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Sedona Taxpayers Face Three Possible GO or NO GO Bonds and or Property Tax, Part II

Sedona AZ (June 16, 2017) – The following is a letter to the SedonaEye.com editor:

Sedona Taxpayers Face Three Possible GO or NO GO Bonds and or Property Tax, Part II

Three “Possible” Bonds
Part Two of three
Information and Perspective by Henry Twombly

The second possible bond will arise from the same miasma of fiscal mismanagement and political clout, wherein the policies and their implementation are funded by taxpayer monies but profit only the Three Wizards – the tourist, real estate/developers, and construction industries – resulting in a diminished quality of life for us residents.

The second GO bond will come from the City, generated by the city staffs (and Wizards) and approved by the Council. If not in the form of a GO bond, then in the form of a property tax, both of which would have to be approved by resident voters. Yet some of us are already paying an indirect property tax. The residents in Fairfield and Summit II Community Facilities Districts (CFRs) pay assessments for the improvement of the roads within each district. But for nearly a decade those funds have been diverted by the City to purchase the Brewer Ranger station and pay for more parks, though the City may now have rescinded this diversion and are now once again using these funds as originally intended.

Forty percent of city of Sedona homes in 2016-2017 remain without a city sewer connection.

The 60% of us residents who are hooked up to the City’s sewer system are paying ever increasing wastewater (WW) fees. Some are paying fees, even though they don’t have a house; but they own the land that’s mandated to be hooked up to the system should they decide to build.

What’s more egregious is the City has now characterized the WW Fund as an “enterprise fund,” and it’s reneging on it original promise to residents to subsidize the fund. Initially the state went after uptown businesses for polluting Oak Creek. Instead of building a small onsite plant funded by the corporate polluters, the Wizards convinced the City to build a huge plant miles away and make residents hook up; so our fees would help defray the costs of plant construction and maintenance.

The only way the City garnered residents’ support for this project was its promise to use some sales taxes to subsidize these costs by 40-45%. Over the past decade or so the City has chipped away at these subsidies, while they continued to increase our fees. Hoag’s 2014 WW Fund study decreased the subsidies from 35% to 30%. It also levied a one-time fee increase on single family residences (10%), multi-family homes (17%), restaurants (27%), hotels and resorts (only 6.4%) and other commercial accounts (23%). On top of these one-time fees the Council instituted the recommended 4% annual increase for 4 years (through 2018).

In the current budget the City falsely claims that the report suggested the 4% annual increase go through 2021 and then a decrease to 3% for the next 2 years (through 2023). So they’re trying to justify these latter increases through this report. More smoke and mirrors, mainly because they are reducing the subsidy percentage to 25% and want to use the extra $4.05m plus for other things. Eventually they want to reduce the subsidies to zero and have residents pay the total cost of the WW plant – which is the true meaning of “enterprise fund.”

Moreover according to the proposed budget, “While annualized visitor population represents 55% of the total annualized population, the visitors contribute less than 25% of the funding for the operations of the wastewater system. Even considering the all funding sources in total, the annualized visitor population only contributes 40%.” The long and the short of it is that the City is reneging on its promise of subsidies, discriminating against and sticking 60% of us residents with all the WW costs, so it can use these funds for the Chamber’s product development and other Wizard-generated endeavors.

The City is not even using these funds to balance their budget. When we residents voted for Home Rule in 2014, we approved a 2017-18 budget with total expenditures of $32.472m plus. But the Council is now proposing a budget of $47,752,118, a 47% increase.

The trouble with Home Rule is that it gives the Council a blank check and provides no checks or limitations on their profligate spending, so that voter-approved budget estimates are meaningless. Moreover this $47m budget is a $10.06m (24%) increase over last year’s (2016-17) adopted budget of $38. 361m plus. The 2016-17 actual expenditures were $34,827,975, while actual revenues were only $31,183,461, meaning the budget was nearly $3.3m in the red. But the Council would claim the budget was balanced because they used reserve funds to cover the shortfall.

This modus operandi for “balancing” the budget has been employed (as “in ploy”) for several years in a row, so now the reserve funds are getting dangerously low. Yet the mayor in her SSRN article (5/24/17) writes, “While it may appear that we are spending more than we took in during the year, in fact the capital items were funded from previous operating surpluses.” She concludes the smoke-and-mirrors article by saying, “We never spend more money than we take in.”

