Sedona AZ (October 26, 2018) – Have you decided on your Halloween costume yet? Retailers have been hawking pumpkins, “fun size” candy, and orange and black decorations for at least a month already, so the big day hasn’t exactly sneaked up on us like an axe murderer in a hockey mask. But you still have a week to decide. And once you do, buying or creating that costume will be a relatively easy task.
Not so with City Council priority setting. Deciding what local issues deserve the greatest attention and funding for an entire year isn’t as easy as buying a fright wig or smearing ketchup on an old shirt. And we won’t be alerted to this official activity by an aisle in Walgreens or CVS displaying items on the theme of workforce housing or pedestrian bridges. No, the council’s critical priority setting work will likely be done in a single day with little more warning than a 1/6-page notice in the Red Rock News. It could be over before you can say “Boo!”
So why should you care? Well, I can’t tell you how many times just during my elected term that Sedonans have asked Council to take on some new initiative or solve some problem. And too many of those times they’ve been told that their request isn’t on the city’s priorities list. No one wants to hear that, but it’s simply a reflection of a long, complicated, but very necessary planning process.
The planning typically starts in mid-January with an all-day city council retreat. At this meeting, your elected mayor and councilors discuss and debate the high-level priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, based on a variety of inputs. The goal of the meeting is to provide the city manager and his staff with strategic direction.
The staff will then spend the next several months translating that strategy into specific project plans, along with the anticipated costs and other resources necessary to accomplish them. At the same time, they must balance their recommendations against the anticipated taxes and other revenue they predict the city will receive during the coming year.
This highly detailed work by the staff results in a comprehensive budget proposal that the council reviews, department by department, page by page, over a multi-day session in late April. Changes and adjustments are made at this time, to be sure. But the opportunity to raise significant new high-level priorities, or even to elevate or demote priorities on the list, has long since passed. And two months later, after the final adjustments and legal process has been completed, the budget for the next July-through-June fiscal year is approved.
So, if you or an organization you belong to have been thinking that the city needs a high-level course correction, and you don’t want to wait another 20 months for it to start, now is the time to let your elected representatives know your thoughts. The ideas they take to that retreat in mid-January will be the ones they think are the most important, based on their own values, guidance from the Community Plan, survey data, the current priorities list, and any convincing input they hear directly from you, their constituents. Do you know what each of them thinks about affordable housing, environmental sustainability, support for the arts and other nonprofits, or any other strategic issue of concern to you? If not, these next couple months will be your best opportunity to be heard.
The current priorities list, which will serve as the starting point for the council’s planning in mid-January, can be found on the city’s website, sedonaaz.gov. On the home page, do a search for “priorities list updates” and then click on the first item in the results. The city website also provides an easy way for you to contact your mayor and councilors by email or phone.
Wait too much longer, and your hopes and wishes for a better Sedona might not stand a “ghost” of a chance.
The opinions expressed above are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the Sedona City Council or any other organization.