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Sedona Governing Bodies: All Smoke and Mirrors

Sedona AZ (February 25, 2018) – The following is a letter to the SedonaEye.com editor:

If an independent auditor were to do a State of Sedona address, like the President does the State of the Union, it might go something like this…  “The governing bodies of the city – the City Council, the Sedona Fire District, and the Sedona Oak Creek School District – spend more money than they receive.  The standard concept of a balanced budget seems to elude them; and therefore their policies and subsequent actions can be deemed to be fiscally irresponsible.”

Just as the quality of SOCSD schools were graded with a string of Cs and one B, the fiscal management of our governing bodies would be given Ds and Fs.  Numbers do not lie…unless they are tampered with to show otherwise.  Who picks up the slack for this mismanagement?  We the residents and thus each of us is $3,680 in per capita debt, 10th highest out of 91 cities.  This might partially explain why 27% and 25% of our tax bills can be attributed to the SFD and SOCSD respectively.

Apparently we residents have had enough, for we had the fortitude and common economic sense to vote down the SFD’s $18m bond last November.  In a recent SRRN article “Fire district budget season is in bloom” (2/7/18) the Chief has already begun his PR campaign to assuage and woo residents that the SFD has crafted and will develop “fiscally responsible” budgets, noting “Like all public sector local government budgets, personnel costs make up nearly 80 percent of the budget,” the total of which is approximately $17m.  Moreover due to “pension reform legislation, which will have long-term savings to everyone [this goes unexplained[…a correction to put reform on track…[this] resulted in an additional cost of more than $700,000 to SFD last year.”  Thus logically to reduce costs SFD would reduce personnel (not increase them as it did last year).  The standard fear-mongering comeback to this assertion is that such measures would jeopardize the safety of the residents.  “Our explicit goal each and every year is to achieve the leanest budget that can ensure sustainability for emergency service.”  This and future articles are to make more palatable the inevitable mill rate increase and higher budgets that are sure to come.

The SOCSD is also wrestling with budget problems.  Actually it’s wrestling with much more…”with many looming budget cuts and state financing issues,” Big Park principal Debbie Jones said (“Obstacles Slow Strategic Plan” SRRN 2/7/18). “With all of this, the search for a new superintendent, the need to address the [budget] override and multiple projects, teachers are working on curriculum mapping, salary committee, creating STEM and IB units of instruction, and all of the classroom needs – it is hard to keep the focus on looking forward and planning for a better future.”

It’s self-evident that SOCSD is dealing with too much and needs to simplify.  The crucial issues seem to be a decrease in funding and enrollment and the need to increase teachers’ salaries.  The district is losing 66 students this coming year and enrollment will only be 860 students.  Less students means less money from the state.  So the district is hoping to attract more families to Sedona.  But that seems unlikely since according to Sperling’s Best Places Sedona’s cost of living is 43.9% higher than the national average; that there are not enough professional jobs here to support families; and that Sedona will always be a tourist town.

Even the SOCSD strategic planning committee discovered that “In the Verde Valley, Sedona is the only community where the average house is more expensive than a resident with an average income can afford to buy” (“SOCSD team dives into data” SRRN 1/19/18).

City of Sedona Council Chamber

I commend the SOCSD Board for doing their best to balance their “maintenance and operations budget of $6,405,327.99, including the 15% budget override of $828,989.82 and $49,739.39 in Proposition 123 funds.”  But “The district needs to cut about $1.5 million from its current expenses to make next year’s projected budget work.” (“SOCSD starts talking budget cuts” SRRN 2/16/18).  But it doesn’t look like this will happen, though the Board has come up with “a little less than 25% of the needed cuts.”

My radical suggestion is that the Board sell both elementary schools.  Then transform the current SOCSD headquarters into a combined elementary school.  After downsizing its admin staff, SOCSD could rent/lease a new HQ space (or save part of its West Sedona school for that purpose).  The sale of these properties and the decrease in admin staff should help balance the budget and hopefully provide enough to increase teachers’ salaries which is long overdue.  The Board should also cancel the STEM and IB programs that create curriculum upheaval and unnecessary stress on teachers and staff.  More importantly it needs to focus on and improve the basics in the curriculum and raise their ratings up to As and Bs.  Only some out-of-the-box thinking can get the SOCSD out of its quagmire.  In any case residents should definitely expect to vote on yet another budget override this fall.  Actually we shouldn’t be voting on this for another 2 years; but SOCSD wants to do it now to keep its 15% levy, which would otherwise decrease to 10% in the last 2 years of this current override.

The City’s finances are not much better than those of the SFD and SOCSD, though the Council and staff would tell you otherwise.  According to the Proposed Budget 2017-18 “the budget is ‘balanced’ between expenditures and revenues set aside for capital projects, use of restricted grants, and donations, and the reduction of fund balances exceeding policy reserves.”  This is smoke-and-mirrors accounting.  Various city government departments charge the Wastewater Fund for related work they do for the plant; many of these charges appear inflated, especially since the City in general outsources much of its work.  Instead of lowering our rates, the City uses the WW fund (to which only 60% of residents contribute) as a surrogate property tax, a slush fund from which they can siphon off funds. Moreover “economic development increased $900,000 due to a reclassification of the visitor center support [to the Chamber] of $400,000 to economic development, an increase in destination marketing of $400,000 [to the Chamber] and the implementation of an economic development program that  focuses on other industries besides tourism.” (“Sedona gets a clean audit” SRRN 1/26/18).  What other industries can possibly exist in Sedona?  This is a pipe dream of the powers that be and a total waste of time and money, especially since rumor has it that the Economic Development Director is working closely with the Chamber.

