Villagers respond to annexation

It didn’t take long before former Big Park Regional Coordinating Council President Dick Byrnes reacted to Chuck Aurand’s contention that the Village of Oak Creek should be annexed into the City of Sedona.

“I can picture the primary advantage in annexation for the City of Sedona is gaining a major increase in the tax base, while expending relatively little in terms of infrastructure. Whatever income Aurand pictures being due to the Village, that it’s currently not obtaining, would be donated to the City of Sedona. I personally think there is no advantage to the residents of Big Park to being absorbed by the City of Sedona,” said Byrnes, who has been an instrumental political force in the Village.

Aurand, a former dean at Northern Arizona University, 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.

Byrnes doesn’t buy it.

He maintains Aurand, who is president of the Citizens for an Alternate Route (CFAR), a group pushing for replacement of the Red Rock Crossing Bridge, has an additional motive.

“I think there is lots more to be said. I personally feel the basic issue is the Red Rock Crossing, and I have had discussions with Aurand on those comments,” Byrnes said.

Aurand denies any connection indicating he didn’t discuss the annexation issue with his CFAR board. He said the reason he’s pursuing annexation is due to the loss of tax dollars and lack of services.

Aurand told Sedona Village Business Association members May 3 that, “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.”

In a later interview, Aurand commented, “It is my belief the Big Park area is a cash cow for Yavapai County. 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.”

Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis was asked about Aurand’s comments.

“In regards to our ability to offer urbanized services, it is true. I think we do a lot of things to try and provide the types of services that Big Park needs. We have a very successful VIP program to assist the sheriff’s office. We have quarterly town hall meetings to communicate with the citizens. I think we have a very responsible public works (roads) department; and flood control. We have spent a lot of time and money in that particular community.

“As far as Big Park being a cash cow for Yavapai County — if they annex, Yavapai County property taxes would not lower; they would stay the same. We are funded primarily through property taxes with the exception of the one-half cent county sales tax (80 percent goes for regional road improvements and 20 percent toward property tax reduction). If the community became annexed or incorporated, those taxes wouldn’t change.”

Davis went on to say, “It has to be a community decision, and I know I will be there to help the community whether annexed or if they stay as they are.”

Byrnes suggests the seven-mile boundary between the City of Sedona and the Village is a natural boundary. It also causes an emotional division between the two areas. He believes that at some point, Villagers may want to consider incorporation instead of annexation and that incorporation might solve the problem of services that Aurand complains about. Byrnes wasn’t the only one to express concern over the possibility of annexation.

“The reason we don’t want to be annexed from a personal standpoint, the county government is very responsive thanks to the formation of the Big Park Council, a council that has no official function other than to make recommendations to the county requested by the county. It is not an elected body, but it represents all the homeowners associations and one business association in the Big Park area. The City of Sedona has the largest debt ratio per person in the state of Arizona. Why would any reasonable person in another community want to be a party to this debt if they had a choice?” said Joan McClelland, long-time resident and member representative of the Big Park Council said.

Concern over the Sedona sewer debt, estimated at $60 million, has been a concern among many Villagers, and a sewer takeover is of real concern to sewer board officials.

Sewer board Chair Ruth Kane said she has already been in contact with the district’s legal counsel to discuss the complexities of the city taking over the wastewater district. She said they need to discuss with Sedona what sales tax in VOC would go for.

“Would it be used to reduce debt for their sewer debt; if it isn’t going to be used for the advantage of Big Park, for instance to build sewer lines, I don’t know what good it is to anybody. There are lots of additional costs involved. Without answers, I don’t know how anyone can be entertaining this annexation idea,” Kane asserted.

Answers may be coming sooner than expected. Aurand has already scheduled a public meeting for June 19 at 7 p.m. in the Village of Oak Creek Association Clubhouse. Guest speaker will be Cathy Connelly, executive director of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns.

Connelly, according to Aurand, is considered by some to be the most informed person in Arizona on the subject of annexation and incorporation. Bill Feldmeier, former Yavapai County supervisor and current director of Governor Jane Hull’s Northern Arizona office, will also attend, he said.

“Our goal is to provide information to the residents of the Village of Oak Creek so that an informed decision can be made related to the future governance of this community of 5,000 to 6,000 people,” Aurand added.


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