. “At that time, the Foothills didn't exist and now they have all the services and we don't. Yet the politicians never fail to ask us for our vote at election time.”
The county and the city of Somerton called the public hearing to discuss options for financing underground lines and other improvements needed to hook up the neighborhoods to the city's sewer and water delivery systems.
But as officials saw for themselves during the hearing at Orange Grove Elementary School, residents had other complaints about what they see as a lack of service by county government.
The two neighborhoods, home to about 320 families, are located on north and south sides of County 16th Streets and west of Avenue B in an unincorporated area surrounded by the Somerton city limits.
Nancy Ngai, community planning coordinator for the county, told the gathering the improvements sought in the subdivisions — particularly sewer service — may be eligible for a government grant that would pay for a portion of what figures to be a sizable cost.
The balance would have to come from a loan that La Mesa and Orange Grove residents would pay off by placing themselves in an improvement district, in which an annual tax would be collected for the payments.
Most residents at the hearing said they'd be willing to assume part of the cost, but one, Maria Robles, a longtime resident of Orange Grove, said the annual payments would have to be contained, because “the majority of us are low-income.”
For her, the area's most urgent need is a sewer system to replace the aging septic tanks.
City and county officials also heard residents' complaints of a growing stray animals problem, inadequate police protection and lack of maintenance to the public park serving both subdivisions.
“How does one become part of Somerton or Yuma,” one resident asked, “because we don't feel like we belong to either one.”
The county supervisor who represents the area, Tony Reyes, came under fire from residents who said he has not followed up on their demands for infrastructure improvements.
Reyes said he met with residents several years ago and offered them the same option that was presented during the public hearing: creating an improvement district.
But, he said, no one in either subdivision took the initiative to begin collecting petition signatures from residents to create the district. To form an improvement district, residents must collect petition signatures from more than half the residents within the proposed boundaries. The petitions are presented to the Yuma County Board of Supervisors, which can then vote to approve the district's formation.
With the city of Somerton's help, Reyes added, the county and the residents may be able to arrive at a solution similar to one that was previously worked out with residents of Gadsden who wanted to replace their septic tanks with sewer service. Residents there formed an improvement district and secured a grant in order to finance a hookup to the municipal sewer system in San Luis, Ariz.
“It's in my interest to dispel the impression that I don't care,” Reyes said. “But at times, the answers we can offer are not what the people were hoping for, nor in the time they want them.
“The people in that area have to understand that any solution is going to require their willingness to pay for part of the improvements, because the county doesn't have the capability and Somerton is not going to annex them without them having (infrastructure) in place.”
Somerton Mayor Martin Porchas said the most urgent need for residents is a sewer system, since the some of the aging septic tanks are causing contamination of the subsoil.
“Contamination has been a problem for many years. We need to try to help those people. We would not only be helping them but also the environment.”
But Porchas agreed with Reyes that the problem won't be resolved in the short term.
“It's not something that's going to be provided quickly, but working with the county — with (residents) taking the lead and if grants are available — they are going to have Somerton's support.”
Somerton can't provide sewer or water service to the areas without the basic infrastructure already being in place, Porchas said, and that it has to be in place if the two subdivisions want to be annexed into the city.
“It would not be fair for Somerton residents to pay for infrastructure for those new areas.”
The mayor added: “We have always considered those people as being part of Somerton. They shop in the city, they have relatives in Somerton and we've even had council members who came from La Mesa.”