By Henry Twombly, Sedona Resident
(February 10, 2017)
Have you been following the media campaign that the Sedona Fire District has been orchestrating through its articles in the Sedona Red Rock News? Three in a row (1/25, 1/27, and 2/1). In the beginning of the first article, they want to replace – tear down and build – Station 4 on Forest Rd. It is “not large enough for some of the modern-day fire engines.” I would highlight “some;” my response is Don’t put in ones that don’t fit. Reading between the lines, I surmise they’ll then want to buy more fire engines that do fit. SFD seemingly has skipped over the renovation option. A few paragraphs later, “It’s yet to be determined the cost of a new station or where the funding would come from. However the board also discussed potentially issuing a bond…to cover the cost of renovations to other stations while replacing Station 4 as well as Station 5 in Oak Creek Canyon.” Wow, the SFD request goes from possibly replacing one station to renovating others and replacing not one but two stations. Moreover, SFD is looking at (to buy) other properties in Uptown to relocate Station 4. But if the station is rebuilt on the same site, they still have to build a temporary relocation station for a 10 to 12 month residency. So I’m thinking why not renovate Station 4 and save a lot of money, not to mention time and trouble.
The headline of the second article read “SFD explores potential bond.” “The Sedona Fire District is in the exploratory stage to see if a general obligation bond is needed to catch up on improvements that were identified 15 years ago.” Further reading of the article shows that SFD had already explored and was now pitching a $15 million bond, “which would be paid off over the next 20 years…If passed, that amount would equate to $22 a year in additional taxes for homeowners per $100,000 valuation on their home.” (Notice how they did NOT phrase this as “$22 per $100,000 a year,” hoping we’d misread and think it would be only $22 a year.) Later we discover that Station 4 would be built in the same spot, but there was no mention of the cost of the relocation building and site. Station 5 would be moved north closer to Slide Rock. This is another new tidbit of info that doesn’t address the purchase of new land for that station. Moreover “the bond could pay off the loan for Station 6 in the Chapel area (not mentioned earlier) and make renovations in Station 1 in West Sedona and Station 3 in the Village of Oak Creek…” Earlier in this article we learned that “the district is establishing a citizens committee to look at options of how to generate the needed funding…” Well, it seems they’ve already figured that out and just want the “citizens committee” to rubberstamp their plan. (If you follow city politics, you’ll recognize this sleight of hand – having a citizens committee rubberstamp what vested interests have already decided. That way the city, SFD or SOCSD can then claim it was the will of the people.)
The third article’s headline read “SFD needs taxpayers’ help to see if a bond is necessary.” This seems misleading because by now it’s obvious SFD needs our money. The gist of the entire article is a series of justifications for issuing and passing a bond, accompanied by an explanation of the dire state of SFD’s finances and the potential threat that this poses to our public safety. (A little subtle fearmongering to get results.) More telling are some facts that show fiscal irresponsibility and/or incompetence by the SFD. “A tax cap has been established limiting our mil rate at $3.25 per $100 of assessed value (AV) which they have maxed out… Additionally Proposition 117 created a long-term impact by placing a cap of no more than 5% increase of taxable AV…” In other words, if the law didn’t prohibit it, SFD would be increasing the mil rate ad infinitum, as they seemed to have done in the past. Over the past 3 years my SFD taxes have gone up 25%, 12% and 25% respectively. As for the citizens committee we learn it will be “10 to 12 people, which will be comprised of up to (but doesn’t guarantee that there will be) seven citizens including at least two from the business community (probably from the construction industry and another vested interest) and 3 to 5 SFD personnel.” So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the majority on the committee will be picked to vote for issuing a general obligation bond.
So what shall we do? In their Letter to the Editor (SRRN 2/3/17) Bob and Karen Hatler hit the nail on the head. They acknowledged that improvements were needed. “However the taxpayers of Sedona should not be burdened with a bond to support the building of two new fire stations. SFD needs to tighten their belts and reprioritize its own significantly large budget ($15 million plus) and do what is necessary to take care of projects that have been ignored for too long.” Well, what could they have done differently? They could’ve have NOT bought two $600,000 fire engines with 10-story ladders, when no building in the district is more than 3 stories. They could’ve NOT bought a $3,200 drone and other high-tech toys. They could’ve NOT bought (quoting the Hatlers) “past years of experience for personnel to join PSPRS (state retirement system) and for administrative staff to become a part of the state plan. These buy-ins were especially unique because employees had a plan; changing did not require a bonus.” One might reach the conclusion that this was a waste of taxpayer money that lined some pockets. Whatever one wants to deduce about these SFD choices, it’s hard to believe that the SFD has been fiscally responsible.
Lastly here are some other facts to consider. Separate from the SFD tax on our bills, we also pay taxes into the Fire Assistence Fund – from which the SFD got approximately $240,000 last year. Moreover we haven’t had an general SFD Board election since 2010, though we did have a recall vote in 2012. There were no elections in 2014 or 2016 because vacancies had been filled by appointments and no one else ran for election. I don’t know whether this is by coincidence or by design. But the conspiracy theorist in me wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t the latter because… Ironically the SRRN article (6/22/16) that announced the purchase of the second $600,000 fire engine, ended with “Soto and Ernster were appointed late last year. Their positions are up for election this year. If the two run unopposed, it will save the district $60,000 in election costs.” So SFD is willing to withhold $60,000 on an election, but spend $600,000 on a duplicate/unnecessary fire engine.
So folks, it’s up to you. Are you willing to vote Yes on the GO bond? Or say No to no more taxes? If you say Yes, you are sanctioning more fiscal irresponsibility by the SFD. If you vote Yes and the GO bond passes, then you are inviting the City Council and the School District to issue their own GO bonds. Unfortunately this is just the beginning of the SFD GO bond debate. By publishing their request this early in the year, SFD are testing the waters to see how we residents feel about it. They want enough time to counter and tailor their spiel, so come November they will have convinced enough of you to vote for their GO bond. Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes.
Sedona, AZ 86336