More importantly will be the vote this August 28 for or against Home Rule, which gives the City the option to increase its budget to as much as $52 million.  It’s a virtual blank check; and the City came close to that amount, budgeting $47.76 million in this year’s budget.

In 2014 we voted for Home Rule and the next four years’ estimated budgets: $34.4m ($25.4m); $34.4m ($27.0m); $32.4m ($23.1m); and $34.1m ($21.9m).  The numbers in the parentheses are the limitations that state law would’ve required had there been no Home Rule.  Home Rule is the only check we residents have on the City’s profligate spending; and the CIty knows this and thus schedules the vote in August when there are less people in town.  The official reason for that date is in case there needs to be a runoff, then it can happen in November.  But it’s really a strategic ploy to ensure a Yes to Home Rule.  The City lobbies and makes sure that everyone and every organization that benefits from its largess votes Yes.  Out of 7318 registered voters (5,118 in Yavapai County and 2,200 in Coconino County, only 1,772 voted in the 2014 Home Rule (Proposition 429) election: 1,190 Yes and 582 No.  So all you Snow Birds, be sure to get your absentee ballots before you leave town.  Call the Yavapai Elections Commission (928 771-3250) or the Coconino Elections Commission (928 679-7860).  Please don’t let the fate of Sedona be determined by voter apathy.

Please confirm that you’ve received this. I appreciate all the work you all do to publish a variety of perspectives.


Henry Twombly

Sedona AZ

Read www.SedonaEye.com for daily news and interactive views!


  1. Tony Tonsich says:

    Great info.

    Appreciate the work Henry !!

  2. Norma says:

    Great information.
    Thank you Henry

  3. Anonymous says:

    Yea! moving after 36 years, the City of Sedona hijacked our little dusty western town and turned it into the Vegas strip, hope there proud of it…………

  4. Richard Saunders says:

    A balanced budget does not spend $10 million in reserves. Vote no on home rule or it will only get worse.

  5. Grain of salt says:


    Knows about as much as Tony T..

    Make up facts as you go along Twombly.
    Hey about those 300 ft engines Sedona Fire have!!?

    (deleted by editor)

  6. Richard Saunders says:

    Hey Twombly

    Don’t let the facts get in the way of s good Fiction story like yours .
    Don’t you know what the TRURH and FACTS look like


    Thanks for another FAKE FACT fairytale.

  7. Larry W says:

    Not to worry, Henry Twombly. It’s the same trite people who will continue to throw barbs when facts and truth are made public. That’s how they combat revelation of the down and dirty politics that continue to rule and destroy Sedona, both incorporated city and school and fire districts. Don’t lose heart. Keep up the good work. The angrier they get the better because you know for sure you are exposing the root of the evil in our midst. MY OPINION!

  8. @larry W says:

    You got it all wrong Larry W

    Your statement would make perfect sense if in fact you were talking about (Deleted by editor)
    but go ahead lemming….take what he says as fact.. his “story’s” are pure fiction .

  9. Mark says:

    Smoke and mirrors is likely a transparency understatement. Interesting perspective and it’s appreciated that someone and some media outlets even are talking about it. People didn’t care under Pres. Obama gifts to big corporate or when he helped Solyndra steal money from taxpayers and under Pres. Trump its sounding the same even with some progress. Sorry state of affairs beginning with Bill Clinton. We have to have higher standards of our elected officials. We have to say unacceptable and vote them to get out when they don’t do their jobs.

    This isn’t a soapbox comment it’s a fair and square comment.

  10. JeanJ says:

    As Henry mentions, “Various government departments charge the Wastewater Fund for related work they do for the plan.”

    Departmental Allocations totaling $1,056,950 are budgeted for this year, to wit: Information Technology, $180,040; Human Resources, $51,140; Financial Services, $189,420; Utility Billing, $370,640; General Services; $73,470; City Manager, $68,080; City Clerk, $5,650; City Attorney, $55,100; and Facilities Maintenance, $63,410.

    Isn’t this discrimination? The City Manager’s Office doesn’t charge the Chamber of Commerce for related work it does for it.

  11. Carl says:

    @JeanJ Explain how this transparency of allocations isn’t better than line items? This appears at face value to show that HR as example completed $51,140 as a department for Wastewater employees training etc? What am I missing? How does this relate to HR as example overall budget outlay? What’s or is this the message? This site gets better each year. Its ability to swim in shark tanks is the press wave of the future. Lucky Sedona.

  12. Hey Henry says:

    How come you don’t complain about the Red Earth place up in posse grounds (deleted by editor)

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