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Future Weddings Will Be Few Small and Close to Home

Donna Joy, owner of Sedona Sweet Arts discusses local business issues if the proposed bed and sales tax increases are approved

Donna Joy, owner of Sedona Sweet Arts discusses the proposed bed and sales tax increases and other issues facing Sedona businesses

Sedona AZ (July 29, 2013) – In a letter to the Sedona City Council and the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, businesswoman Donna Joy writes an open letter addressing City of Sedona business issues:

Dear Mayor Rob Adams, City Council, City Manager Tim Ernster, Ed Conway, Jennifer Wesselholf,

I want to personally thank each one of you who had meetings with me and conversations on the very important issues our city faces. I enjoyed each and every one of you. Got a much better understanding of the issues you deal with. The decisions you make are so very important in how Sedona will exist into the future.

Yesterday I heard two compelling stories pertaining to the proposed sales tax and bed tax.

A manager at a City resort (sales tax district) got the impression (was told) that the City of Sedona was increasing the bed tax no matter what. If they all agreed and rallied the Sedona lodging industry together to support it, they would in turn receive a portion of those dollars back though the Chamber for advertising. That is the reason they signed and supported this. Is this true? Was the City going to raise the bed tax no matter what?

•I had a meeting with a bride, in this meeting I saw the bride change her venue from a city tax based venue to a VOC one. I asked her why, she responded with my resort told me I save $600 in taxes by having my wedding there. Yep 600 dollars in city sales tax! This is how they market against the City. Costing you revenue. You pay to promote them and they use it against you.

After reflecting conversations and reviewing some numbers I clearly see how emotionally charged this issue is.

Our nation has not recovered from economic woes and chaos. Sedona is still facing many financial issues as you are well aware. Foreclosures, businesses going bankrupt, and those not paying their bills for services the city has provided.

People magazine wedding cake winner

Market research shows couples getting married are doing without, there are less weddings occurring, wedding and wedding sizes are shrinking for the next five years

Sedona economic basis is for the most part sales tax and bed tax. Unlike other cities that have other income. Sedona was founded on tourists. Since I arrived in Sedona over 20 years ago, the local businesses have fought over the dollars. I’’ve seen them physically attack each other, yell, scream, lie, cheat, sue, and threaten each other. I know that many of you have seen this also.

Then if you take referral fees in the equation, yikes! (after kick backs and payoffs) Simply destructive. A vicious circle. Sedona is a tough town, a small town. Many like us have worked 60-70 hours a week since we arrived. Many have lost everything in Sedona.

We can all agree the entire nation has NOT recovered. People are not spending, nor are they traveling. Our country has gone through a shock, money is not being spent. Look around at the unpaid sewer bills, vacant stores, and foreclosures. How many more business have to go before we change?

Sedona has also been challenged by many other issues such as drainage and sewer. These are the two main issues at hand along with the debt Sedona owes. Without those services no one will come to Sedona.

Going down (AZ SR) 89A or 179 every shopping center has vacancies. Just go shopping, it is very clear the inventories are down and some have filled the shelves with cheap merchandise. We that have storefronts routinely hear complaints about our sales tax and bed tax.

Both the proposals come from the Chamber as they want dollars to go direct to them, a portion of both proposals. I am a Chamber member. I feel the proposals are a way to entice the city to support it as we all know you need more funds for infrastructure.

Since everyone said the Chamber along with Lodging Affinity group wants an increase I did some extensive research. It is set up for anyone to audit. I feel extremely confident in the numbers.

  • We have 2,275 registered or licensed businesses in Sedona.
  • •From that 2,275 only 258 are Chamber members.
  • •From the 258 only 30 are listed in accommodations on the Chamber website.
  • •From the 30, 4 are not bed tax providers as they are timeshare – vacation rentals.

•Which leaves 26 registered license businesses in the Sedona bed tax district.

•This 26 only represents 1.14% of your licensed businesses.

  • •From 26 license bed tax category 13 of them provide free breakfast in the price of the room. 50% are not collecting sales tax on those free meals. Hurting the local food establishments, equaling less sales and less tax.


Sedona Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock is representative of the red rock beauty that draws visitors to Sedona AZ

The majority of Chambers accommodation or lodging category do not collect sales tax for City of Sedona =71.74% . Many of the signatures that were collected in support do not even live in Sedona, and therefore do not have a vote.

  • • Some of these have not paid for their own city services such as sewer.
  • • Many of these are up for sale or been foreclosed on.

•The Chamber membership is a majority of NON city licensed businesses. Meaning the majority of your City licensed businesses do not join the Chamber. Do not see value or get business from Chamber advertising. The voice of 2,017 businesses or 88.66 % say no to Chamber.

