VOC annexation purely up to residents

Annexation or incorporation.

That’s the choice Village of Oak Creek residents will have to make, whether now or at some point in the future.

One thing on which most all agree, a county government is not designed to operate in an urban setting, such as what the VOC has become.

Presently there’s a movement afoot by a dozen residents of the VOC, also known as Big Park, to be annexed into the City of Sedona. Sedona Mayor Alan Everett said any attempt to annex would have to come at the request of those who live in the VOC.

Although incorporation apparently is not being considered, it is an option available to the community if its citizens are seeking local control of their destiny. With a population nearing 6,000, the VOC qualifies for incorporation, where the threshold is 1,500 people to become a town, or 3,000 people to become a city, according to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

Big Park resident Chuck Aurand, however, is carrying the annexation torch. He and others believe there is a lack of services to residents and a gap in the amount of tax support given and the return on that investment for taxpayers.

“It is my belief the Big Park area is a ‘cash cow’ for Yavapai County,” said Aurand. “We are contributing far more than we are receiving from the county, and we are receiving little in the way of police protection and county services.”

For annexation to be an option, state law requires that the area to be annexed must be contiguous to the City of Sedona, said Catherine Connolly, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. So far, the boundaries of the proposed annexation have not yet been determined, said Aurand.

Signatures of 50 percent or more of the property owners subject to taxation by value and by number in the area to be annexed, would have to be gathered on petitions in order for the annexation to be successful, said Connolly, adding there also are considerations with regard to the shape of the land to be annexed.

But the long stretch of U.S. Forest Service land between Sedona and Big Park along Arizona 179 would not be a deterrent to annexation, said Connolly and Sedona District Ranger Ken Anderson.

Because the Forest Service does not pay taxes, it’s not considered a property owner for the purposes of taxation, nor does it stand in the way of the requirement that the land to be annexed be adjoining the city’s boundaries.

Anderson said the Forest Service cannot object to annexation of its lands that adjoin an incorporated community.

Thus, in this case, should Aurand and his group obtain the needed number of signatures and request the City of Sedona annex Big Park into its boundaries, the city could annex the Forest Service land along with it.

“National forest lands become part of an incorporated area ... but the Forest Service still has the discretion to manage those lands as it did before annexation,” said Anderson.

He and other Forest Service officials have long warned communities that by bringing public lands into their boundaries, it makes those lands a target of land exchanges into private hands. Frequently, he said, “Those National Forest lands inside incorporated boundaries become vulnerable to the needs of the community over time.”

Communities want land to extend infrastructure, for parks and recreation, and other uses, he said. Still, such a scenario is unlikely in this instance.

“We’ve negotiated with (Sedona) that we wouldn’t entertain trades of those lands. We would not likely entertain any trading or disposal,” he said. “What we would want the community to have its eyes open about is that you do take some risk that those eventually would become community lands.”

For the VOC to incorporate on its own, permission from the City of Sedona could be required.

State law mandates that if an area that wants to incorporate is within six miles of an incorporated municipality with a population of 5,000 or more, or three miles from a municipality with a population of 5,000 or less, the city or town must concur on that incorporation, said Connolly.

Another legal requirement is that it meet the criteria of being a “community,” meaning there’s a need for such services as public health, police protection, fire protection and water, and that those who live there engage in such activities as business, education and recreation.

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