By [Concerned Sedona Resident]
(April 27, 2015)
This is the fifth and final article examining the selling of Sedona via public tax funding through the Sedona Chamber of Commerce. Last week’s focus examined the Chamber’s violation of its non-profit status in contracting with the City of Sedona to provide specific services normally carried on by for-profit businesses. This week’s closing part brings issues of the first four parts together with additional questions surrounding the selling of Sedona.
Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4 • Part 5 • Epilogue
The past 4 weeks have looked at the business of selling Sedona to the world and the many issues surrounding it. We began by documenting the 500 percent rise in public tax funding for Sedona Chamber of Commerce operations and tourism promotion over the past 20 years. We explored the lack of a return to city residents for this “investment” of millions of dollars and showed this spending has resulted in financial loss to the city, increased congestion from misdirected promotions and an unsustainable use of city infrastructure and our surrounding natural landscape. We looked at the discrimination against non Chamber-member businesses that also contribute to tourism promotion funding via their sales and bed tax revenues and that the level of discrimination is increasing. And finally we exposed the Chamber’s violations of its non-profit status by providing particular services to individuals and competing with for-profit businesses.
Now we bring “Selling Sedona” to closure with some final issues, observations and questions.
The Chamber claims that no tax money is used for its staff salaries or operations and that all city funds go to tourism promotion. This is simply an “accounting technicality” in the words of one city staff member. As city funding has grown, the Chamber has pulled back it’s own funds to use for hiring new staff, increasing salaries and improving facilities. The process of substituting one funding source for another and claiming they are not connected is a financial manipulation as old as the accounting profession itself. Without a huge helping of public tax money, the Chamber’s staffing, operations and role in selling Sedona would be vastly different.
Former Council member Mike Ward noted in one of his last meetings last fall that financing the Chamber’s tourism promotion is a political decision not a business one. It is a concession to a powerful political body that is granted a level of influence disproportionate to its size. Ward summarized his analysis of the city funding Chamber marketing activities with the observation that: “We won’t get our money back.” Mike Ward did not run for reelection and with that open opposition to the status quo he likely would have also been one of the Chamber’s targets for defeat. As a result, city residents lost an important voice and one that has gained significant insight about selling Sedona during his four years in office.
City funds for needed capital projects will dry up in the next two years and the city will become more stressed for money to maintain or upgrade facilities and infrastructure. Evaluating costs and results of current tax money uses will have to become increasingly more real and honest. Reallocating money from less productive uses will become more necessary. These are the realities if our city government is to run in a businesslike way, avoid more political handouts and patronage and evade new taxes or tax increases.
Recognizing that most tourists coming to Sedona are attracted here by word of mouth, not high-priced advertising, would be a start in making better use of tourist promotion funds. Acknowledging that the web is low cost and the second most used way visitors learn about Sedona could further free up limited city funds for benefits to residents. And, accepting that the current four to six million dollars spent annually for advertising Sedona by local businesses has brought the city to the point of diminishing returns in spending more money to attract tourists is also good reason to reconsider the best uses of public tax money.
Resident’s resentment of too many tourists has been growing for some time and is becoming more intense. However, it has yet to manifest itself in any meaningful ways such as local elections or referenda. All candidates supported by the Chamber of Commerce won office in the last city election. Candidates who questioned Chamber statements regarding tax-funded tourism promotions were targeted for defeat by smear campaign or financial backing of opponents.
At a recent presentation to the City Council, Chamber CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff speculated that the Chamber and its marketing activities account for 75 percent of the city’s revenue. Such self-serving statements are characteristic of numerous other unsubstantiated numbers put out in an effort to sway Council members, city staff and residents to the Chamber’s point of view.
Residents now pay more than visitors to support our city says Ron Budnick, former City Council candidate and member of the city’s discontinued Budget Advisory Committee. He has documented that city residents, not tourists, supply the majority of funding for city operations through a combination of sale tax, various fees and money from residents coming back via the state shared revenue process. Budnick’s research, based on his significant experience with city revenues and analyzing city resources and is far more reliable than Chamber speculations.
Regardless of the amount of tax dollars tourists do or do not leave behind, Sedona residents do gain something from their presence. Sedona does not have a city income tax or property tax because of the sales and bed taxes paid by tourists. We also have better restaurants, arts and entertainments than might otherwise be available in a city of this size.
But tourists are not free. They come with many costs. Some costs are financial and some are simply the aggravations of having them around. Sedona pays for a larger sewer system and police force than would be the case without millions of tourists to take care of each year. We pay more for roads, other infrastructure and city staff than we would otherwise. We also put up with traffic congestion, abused trails, toilet paper jungles at trailheads and jammed parking areas to name a few of the non-financial costs.