Clearly there is a conflict of interest. The Chamber is not the City.  Chamber business does not mean “city sales tax revenue”. No one can guarantee any return. In fact it’s clear to me, by giving any money for Destination Marketing to the Chamber you will hurt those in the sales tax district. Those advertising dollars promote a majority of NON City tax based businesses.

In reviewing the registered or licensed City businesses I saw many that were not licensed. According to the City report the Chamber is not licensed, neither location. Some high revenue producers are not licensed. Therefore being high sales tax revenue producers. $300-$800 city sale tax dollars lost per sale. This is only one category of business, there are many more. So much lost revenue.

In Sedona we have several not for profit groups that pool their money together to promote Sedona and the surrounding community in order to advertise their groups. Many of whom are unpaid volunteers. Four in the wedding industry, two I serve on the Board of Directors. None of these are funded by the city. Some of these groups are rated the top wedding marketing groups in the state.

sedona chamber of commerceAll the marketing research for this industry shows a decline in weddings over the next five years according to the Wedding Report. Sedona being remote makes 80% destination weddings. Destination weddings are on the decline also. Couples are keeping weddings closer to home. Only after a complete recovery will weddings increase. Couples getting married are doing without, there are less weddings occurring, wedding and wedding sizes are shrinking.

While I agree that our City needs money for services. I clearly see accepting either one of these tax increases are not in the best interest for the city. No one is guaranteeing any return on your investment. There are ways of tracking marketing dollars.

So I have some suggestions:

•Let’s all breathe, get our feet back on the ground by not reacting emotionally.

Let’s bring the “Charm” back to Sedona before we impose more restrictions or spend more on advertising. Limited shopping and hiking are not enough. By bringing “Sedona Charm” back, it will transform to sales tax revenue. Let’’s clean up our house before you invite more to come. This brings enjoyment for our visitors, you’ll get repeat business along with free advertising. This also shows your support for the small businesses operators.

•Encourage our “City Team” to take care of City issues first. This includes everyone, licensed businesses, employees, residents, staff and you. Equally with love and respect, as each and everyone within the city contributes. We all love the Sedona Community, our Sedona Community ( aka “Greater Sedona) is NOT part of the incorporated City or in the sales tax district.

•Let’s learn to “catch a fish” instead of “buying a fish”.


City of Sedona is proposing new bed and sales tax increases

City of Sedona is proposing new bed and sales tax increases

Encourage the Chamber’s Lodging Affinity group to pool those special interest groups (lodging affinity AKA lodging council) together where they all contribute to advertising as they will together be the first ones to benefit. They can target their customers better together with the support of all 92 accommodation members. Spend their own money wisely with all 92 money and input. They are the first to benefit from increased sales. The city only gets pennies on the dollar from a minority of 26. 66 of their group don’t have a vote as they don’t collect any bed tax.

•Encourage the Chamber to get funds from their members for additional advertising. The Chamber membership is majority of NON licensed city businesses.

Any increase in taxes should go directly to infrastructure. The City of Sedona can prosper if the cycle of destructive behavior is broken.

I am hear to discuss anything in this letter – report. Feel free to share.

Thank you.

Donna Joy
Sedona Sweet Arts

2655 West Hwy 89A

Sedona, AZ 86336


For the best in Arizona news and views, read www.SedonaEye.com daily!

For the best in Arizona news and views, read www.SedonaEye.com daily!


  1. Donna Joy, you are one brave lady to boldly lay out facts and potentially put yourself in jeopardy for having done so.

    Your paragraph about possible retaliation is right on point. The “art” of threatening has been alive and well and in many instances has served as a controlling faction in Sedona for many, many years.

    Let us all hope your words will be the wake up call to end these deplorable tactics.

    Eddie Maddock

  2. Dana Varney says:

    Liked this article on Facebook.

  3. Mellanie Hart Combest liked this article on Facebook.

  4. No Surprises says:

    I am not surprised at the facts and figures you’ve stated here. Still, it is shocking that Sedona’s COC keeps boasting that they are the “ONES” responsible for bringing tourism to Sedona and the City keeps supporting these “entitlements”. with BIG BUCKS. Ha, the joke’s on us, and it seems that unincorparated Village of Oak Creek is smarter than we are and now they have something to brag about. Why wouldn’t anyone want to set up their lodging or wedding reception in the VOC to save $$$? In a down-turned economy, people are still looking for ways to save. Even most gas prices are cheaper in the VOC.