City of Sedona Councilman John Currivan argues the city does not have a balanced budget.

From the SRRN article “City looks at $47m budget (5/19/17), “As he did during the budget hearings, Councilman John Currivan argued that the city does not have a balanced budget and nor should it tout itself as having one. ‘We didn’t pass a balanced budget in [fiscal year] ’17 because we budgeted to spend more than we were budgeting to take in,’ he said.” The City manager’s response was a specious argument that the City adhered to what had to be a convoluted “legal definition” of a balanced budget according to state statutes. (Boy, I wish I could balance my checkbook the way the City balances its budget.) From that article we also learn that reserve funds make up 21% of the budget; but we don’t learn how much is the discrepancy between revenues and spending. An oversight by SRRN. The amount is $9,989,641.

The trend of increasing budgets from the previous years (2.2% in 2015-16; 11% in 2016-17; and 24% in 2017-18) is more disturbing in light of…”That [$63,685,246] is the cost of the proposed road work over the next 10 years. But only $5 million of that is funded – everything beyond that is unfunded at this point (SRRN 5/517).

In this article entitled “City roads to cost $63.6M,” the first two and only paragraphs address this topic, but they don’t identify “the projects coming out of the transportation master plan which is not yet complete.” Which implies there could be more projects with additional costs to the $63.6m.

Well, we can deduce many of these projects will be from the list of options generated by the $250,000 traffic study. Unfortunately the only viable option in terms of costs and efficacy is a $10m bridge down at Red Rock Crossing, but they probably still will do some that tear up our neighborhoods; the latest detour being a $2.8m connection of streets that parallel 89A from Arroyo Pinon Drive to Airport Road, analogous to the Thunder Mountain-Sanborn Roads parallel on the north side.

These detours would accomplish nothing but to congest and ravage our local neighborhoods, because all this traffic would still get dumped back onto SR 89A.

All their options cost lots of money and save only a negligible amount of travel time.

I don’t know if the Council has factored into the equation that the construction to implement any of these options would just cause more traffic congestion (except the one down at Red Rock Crossing). Moreover by the time these projects are completed over the next 10 years, the City’s rezoning to accommodate developers and expedite the Community Plan will only densify our population and increase traffic so much as to make these road improvements ineffective and obsolete. In short their attempt to mitigate traffic congestion will be a total waste of time and money, but a great windfall for the construction industry.

The rest of the aforementioned article was how the City’s exorbitant spending would be a further boon for the construction industry and begin to create more of a bureaucratic behemoth of city government. Two years ago the City purchased property at 55 Sinagua Drive adjacent to City Hall for $850,000, which was $70,000 over the listed $780,000 price. (The driving force behind this purchase was a Council member (now a former one) whose spouse is a realtor.) A boon to the real estate Wizard. After already allocating funds to renovate and expand the police’s shooting range, the City now wants to spend $300,000 to renovate the Sinagua building, so the city court can relocate there and possibly the entire legal department.

All this is so the police department can expand due to a lack of an interview room, storage area and some work stations. Furthermore “the City realizes that in 10 or 15 years a new police station [estimated at $8-9m] will be needed but for now”…they have “$20,000 earmarked for a study as to how the police department could best use an expansion of the current facility.”

Where is the City going to get all this money for roads and new buildings? “The city’s fiscal sustainability work group…will be coming to the Council this summer with recommendations on potential funding options.”

Sounds like the SFD’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee, doesn’t it? From our assistant City manager, “More than likely the community is going to need to, at that point, look at these projects and say, ‘Do I want that? Do I want the city to do that? And if so, what am I willing to pay for?’”

Read between the lines, and you can easily imagine voting on a GO bond or a property tax this year or next.

The only way to stop the Wizards and out-of-hand spending by the City is to vote NO on Home Rule in 2018. And that’s not all we might be voting on in November 2018…

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6 Comments

  1. Bravo, Mr. Twombly! says:

    Thank you for this eye opening revelation. Of course, had more people taken time to vote AGAINST Home Rule at least the hands of those in control would have been tied to a certain extent.

