We’ve gotten complaints from several of the residents at Far Horizons trailer park south of our office. They have been without gas service for nearly two months.
It’s been a learning experience for both me and my staff about what the city’s responsibilities are in this area. We have, however, educated ourselves on the unique circumstances that locations like Far Horizons have in their interactions with utility companies.
In situations where a single premise, such as a home, the responsibility for a utility stops at the meter. From the meter to the stove, kitchen sink or desk lamp, that responsibility is, with a few exceptions, the homeowner’s.
The situation at a location like Far Horizons is different. They have what’s called a master meter. Any time a meter serves more than five customers (in the case of Far Horizons, it’s hundreds), the landlord is treated as a quasi-utility. In the case of Far Horizons, each home is metered by the management and they maintain it too.
This means that the utility, in this case Southwest Gas, doesn’t maintain or repair the system. I haven’t yet received word about how this particular situation arose, but I can see how problems can arise from the fact that the utilities are out of the picture. Southwest Gas, Tucson Electric Power and Tucson Water have expertise in maintaining, repairing and improving these systems because that’s what they do on a daily basis. They also have the resources to do so. A property management company might not.
As for my office and Far Horizons, we’ve been taking calls from residents and following up with the management, city officials and the Arizona Corporation Commission. The ACC is involved because, like I said earlier, the management in these situations is considered like a utility. Much of the inspection work is being handled by the ACC, although city code enforcement has been involved to monitor progress.
There aren’t a lot of tools at our disposal as a city. In extreme cases where homes are not getting water and electricity, we have the power to condemn residences. Gas, even though people can be very dependent on it for cooking and bathing, is considered an “optional” utility; there are houses in Tucson without it.
Still, we have been able to refer residents to other agencies. The City’s housing department refers residents to Southern Arizona Legal Aid in cases like this where a tenant is not getting utility service from a landlord.
The good news that I got late this week is that gas is slowly, street by street, coming back for residents. We will be in touch with code enforcement to see that this is happening as quickly as possible.
Southwest Gas has reached out to my office because of this situation to give us the rundown on their ideas for either breaking up these master meter situations or changing the way they are managed so that problems of this scale don’t happen in the future.
The next census is coming up soon. We will be having a study session over the next few weeks to talk about how the city can help assure that every Tucsonan is counted. Why is this important? The count determines how out city gets represented in both congress and the state legislature. Also, data from the census gets used for numerous federal programs. It is vital that all of our neighbors are counted.
One of the topics for us to discuss is “complete count committees.” These are set up to make sure that proper outreach is given to all segments of the community. A CCC is comprised of a broad spectrum of government and community leaders from education, business, healthcare, and other community organizations. These trusted local voices develop census awareness campaign based upon their knowledge of the local community. This way, every portion of the community has a chance to understand how important the census is.
The census is already hiring. If you are at least 18, a US citizen and can pass a background check, you can apply. If you want to find out about available jobs in Tucson, call 1-855-JOB-2020 (1-855-562-2020) and select option 3 to be routed to the local office.