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Next week, the Sedona Fire District Governing Board, acting on the recommendation of a citizens committee, will likely approve asking voters for an $18 million, 10-year bond to tear down and rebuild one station, move another and make improvements to two others.

This $18 million bond will be incredibly difficult to get past voters.


If it fails, SFD will be stuck in the enviable position of having to wait another election cycle to ask for a bond again, perhaps at the same number, perhaps higher or lower and in the meantime, we fear fire services will suffer.

Based on numbers we have seen, SFD will need roughly $25 million in funding over the next 10 years to make capital improvements, replace engines and buy gear and equipment. Roughly $7 million of this is for things that should come out of SFD’s general fund, not from a bond, leaving the $18 million total. Half of that is for urgent needs, half is for hoped-for wants.

The $18 million bond will be difficult to pass for several reasons, first and foremost because $18 million is a big pill to swallow. The SFD board must recognize that while its request in a vacuum is mild, property owners have seen their taxes rise as most other governments and districts that have a property tax are collecting more as home values rise post-recession. [Footnote: The city of Sedona does not have a property tax].

Property owners already facing higher taxes from districts they cannot fight will see a bond request on ballot as the one tax they can resist and vote “no.”

Second, 2017 is not an election year. It is a year after a presidential election and a year before midterms. Voter turnout will be low and in low-turnout years, bond projects for public services often fail, even those that are as necessary as fire and medical protection. Adding to that, the last presidential election was insanely divisive, so unhappy voters will be looking for any excuse to voice their displeasure at Washington and a local bond issue will be collaterally affected.

Third, this newspaper will not support an $18 million bond. We feel it is simply too much to ask voters for when the urgent need is not present. While an $18 million, 10-year bond might fail spectacularly, a $9.9 million five-year bond could pass and should pass.

As such, we urge voters and the Governing Board to consider this: Station 4 urgently needs to be torn down and replaced. We must do this. It is a 40-year-old antiquated structure that should have been replaced 20 years ago. Based on numbers we have seen, replacement will cost taxpayers $5,686,860.

Station 5 in Oak Creek Canyon is an architectural oddity, partially privately owned by the Garland family, which has generously agreed to let this building operate when it could have booted SFD from the site decades ago. However, most of its calls are up the canyon near Slide Rock. The state is willing to let SFD build a new station at Slide Rock State Park that will respond to these calls better and faster. Additionally, Slide Rock State Park is the staging site for water-carrying helicopters in case of another canyon fire. We must do this. Replacement will cost taxpayers $3,043,525.

The total cost of these two projects is just over $8.7 million. Round it up an additional $1.2 million for potential cost overruns or if the capital project comes in under budget, for communications equipment and we arrive at $9.9 million.

SFD could get that bond, complete these two projects and in five years, demonstrate to voters what taxpayers got with their money. Then SFD could ask taxpayers for an additional $8 million to make improvements to Station 1 in West Sedona and Station 3 in the Village of Oak Creek.

The SFD Governing Board must play strategically in the long game or lose in the short run. Thus, we urge the SFD Governing Board to carefully consider revising the bond to $9.9 million.

If you ask for $18 million, we fear you will have to work overtime to get votes, no matter how much it may look on paper like the total amount is needed. Be realistic and responsible and only ask for $9.9 million for these two most urgent needs. Voters will support this and we will vigorously urge them to vote “yes.”

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