In the business of selling Sedona to the tourism world, however, a fundamental question must be: “When is enough enough?” When do increasing city costs and congestion hassels outweigh more tax revenue? When does economic greed encounter the reality that Sedona is a finite size and can only support so much visitor use without decreasing resident’s quality of life? And, when will a focus on holding visitor numbers to an optimal and sustainable level rise above efforts to cram more and more into every possible space?
Ultimately, all who live here should be asking, “In selling our city, are we also selling away our soul?” Are we selling away our small town character and our way of life? Are we exploiting and trashing the amazing natural world around us and degrading many local amenities that brought most of us here in the first place just for a lower local tax rate? Are we doing this as a conscious choice or are too many of us just turning our collective backs and letting it happen?
Each of us will have to answer these questions at a personal level and take whatever action we choose based on the level of concern and importance they hold in our lives as we look to the future of selling Sedona.
(Over) Selling Sedona: Decision Points
How Do They Measure Up? Part 1 • Part 2
The Fallacy of Transit
Selling Sedona – One Year Later: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3
Selling Sedona, 2015: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4 • Part 5 • Epilogue
“Mike Ward did not run for reelection and with that open opposition to the status quo he likely would have also been one of the Chamber’s targets for defeat.”
Real “open opposition” would have been actually voting against the corporate welfare given to the CoC, something I don’t think Ward or any Council member has ever done in the 7 years I have lived here.
I have seen that ploy time and again, not just on the CoC issue but on others as well. Council members will fake one way then vote the other.
During the last election for mayor, and based on his campaign statements, some people thought Hamilton would have stopped the corporate welfare. But his voting record told another story. There was never a CoC expenditure that he didn’t vote for.
“When is enough enough?”…indeed. Sedona residents need to wake up and put a stop to this symbiotic relationship between the City and the Chamber.
Don’t forget that Jennifer Wesselhoff President/CEO of the Chamber spoke in favor of raising the sewer taxes at the Council meeting when raising the rates 300% was first voted on. The residents who spoke against raising the fees weren’t listened to. We are being asked to support a wastewater facility that is used by thousands (millions?) of tourists. And they call that fair.
All I hear from the residents are complaints along the lines of these great articles. However none of us seem to do anything or even know what to do about the problem of a inappropriate concentration of power which does not favor most of us who live here full time.
Opinion: Selling Sedona, Part 5
Opinion said, “Residents now pay more than visitors to support our city says Ron Budnick, former City Council candidate and member of the city’s discontinued Budget Advisory Committee. He has documented that city residents, not tourists, supply the majority of funding for city operations through a combination of sale tax, various fees and money from residents coming back via the state shared revenue process.”
Not true, new city numbers checked and re checked are 60% low 72% high.
Ron’s numbers were from 2011 and not checked by the city.
Just call the city and ask… buy you won’t.
Tourism promotion monies comes 100% from the bed tax.
Tourism supports most of the jobs in Sedona and bring in the majority of income for the city…
We do not own Sedona we share it, and the visitors pay the majority of the cost to run Sedona.
Mr. Segner is again wrong on both of his points. The usual false information and exaggerated numbers from the Chamber spokesman.
First, Chamber funding comes from the city General Fund as detailed in Part 2. See section reprinted below:
Selling Sedona Part 2
“The Chamber’s city funding comes from the General Fund, not from bed tax as the lodging industry and the Chamber continue to misrepresent. The lodging industry does not “pay” the bed tax nor are they entitled to it as some members of the industry demand. Tourists pay the bed tax and lodging institutions simply collect it and pass it on through to the city. There is no such thing as a separate “Bed Tax Fund.” Bed tax is often chosen as an index measurement of tourism activity because it is paid almost entirely by tourists.
The city’s General Fund is a pool of money made up of numerous sources like sales tax, utility franchise fees, state shared revenues, bed tax, court fines, interest earnings, license and permit fees and charges for service. Once deposited, the various sources of money are co-mingled and their separate identity is lost. As the name implies, the General Fund can be used to pay for any city purpose such as sewer maintenance, police, roads, drainage improvement or parks. The amount taken for Chamber marketing is now established as 55% of the funds collected for bed tax in the city. That figure is locked in by city ordinance, a move engineered by the Chamber last year. The amount of bed tax deposited in the city’s General Fund is the basis for determining how much General Fund money will be allocated to destination marketing. There is no indexing of the amount for rising room rates or general improvement in economic conditions, both of which lead to an increase in money provided to the Chamber but which is not the result of Chamber marketing efforts.”
His 60 to 72% figures are also wrong. That is the percentage of SALES TAX only potentially paid by tourists, not the percentage of the city budget paid by tourists.
For this fiscal year, the city estimates total sales tax collections of $11.7 million. The city budget for this fiscal year is $38.4 million. Even at the upper figure of 72%, tourists would pay just under 22% of the budget. (A long way from 60-72 percent!)