  5. Tina says:

    The point is a bad economy will not be changing. All business is floundering. Thanks Donna for writing what most of us know. I feel sorry for any new business coming here.

  6. Mark says:

    Chamber sent email explaining all this.

  7. Dana says:

    The Chambers numbers are inflated. They need to get their hand out of the the tax payers pocket.

  8. Donna Joy
    Sedona Sweet Arts

    I have written so many articles over the years on subjects related to yours that I can’t remember them all. I would have hoped that I have written the best of articles on the subjects of sales and bed taxes and the Chamber. But, I must defer. This article is the singularly best written article of its kind I’ve ever seen published in Sedona. Thank you ever so much for writing this. I’m proud that there are business people left in our town who have contributed to its charm as you’ve defined it. I hope to meet you one day…maybe at tomorrow night’s Council meeting re: The onerous bed tax proposal!

  9. Kathleen says:

    Well said, Donna, and very illuminating. Brava!

    Since the Chamber is the beneficiary of public funds, I think they should publish their outlays so that the public can see where the money goes.

    My work involves connecting with various travel and convention bureaus around the Southwest. The majority of the municipalities I’ve contacted–whether they are large cities or small towns–have a chamber that is separate from the tourism bureau.

    Seems like in Sedona, the fox is guarding the chickens.

    I’d like to see more accountability from the chamber. Perhaps they might think about reaching beyond their small circle of beneficiaries to involve the community at large. If it’s good for locals (restaurants, night life, parks, community cohesiveness), high-quality travelers will enjoy it too. It’s time to stop focusing on “industrial tourism,” as Edward Abbey termed it.

  10. I moved here 22 years ago. I would not move here now. When people ask me if they should move to Sedona, I tell them it WAS a great place, but now it is too crowded and the taxes are too high.

    It seems if Sedona’s population is dropping, I’m not the only one telling people this. Tourists don’t live here.

    Those future potential residents who read this website probably won’t move here either.

  11. John Balla says:

    I recently got married in Sedona…in my home. It’s important to understand that us “middle-agers” not only have to worry about short-term economic woes, but also about retirement. I say that because even if the economy gets on solid footing, there’s an entire middle class (generation) who don’t have those pensions like their parent’s did. Consequently, we must anticipate that disposable income spending will not adjust with consumer confidence because a lot has been lost that will take decades to recover.

  12. I have never met you personally Donna, but I must say that Sedona Sweet Arts on 89A has the BEST cakes, pastries, cookies and candies, etc. in the known universe. You are one of the many outstanding local businesses we are proud to support.

    Donna, your article is great. You objectively summarize the peril our city faces if we continue to fuel our questionably focused non-profit Chamber of Commerce with taxpayer, business and tourist dollars – hoping they will, through some miracle, do the impossible – restore our city to the thriving tourist driven economy it once WAS… R-I-P.

    Even IF the Sedona Chamber of Commerce came up with a suitable ad campaign (their lackluster, “My Sedona!” certainly isn’t doing the job), the plain truth is they will continue to spin their costly wheels ($545,000+ in salaries and benefits according to their Federal 990 filings) on the ‘oily sweat and tears’ of the businesses who have done their personal best ‘scrambling for answers’ and through no fault of their own have no way out, other than to close their doors.

    When a Sedona Icon such as The Hideaway restaurant – for decades a favorite of locals and tourists offering excellent food and service – finds they cannot pay the exorbitant city sewer rates and are being squeezed into obscurity – Council must wake up, tighten their spending belts, and work with businesses on a ‘one on one’ bases to help them to survive! City Attorney, Mike Goimarac’s ‘Class One Misdemeanors’ and threats of ‘jail time’ for missed City tax deadlines are Draconian and out of touch.

    State of Arizona hear our plea, “Help us, please!” If there is any way to overturn the ill-gotten Home Rule vote that was “stolen fair and square” by our ‘upper management City Staff’, our Mayor and City Council by ‘slight of hand’, ‘smoke and mirrors’ and ‘deceptive rhetoric’ a couple of years ago, then, let us ban together as a community and do it! The City Council’s mantra then was, “If we have the money we MUST spend it!” Well, we DON’T have the money…. and they are spending it anyway – with all of us locals – along with our ‘falling like dominoes businesses’ and cash strapped tourists – stuck footing the bill.

  13. Troy, ASU says:

    divorce expenses high count me and my friends in the FWB group

  14. Brittany says:

    city giving close to one million $$$$ to chamber of commerce to advertise, guess what? CHAMBER OF COMMERCE and not THE CITY OF SEDONA. simple as that. the fox isn’t guarding the hen house it’s controlling city hall

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