Mon, Sept. 16

Push begins to annex VOC

Village of Oak Creek resident Chuck Aurand and others believe they have a convincing argument for annexing the community of nearly 6,000 people into the City of Sedona.

A former dean of Creative and Communication Arts at Northern Arizona University, Aurand discussed the proposed annexation at the Sedona Village Business Association’s May 3 meeting.

Well-prepared with a fact sheet of demographics and financial figures, especially pertaining to city revenues, Aurand said there is a loss of tax dollars, an imbalance of representation and a lack of services in the Village. No figures for county revenues generated specifically in the VOC were provided in the fact sheet.

Also referred to as Big Park, the small, urban-like community on the outskirts of Sedona is not a Village at all, but one of a handful of unincorporated settlements in Yavapai County. Services are provided and taxes, highway user fees, license fees and impact fees all are collected and distributed at the county level.

Aurand asserts he has “no pecuniary interest and is not running for public office” but that along with 12 others, is leading the march advocating annexation. The group, he said, is in its “embryonic stage,” and it hopes to get the word out to the community. He already has put out a feeler to encourage a public forum within the next few months. Actual boundary lines for the VOC annexation have not yet been drawn, he said.

Aurand, who is also President of Citizens for an Alternate Route (CFAR), said his promotion of the Red Rock Crossing bridge has no bearing on his interest in the annexation. He said he has not even discussed the matter with the board of CFAR.

Nevertheless, inclusion of the VOC in the municipal boundaries of Sedona could certainly create more of an interest in seeing the alternate route replaced than the city has expressed thus far.

To date, Sedona officials have taken a hands-off attitude toward the crossing controversy, deferring instead to the county’s jurisdiction.

Declining to reveal the names of the dozen individuals with whom he’s aligned without their permission, Aurand indicated they represent a cross-section of VOC retirees and business people. It appears Aurand’s group is just testing the waters at this stage and only informal conversations with Sedona city officials have taken place.

“I’ve talked with two or three people in the Village,” Sedona Mayor Alan Everett said, confirming there have been no official or unofficial discussions among city officials about annexation. “I think originally, when the city was incorporated, they gave consideration to drawing boundaries to the Village, but there wasn’t a strong interest then.”

Everett continued that annexation of the VOC would depend entirely upon the wishes of the people who live and own property there. He said there are pros and cons of the issue. On the plus side, he said, local control is attractive to many.

“Frankly, counties are not designed to operate in urban areas,” said Everett. “As more and more people move into the Big Park area, they really don’t fit into the county mode of government.”

Aurand’s biggest justification favoring annexation includes the lack of dollars filtering back into VOC and a deficiency in services, particularly police protection.

“Quite frankly, we’re not getting very many services out in this area. Comments have been made by supervisors. The county government is not structured in such a way that it can provide those services to urban areas,” he said.

He went on, “In the 10 years that I have lived in the Village of Oak Creek, the present road project on Verde Valley School Road and the short improvement area on Bell Rock Boulevard is the first major improvement that I have seen. In the Village, the taxpayers are paying for quality services through their property taxes. However, it is my believe that far too few of our tax funds are being returned to our community. A different governmental structure might provide a greater return.”

Certain to be a sticky issue in any annexation discussion is sewage.

Sedona’s sewer debt of $60 million surely will cause a ripple of discontent among Villagers, considering that as VOC’s sewer chairperson Ruth Kane has publicly stated, the Big Park sewer district is “debt free and levies no tax.” Presently there is a movement underfoot to bring more residents onto the sewer in Big Park. Aurand predicts the day will come when the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will mandate hook-ups there. In Sedona, he said, the city was under tremendous pressure from the state to solve its wastewater problems. In fact, that is what ultimately prompted incorporation of the city.

He said it is doubtful that residents of Big Park will agree to expansion of their present sewer system if required to pay an up-front cost of $13,000-$15,000 per home to build the infrastructure and connect. Big Park sewer district officials have projected line expansion connection costs for Village residents at $12,000.

“Quite frankly, the solution to the sewer problem in the Big Park area, in my view, lies in the district issuing bonds to fund the expansion of the system and then requiring a connection fee similar to the fee currently being assessed in Sedona. In Sedona, a major portion of the cost of the sewer system is being paid by tourists visiting our community through the 3-percent city sales tax.”

Beginning this month, Sedona’s residential customers will be paying $4,200 to connect to the city sewer system, going up from $2,100. They are also responsible to pay the costs of running lines to their homes from the main sewer line.

Aurand said he believes expenses for services that would have to be provided to VOC residents in the event annexation is successful would be minimal because infrastructure already is in place throughout red-rock country, including fire services, schools, city administration buildings, parks and recreation and courts.

“The police protection did raise a question with the current mayor and city manager,” Aurand explained, adding he was told that three more officers and a police car would be required to provide round-the-clock services to VOC residents.

But by the same token, residents of Big Park would become swimmers in the sales-tax pool for the City of Sedona. Revenue estimates to be realized in the VOC were not available.

Jim Patterson, a board member with SVBA and vice president of VOC’s National Bank, attended Aurand’s presentation. He said that although he has not formed an opinion whether to support such a movement, no one argues that there’s a need to evaluate the issues from a very objective viewpoint.

“The key is objective. How do we get more services? We need to get money back to the Village and there are other expectations. This is one approach and there are others,” Patterson said.

Aurand pointed out that when he first came to the Sedona area, the major concern was the need for a second stop light. Today, he said, the issues for Sedona, as well as VOC, are much greater, primarily growth with the incidental necessities of roads, schools, religious institutions, city and county governments. He said it took three elections for Sedona to become incorporated and the debate getting there “was heated and extensive.”

Today Aurand views Sedona as a healthy, sound and progressive community with a democratic government, police, parks, city facilities, a sewer system and he would venture to guess that most people now would agree incorporation was the smart thing to do.

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