The calculations by Ron Budnick showing that residents pay more for the city budget than tourists are based on the combination of sale tax and the various fees paid by residents.
Concerned Sedona Resident
Concerned Sedona Resident says:
April 27, 2015 at 7:44 pm
Mr. Segner is again wrong on both of his points. The usual false information and exaggerated numbers from the Chamber spokesman.
Rons # were from 2011… the city has the numbers just ask.
City of Sedona
Transaction Privilege Tax Sales by Business Classes
For Month Collected
Annual Totals July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014
Annual Local Amount
Percent of Local Amount
Use Tax Purchases
Use Tax Utilities
Total Annual Sales for FY 13-14
36.4% Percent of Local Amount 63.6% paid by Tourists
Regarding Mr. Segner’s contention that tourists pay more sales tax than local residents, it’s kind of a moot point. There are hundreds of thousands of tourists in our small town and less than 10,000 residents. Of course tourists are going to pay more. But the logical conclusion to this argument is that all residents should leave and then Mr. Segner’s hotel will always be full, and the Chamber and City will be fully funded, and Sedona will become an Arizona Disneyland. Who cares about too much traffic, noise pollution from tour helicopters and over used trails. There will be no one here to complain. Perfect.
When you moved to Sedona you knew it was a tourist town. Sedona is only busy four weeks in the spring and four in the fall. Eight weeks out of 52.
Traffic will be normal until October.
The hotels are almost 100% full on most weekends, and on most weekends the traffic in’t bad …. 179 will always back up and that is because ADOT said the plan ok’d by Sedona would not work…. we got what we asked for….
Don’t put blame on the lodging business.
So Mr. Segner, since “Sedona is only busy four weeks in the spring and four in the fall. Eight weeks out of 52.” Why is the City/Chamber spending $1.6 million on marketing it? I’ve asked everyone I know “When will we know when we have too many tourists?”
Nobody seems to want to answer this question. What’s your answer?
“When you moved to Sedona you knew it was a tourist town. Sedona is only busy four weeks in the spring and four in the fall. Eight weeks out of 52.
Traffic will be normal until October.”
It wasn’t a tourist town when I moved here in 1978. Nice try to generalize.
I’m just doing a wild guess that Segner moved here knowing it was a tourist town and wanted to take advantage of that?
@Concerned Sedona Resident,
Your 5 part series has been superb in terms of thoroughness of research, credibility and demonstration of polished writing ability. More than those matters, though, I appreciate your courage. Notwithstanding, however, your message won’t get much exposure unless you ask Cathi Hill (owner & publisher) at SedonaEye.com to publish it. Her site is a true news and discussion site as opposed to being just a community bulletin board where every comment is censored for fear of offending Mr Segner or Ms. Wesselhoff. If you really do want the Selling of Sedona to get some serious traction, please take it to SedonaEye.com where the public can speak out about the issues you disclose without fear of retribution from the publisher.
Thank you for finally publishing one of my comments!
Thank you for finally publishing one of my comments!
Read the Redrock editorial this week, it is a new paper in the area and it does real reporting, good article in blogs and real news.
Can you give the readers, and me, the link to their website since I can’t locate them? I assume that the news site/blog you/re referring to isn’t a Larson newspaper.
J. Rick Normand you asked for
I think this link tells it all , there is nothing wrong with posting, but calling it news
is just wrong. and not posting a real name makes it Opinion.
Excepts from the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics:
Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.
Be Accountable and Transparent
Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.
Expose unethical conduct in journalism
It’s a total joke for the SRRN to be lecturing about journalistic integrity. They haven’t any. Read my story about being forever banned from their pathetic publication.
You said in your missive above on April 29, 2015 at 6:14 pm “Normand
Read the Redrock editorial this week, it is a new paper in the area…” Not that you made your point clear, but your reference appears to be to the Sedona Red Rock News which is NOT a new paper in this area (you never used the word “newspaper'”). So, I asked you to give me the link to whomever or whatever that you were so unclearly referring to. Typically, your answer to my simple question in your above missive on April 30, 2015 at 1:54 pm mentions a Redneck, a verbally abusive word that I never used and then you launch off into a diatribe about the RRN’s rendition of online blogging ethics. Excuse me, but what the hell does that have to do with my question or any of the issues raised by Concerned Sedona Resident or Jean Jenks? I really don’t care what the opinions of the RRN’s editorial staff is! I never read anything they have to say. This is just so typical for you Mr Segner. You never stay focused on the facts relevant to an issue in dispute.
