By Henry Twombly, Sedona Resident (August 22, 2014)
As residents of Sedona, we are governed by three polities: the City, the School District and the Fire District. And all three of them keep increasing their budgets and our taxes. The City is proposing a budget of $38 million, when last time we voted for Home Rule this year’s proposed budget was only $34 million, which was $9 million more than the State would allow. The mill rate for the Fire District keeps climbing: 1.40 (2011-2), 1.63 (2012-3), 2.02 (2013-4), and 2.13 (2014-5). As mostly does the School District’s: 2.22 (2011-2), 2.78 (2012-3), 2.75 (2013-4), 2.82 (2014-5). The School and Fire rates are actually much higher, when you include the Fire District Assistance Fund, the School Equalization fee and the Minimum School Tax (the Budget Override). None of the leaders of these polities seem to be fiscally responsible in addressing the continual tax increases.
What is more disturbing in how they are spending the money. I received an anonymous letter about the School District, which I share verbatim…
“Following your opposition to the Budget Override increase, I thought you would be upset with the most recent activity in the Sedona Oak Creek School District.
Since victory of the increase the District gave each teacher a $930 increase – one cell on the pay scale – reduced a few positions in two of the schools, increased administrator pay by a lot more than the teachers – there is not salary schedule for administration, and ADDED a principal to West Sedona School. This principal has 110 students, and he is already the special education director. So the superintendent added a 30 hour per week secretary to the principal’s venue, when West Sedona already has 2.35 hour per week secretaries who had been running their K-8 office just fine. And just to be sure the new principal does not get too overwhelmed the special education secretary who had been at 20 hours per week was increased to over 30 hours per week.
The current principal at West Sedona also saw an increase in her salary but has three fewer grade levels to manage.
Also, the District still pays for half of the School Resource Officers, and ALL of the high school athletic coaches are also paid out of the Maintenance and Operations Tax Credits like the other two schools. This accounts for nearly 80 grand, probably two teaching positions.”
Yes, folks, that’s our Budget Override money at work. Not quite what the District and all the hype said how the money was going to be spent. Makes you wonder what’s going on at CIty Hall and the Fire District.
If you are concerned about higher taxes, you will want to vote “No” against Home Rule. On the state level you will also want to vote For Ms. Mason and Mr. Parker, who oppose APS rate hikes. Whatever you do, please VOTE. Voting is a privilege and a constitutional right that citizens don’t have in some countries. And voter apathy is the Achilles Heel of any democracy that allows a smaller percentage of the population to rule indiscriminately. Please VOTE!
During a City Council meeting several months ago, Councilman Mike Ward amazingly stated “residents don’t pay one nickel of sales or bed taxes,” conveniently overlooking how much taxes we pay to the Fire and the School Districts. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Program, and others keep pounding away with a similar mantra, some claiming tourism pays for everything. At a now-defunct Budget Oversight Committee meeting of yore, Steve Segner of the so-called Sedona Lodging Council promoted levying an one-half percent sales tax increase in addition to the one-half percent bed tax increase he allegedly convinced the City Council to approve. Mr. Segner stated residents needed to pay more.
At last we have details instead of BS. Attached to Ron Budnick’s “Budnick for City Council” letter is a “Sedona Tax Origins” breakdown that originated with the Budget Oversight Commission when he was a Commissioner. Ron’s research and data reveal Sedona residents paid 54.2% of City taxes in 2012 and 55.7% in 2011. Residential wastewater fees (taxes) tipped the scale, and they are rising annually with no relief in sight. Even the 10% fee increase waived last year by the City Council was negated by its approval of a FY 2013-14 “Cost of Service Adjustment” of 10% for residents that became effective July 1, 2014. As expected, Ron Budnick’s findings do not include the hefty taxes levied by the Fire and the School Districts.
Henry Twombly’s concern about taxes is spot on. Residents are already paying too much. With regard to the City of Sedona, its budgets have increased from $30.7 million to $38.4 million since 2011 even though there have been revenue problems and no increase in population. In my view, our City Council’s mismanaged priorities and the staff’s capital projects wish-list are mindboggling. I voted NO on Home Rule.