By Henry Twombly, Sedona Resident (February 9, 2015)
The most important decision the [Sedona] City Council members will make during their term will be their choice of our next city manager. I was a bit concerned about some of the wording in the brochure that the Council sent out to prospective candidates. “It is expected that the new city manager will be strong in economic development and have a high financial acumen including budgeting in a sales-tax driven environment, alternative funding mechanisms and long-term debt issuance.”
These phrases seem to be indicative of the intent and goals of this Council. Its members want to develop and diversify the economy. Instead of doing more studies and hiring a Director of Economic Development, they should be rewriting the city codes to be more friendly to small businesses; many of which have been going out of business over the past few years. Tourism is and will always be the main cash cow for Sedona. Due to this reality and the city’s limited space, diversification seems to be a pipe dream unless the Council hopes to make Sedona the next Silicon Valley. But then the problem is how to tax and collect these taxes for these in-home IT companies.
“Alternative funding mechanisms” makes me suspicious and seems to allude to potential troubles in balancing the budget. In fact there is no mention of the new city manager having the ability to balance a budget, wherein expenses and revenues actually are equal. If he can’t do that without drawing down reserves, eventually there will be a need for “alternative funding mechanisms” such as GO bonds, Special District taxes and possibly a city property tax.
“Long-term debt issuance” seems to imply that the city is going to be in debt for a very long time. Instead of paying down the debt and taking a hit on a penalty, the Council seems to plan on continually refinancing the bonds and paying an exorbitant amount of interest in the long run. Again there is no mention of the requirements for balancing the budget without drawing down the reserves. Instead the Coucil seems resigned to taking the city further into debt.
I was especially astounded to read that the Council was using the current city manager as an advisor in the selection process. This seems to herald further fiscal irresponsibility, since the last budget (2010-11) to actually be balanced without any financial gimmicks was the last one formulated by the predecessor of the current city manager. During his tenure our current manager has guided the City Council in balancing the budget by drawing down the reserves (shifting monies out of various funds into the General Fund), increasing wastewater rates and other fees along with the sales and bed taxes. So in terms of a consultant finding a city manager who could actually balance the budget, I don’t think our current city manager is a wise choice.
Moreover there doesn’t seem to be many advocates for a balanced budget and fiscal responsibility on the City Council. So the future of the City’s fiscal health is not looking good. Again I exhort those of you who are advocates of fiscal responsibility to please lobby the Council to choose a city manager, who can actually balance the budget.