Why don’t you learn how to construct a simple deductive syllogism if you’re going to mouth off about complex issues such as Concerned Sedona Resident has raised? As I said, you have a habit of reciting facts that aren’t relevant to the argument in play. For instance, and notwithstanding, by virtue of mentioning that the Lake Havasu City CVB, instead of our own Sedona C of C, was named as one of only 193 organizations across the globe that are accredited by Destination Marketing Association International, you UNWITTINGLY indicted the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, DUE TO ITS NON-MENTION in your comment for any equivalent achievements. Your comments throughout this 5 part series are really difficult to follow since they are typically NOT structured in any sort of deductive logic thread (syllogism) that would lead a reader to understand what your point is! Reader’s, I’m sure, would like to better understand what your talking points are. I know I would.
(name withheld in fear of retaliation)
Once again steve segner has moved in on yet another important article and swayed people off target. Let’s move along now and focus on what We’ve read here in the last five weeks.
We have all been given a gift here, and maybe one of the most important Sedona could receive to save our City. One with history, details, background and resources, all tied up with a bow and handed to Us. Now what are We going to do with it?
I’m not an intellect nor a leader, just a Sedona resident that is completely fed up with the chamber buying the mayor and city council, lying to the tourists, gouging and abusing our local businesses, traffic, abuse of our trails, etc.. I know there are leaders in our community that can help guide those like Me into making a difference with the information we’ve been given.
What are we going to do with this? Whistle blowing to the IRS? Marches and protests at City Hall? Referendum against the contract between the City and the Chamber? Let’s start thinking. Who has the first idea?
And the next time Mr. ss raises his ugly head….. ‘Focus’ and ‘Ignor’.
What can we do? I’m starting small. Since Mr. Segner feels that “you knew it was a tourist town when you moved here” and doesn’t seem feel that there could possibly be too many tourists in Sedona, I’m going to try and impact his business. His El Portal hotel is a very nice property. I have recommended it to many of my Bay Area friends when they visit here. I will no longer recommend his business to my friends.
Since he lives in Oak Creek Canyon, he may not feel the impact of tourist helicopters flying over his house incessantly. I do however. This town has got to figure out other sources of income. A good start would be to save $1.6M by stopping the subsidy to the Chamber.
Next election, ask the hard questions of the candidates and only vote for those who support the residents.
It is highly ironic that Mr. Segner, someone known for his political smear campaigns and efforts to intimidate businesses that don’t belong to the Chamber or don’t tow the party line, would tout the RR News editorial stating, “Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm,…” Yet it is the same Mr. Segner that has had a full hand in creating those fears of “retribution or other harm” by his own actions, but then sees anonymity in this article series as unjustified and improper. Perhaps Mr. Segner simply needs a mirror.
Concerned Sedona Resident
What can we do? I’m starting small. Since Mr. Segner feels that “you knew it was a tourist town when you moved here” and doesn’t seem feel that there could possibly be too many tourists in Sedona, I’m going to try and impact his business.
“You knew it was a tourist town when you moved here.
Simple question, just stating a fact we all came to Sedona as tourists.
I went to a party last night with over 100 people that make there living in Sedona, and all I heard was, Great Spring, nice to have business back in Sedona.
Sedona is not just for the locals, we have business people trying to make a living in Sedona.
Pink jeep alone employees over 175 people and over 1000 jobs in the hotels and shops depend on growth.
I agree, we need to balance the need of locals, business and the visitors.
The Chambers marketing plan” is to bring visitors in the slow months” and it worked! Last summer was the best in years and that was with Oak Creek Canyon being closed.
Tyler Barrett says:
Since he (Steve) lives in Oak Creek Canyon, he may not feel the impact of tourist helicopters flying over his house incessantly.
Tyler, on Saturday afternoons Easter weeks
It take me up to one hr. to get the hotel, it has been that way for six years.
The traffic in the canyon in not from hotel guests, but collage kids, and people going back to Phoenix from day trips to Flagstaff they all hit up town and once,
This weekend the forest service was out ticketing along Oak Creek and traffic through up town was normal.
And as for helicopters. My one of my homes is in Munds canyon… all the helicopters coming from Flagstaff and Sedona fly through it…. and that’s ok I don’t own the canyon it is there for all to see and use.
For what it is worth.
@ Tyler Barrett
I like Your thinking Tyler, and thanks for the input.
As residents of Sedona, and even we old retirees, we are not powerless. We already know how strong the ‘word of mouth’ is. The next time a tourist asks us what restaurant, etc. we recommend as a local, just make sure to mention a non-Chamber business. A bit of free advertisement goes along way as we know.
Waiting for the next election and asking the hard questions seems a bit futile to Me, and seems like we need to go after what we have on our plates now.
Sheri – Do You have insight of how the Referendum process works in respect to recalling the vote that put the contract between the City and the Chamber in place?
Does anyone else have an idea that we can jump on?
P.S. – This was Not a tourist town when we first came here, nor did I come here as a tourist.