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Eye on Sedona with Councilor Litrell

Sedona AZ (October 26, 2011) – As a councilor I receive e-mails from the public on a variety of topics affecting our lives in Sedona. Email is a good way to know what’s on peoples’ minds and responses to e-mails and this City Talk column are excellent ways to provide information to the public.

Recently several e-mails have erroneously described the city’s financial status as “strained”, “broke”, “with unfunded urgent capital projects” and other words implying that the city can’t afford to provide the services required by residents or invest in projects that will enhance our city and our quality of life in the future.

It seems that, given the national mood and national financial situation, it’s hard to accept that our small city is actually in excellent financial condition. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011 the City has an approximate $1.3 million savings due to lower than anticipated expenditures and higher than anticipated revenues.

The good financial condition of Sedona didn’t happen by accident. Over the past three years, the City tightened its belt to help Sedona weather the national economic downturn. Staff and expense reductions were implemented. Decisions were made about sales tax collections, business audits, business licensing, wastewater rates and other revenue sources in order to ensure sound financial footing now and in the future. The City is not broke, and its finances are being managed prudently.

The City has recently adopted a five-year Capital Improvement Plan and projects are prioritized according to available funding, staff availability, and need. The first year of the Plan is fully funded. The City has a Drainage Master Plan that is being implemented over the long term, and the City has a five-year street improvement program. Nevertheless, the national mood of distrust of government and rebellion against Wall Street makes it easy to spread seeds of distrust about our local government as well. It’s hard to buck the national trend and admit that maybe, just maybe, the city is actually well managed.

It’s really important for our citizens to get the facts for themselves. You have the opportunity to see the budget, the expenses and the projects planned, ask questions and challenge the staff and the council most of whom are your neighbors. The accounting is transparent.

In addition, a group of your neighbors serve on the Budget Oversight Commission representing you and advising staff and the City Council in preparation of the five-year capital plan and annual budget. The commission plays a key role in providing important public input on budget policy, including revenue recommendations, capital planning processes and prioritization for continuation or elimination of programming and services in order to maintain a balanced budget. There are three openings coming up on the commission. If you want a firsthand look at what’s going on financially with the city, consider applying for the commission or attending one of their meetings.

It’s easy to scare people with, “We can’t afford it!” when it comes to projects in Sedona. Fear has been a historically handy tool to try to block projects like the sewer system proposed before incorporation, incorporation itself, launching a school district, or undergrounding utilities. In some cases fear won out but fortunately, in most cases it did not. Decisions are easier when you have the right information. Information breeds confidence; lack of information breeds fear.

I welcome your inquiries at blitrell@SedonaAZ.gov and I’m always willing to discuss issues on your mind.

Note: The above opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of council or staff.

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