Sedona, AZ – Last night, June 26, I attended a presentation on home rule presented by Donna Joy Varney and Shelley Evans. A number of statements made in the presentation are misleading/inaccurate, and I discuss those below.
Some basic facts: If home rule is not approved, the state-mandated limit on how much the city could spend in a year would be $13.7 million. An additional $16 million of spending would be allowed, but it would be limited to debt service, HURF highway funds, grants. The City would have $13.7 million available to spend on police, parks and recreation, infrastructure, traffic improvements, transit, code enforcement, permit review, and other city services.
The sewer treatment plant is budgeted for over $5 million for next year, bringing the available funds for the rest of the city operations to about $8 million. Funding for the police department alone is tentatively set at about $8 million for next year. All revenue over the $13.7 million, estimated to be $70 million, would go into the bank and couldn’t be spent.
It was alleged in the presentation that residents don’t have the numbers and the information about projects and programs before Council meets to vote on them.
Fact: The Council agenda and the complete information packet — which includes all the numbers that will be discussed — is posted on line at the same time that the Council receives the information, typically the Wednesday before the Tuesday meeting. Every resident has access to the same information the Council has at the same time we do.
It was alleged that Sedona doesn’t have to listen to the people for a vote because the population fell under 10,000.
Fact: Assuming that the reference is to the community plan that’s currently being developed, state law has no provision for referring a community plan to a vote for cities with populations below 10,000. Because the Council wants to have the community plan voted on by the people, the City went to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns to get a bill introduced that would allow those cities to refer the community plans. We are hopeful the bill will pass the legislature and be in place by the time the community plan is complete.
It was alleged that employees set their own spending limits and that City staff has free hand with little or no accountability.
Fact: Staff prepares a draft budget for the Council’s consideration. They don’t set anything, The Council spends two full days going through the budget line by line, asking staff detailed questions about each item. Council makes the decisions, not staff. Staff is not in charge. All of the 91 incorporated towns and cities in Arizona operate under a Council-Manager form of local government, which combines the strong political leadership of elected officials (in the form of a council, board, or other governing body) with the strong professional experience of an appointed local government manager or administrator. Under this form, power is concentrated in the elected council, which hires a professional administrator to implement its policies. These highly trained, experienced individuals serve at the pleasure of the elected governing body and have responsibility for preparing the budget, directing day-to-day operations, hiring and firing personnel, and servingas the council’s chief policy advisor.
Sedona’s population declined while the proposed number of staff increased.
Fact: The City is developing a number of ambitious programs to meet priority and community plan goals. Those programs don’t run themselves, nor do contracts manage themselves. Staff are required, and the budget reflects that.
It was alleged that City small grants are given with no process. Donna Joy said she doesn’t know why the City gives grants. She alleged that grants are supposed to be seed money and said that organizations should not get repeat grants.
Fact: Small grants are targeted to local not for profit organizations to support efforts that benefit the community, like Sedona Kind, benefactors of Red Rock State Park, Sedona Arts Center, Sedona Historical Society, Sedona Area Homeless Alliance. The grants are provided to support local not for profit organizations to continue to provide community services and benefits to the residents. It’s not defined as seed money. An extensive evaluation process is undertaken, which includes a thorough review by a citizen committee under the direction of a grant professional. The committee recommendations are sent to City Council for a vote.
It was alleged that the City needs to follow standards about number of staff per resident and that Sedona has many more staff than the standard.
Fact: This ignores the over 3 million visitors that come to Sedona a year that use our services and our infrastructure. I am not aware of any standard that applies to Sedona’s situation.
It was suggested that the City should use “excess” funds for projects like the Tlaquepaque bridge.
Fact: Funding for the underpass near Tlaquepaque is in the City’s current budget.
It was alleged that eliminating home rule will force the city to do what the community wants.
Fact: While everyone seems to think they know what “the community” wants, the fact is that members of the community have widely different ideas of what is needed and wanted. One presenter is opposed to the transit initiative, saying she hasn’t heard anyone support it, yet the City finds overwhelming public support for transit in every resident surveys it conducts. I know that there is likely community consensus on some issues — there is too much traffic, too many tourists, too many short term rentals. I feel the same way. If it was up to me we’d have fewer visitors, fewer cars, and very limited short term rentals. But on other issues there is a wide variety of opinion. Even on issues people agree on there is very little consensus on how best to address or ameliorate them.
It was stated that we don’t lose the library if home rule goes away because the library gets county funds and has lots of money.
Fact: The library receives money from the counties, but relies on the funds contributed by the city to keep the doors open on the current schedule and to provide the programs so many residents enjoy. If you have any questions about how loss of home rule will affect the library, just ask them.
Every community around Sedona is growing in population, but we aren’t. The implication was that somehow the City is at fault.
Fact: Sedona is not losing population because of home rule and the programs the City undertakes. Sedona is losing population because the housing stock is being turned into short term rentals where there is no resident to count in the Census. The State of Arizona caused that problem, and despite the City’s aggressive efforts, the state legislature and governor have been unwilling to make any changes in the law to ameliorate the damage that is being done to our community by short term rentals.
The current budget is a huge increase over what we were told the budget would be four years ago.
Fact: I don’t believe anyone 4 years ago knew what the revenues and the budget would be today. No assurances could possibly have been made.
Citizen Engagement groups meet in closed sessions.
Fact: The various citizen Engagement work groups are tailored to the specific task at hand and do not operate as a one size fits all. I am unaware of any citizen being turned away from sitting in and observing them if they had an interest. For example the two work groups currently/recently meeting are the Community Plan Work Group and the Small Grants Review Work Group. The CPWG and the SGWG meetings are/were posted on the City’s website, are open to the public and are recorded and then the recordings are posted afterwards to the website for anyone who wishes to go back and listen. These aren’t closed sessions.
Disclaimer: This editorial reflects the views of Sedona Council member Jessica Williamson only, and not the Sedona City Council.