Whether Chuck Aurand’s push to annex the Village of Oak Creek into Sedona stays afloat remains to be seen.
Judging by the negative comments and reaction from locals and a disapproving display of signs at the information-gathering meeting earlier this week, it appears the self-proclaimed annexation organizer has an uphill battle.
Aurand has made no secret that he is leading the march to annex VOC into Sedona, citing lack of services from Yavapai County and loss of tax dollars as main reasons for the push.
True to his promise, Aurand’s “information dissemination meeting” covered not only his viewpoints on the annexation subject, but information on the hows and whys to either annex or incorporate, presented by Cathy Connolly and Bill Feldmeir.
Connolly is the executive director for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, and according to Feldmeir, is “an authority on municipalities and how to get there.”
Feldmeir is a former Yavapai County Supervisor and currently a Northern Arizona director for Gov. Jane Hull.
Obviously expecting emotional outbursts, Aurand invited Channel 18 broadcaster Tommy James to monitor the conclusive short question-and-answer period in order to maintain a calm demeanor. James’ presence didn’t necessarily deter caustic remarks.
When asked about Sedona’s interest in the movement, Mayor Alan Everett said, “It had never been discussed.” He assured Villagers that he was not there to encourage annexation, but to help them make their own decision.
Aurand told the audience that he and 12 others have formed a group called Citizens for Annexation, Inc. When confronted by Village resident Joan McClelland to reveal the names of “his 12 disciples,” Aurand declined as he has in the past. He described the group as “lawyers, educators and business people” and promised if the annexation issue moved forward and officers were elected to push the movement, he would provide the names.
Foremost in Aurand’s argument for annexation was his contention the Village lacks police protection. He said numbers he received from the sheriff’s office revealed there were only three night-time patrolmen and four day-time patrolmen covering a vast area. He said Sedona offers four officers around-the-clock.
He pointed out the Volunteers in Protection Program officers used by the sheriff’s office are not certified police officers. Aurand maintained the VIPs were powerless to make arrests or traffic stops and suggested they, an older group, would not have the physical strength of 20-year-old policemen.
On the subject of sewer, Aurand said sooner or later, a similar sewer demand as what Sedona faced would occur; that the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) will tell Villagers they can no longer put sewage into the ground. Aurand said that with 80 percent of the Villagers unsewered, they face a $12,000 to $15,000 cost to get on line. Not pleased with the comment, Big Park Sewer Board Chairperson Ruth Kane accused Aurand of intimidation tactics.
Sedona’s $80 million sewer debt appears to be a key concern to many Villagers as voiced by one audience member, who asked how the Village would play into Sedona’s sewer-debt ratio, if annexed. Aurand answered that Sedona’s 3-percent local sales tax covers the sewer debt load by more than two times and current estimates indicate the sewer debt will be eliminated in 15-20 years.
Aurand said he was provided an estimated sales tax figure of $262,000 generated in the Village annually, but believes the figure is incorrect since Sedona generates more than $7 million in local sales tax dollars annually.
In further support of annexation, Aurand maintained $1.42 million annually goes out of the Village directly to the county in Arizona state tax, vehicle license fees and user fees. He maintains the Village gets little in return. He said the Village also loses franchise fees for utilities. The City of Sedona gets $800,000. There is none in the Village, he said, with the exception of a cable fee going to Yavapai County.
Aurand went on to say that local planning, local government and recreational facilities are essential to a well-functioning urban area such as VOC. He indicated the county is enormous and is too great of a size for any single supervisor go after grants for projects such as parks and street beautification and that Sedona has proved success in this arena. He cited its expertise in grant writing as to why it has done an effective job in development projects in the Sedona community.
Connolly’s presentation laid down the ground work and a clear understanding of the process to annex or incorporate. She assured the audience that although she had deep roots in the Sedona area, she had no vested interest in the annexation subject and came to the meeting as someone knowledgeable on the subject.
“I have no advice on what you should do. You do not need someone from Phoenix advising you. I’m here to give you options of what is available to you,” she explained.
Besides discussing the hows and whys of annexing or incorporating, she explained to Villagers that they could exercise a third option — ”to do nothing.” She cited two examples, Sun City and Green Valley, as unincorporated areas who “got their county supervisor’s attention and are happy with the services provided.”
She said a decision to do nothing is a judgment only the community could make. She said a key factor is the willingness of community members to provide services as volunteer groups, thereby avoiding another layer of government.
She suggested the community should study and debate all three issues, annexation, incorporation and doing nothing. This is Connolly’s second discussion with Villagers on this matter; she said this same issue was discussed in the 1980s.
Feldmeir pointed out that historically counties are the “stepchildren of the state” and that they cannot provide the same urban services as cities. He went on to clarify that he was not at the meeting to tell Villagers what was right or wrong, just to share what research reveals.
Big Park Regional Coordination Council President Carolyn Fisher told Aurand and the audience that the council is forming a committee to look at the Village’s future and its growth, and how to be postured to stay in touch with what the community wants.