    The discussion about a bridge at Red Rock Crossing becomes relatively moot when considering the area under consideration is NOT within Sedona City Limits. That is also true of the acreage the city owns at the wastewater treatment plant. Those perhaps are the only two defining examples that are proof the city really does NOT control the destiny of incorporated Sedona beyond City Limits. And that’s a good thing. Otherwise just imagine the extent and money they could divert for more parks and other frivolous projects in the name of “art” that cannot possibly be justified as anything more than vast luxuries for a handful of special interest individuals who maintain selective treatment from our elected officials.

    Quite possibly your most revealing truth, Mr. Twombly, is in the following quote:

    “The long and the short of it is that the City is reneging on its promise of subsidies, discriminating against and sticking 60% of us residents with all the WW costs, so it can use these funds for the Chamber’s product development and other Wizard-generated endeavors.”

  2. WSR says:

    @bravo mr Twombly

    Henry Twomblly congrats..

    You have the adulation of the lady who posts 10-15 times a day using different fake names….. She enjoys your brand of FICTION…….You have similar writing styles..

  3. Tony T says:

    I few years ago I had an argument on the ballot against home rule. Home rule passed in spite of my argument.

    The current proposed spending is almost twice what would be allowed if Home Rule had not passed and we were under state limitations.

    It will take more than writing on the Sedona Eye and ballot arguments, you have to spend the time and talk to every voter you meet.

    Home Rule just sounds so right, even though it is not when abused is it apparently is now in Sedona. Like the Affordable Care Act, (Obama Care) that has raised medical insurance premiums 250% over a few years.

  4. Marge says:

    But a huge part of the problem is Sedona has fallen under the control of just a select group. The same ones who now make decisions under the guise of Citizens Engagement Committees with little to no transparency. And the council caters to the minority. How many legitimate Sedona city residents attend all of the city government functions? Support the Red Earth Theatre? Half the population? 5,000? Doubt that. They get maybe a few hundred and yet that’s where most of the tax dollars go. How many tourists come to Sedona to play pickle ball? It’s a controlling handful of locals both inside and outside city limits. And the city council goes along with it. Time for a recall.

  5. Amen to Give Us A Break says:

    Especially about the part for the city to increase sales tax and/or impose a city property tax. How about for “them” to stop spending millions that benefit only a select few – meaning ALL of the non-profit special interests that the majority of us are forced to contribute to without benefit. Why should we be paying for movies we don’t attend, concerts we don’t attend, amateur theatrics we do not attend, parks we don’t use, and the list goes on, and on, and on. Those projects should be funded by those that use and enjoy them – period! Without incorporation that’s the way it was. And now – sure, no money for adequate infrastructure and that should have come first.

    No excuses here. It’s been careless giveaways for unnecessary fluff at an expense to all – especially the residents since we cannot even safely enter our two state highways anymore without risk of getting killed. Some planning – by a bunch of idiots that star gaze because they are romanced and flattered by the schmoozers that continue to convince them how special they are while at the same time depleting off city coffers at a great expense to everyone – and that includes tourists as well.

    How about they lobby for an in crease to our Social Security Benefits? That’s a fund, as was mentioned, we were mandated to contribute to only to be ripped off. Reevaluate your give-away policies – NOW!

  6. Boo Bissell, Reno says:

    There was a rear-ended car accident at the 179 and 17 exit, a hit and run. We didn’t see it but heard about it. An accident along 17, 179 or coming in from Cottonwood-Page Springs-Flagstaff and that’s it for the day. We’re all sick and tired of traffic sitting and polluting Sedona air!!!!!!My parents are sick and tired of it but won’t say publicly. They’re in a valley pocket and it’s bad. Let’s get some air quality studies going. All you smell is gas exhaust instead of mesquite and sage. Riding bikes not safe, hiking not safe. Where’s KSB position on this outrageous land development and Sedona strip mall lifestyle? Sedona Fire Dept. you’re rock stars but we don’t want Sedona developed for commercial reasons but for beauty and serenity reasons. My parents haven’t made their minds up on the bonds because if it means more tourists it means destruction of the red rocks and healthy lives.

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