By a 6-1 vote, the Sedona City Council approved a plan to add a half-cent sales tax with the goal of paying for needed traffic mitigation projects over the next decade.
The vote, which came on Tuesday, Oct. 10, was not a surprise being that council took an informal vote on the matter during its Sept. 27 meeting.
Councilman John Currivan was the lone dissenting vote, saying that he would rather see the budget cut and use those funds for transportation. And as they reiterated, Vice Mayor John Martinez was seeking a 1 percent increase while Councilman Tom Lamkin wanted to consider more in the range of a three-quarter cent bump.
The purpose of the meeting was to solidify the terms of the tax. Staff will now prepare a notice of intent and begin the posting requirements. The notice of intent and all other necessary postings will be required 60 days before an ordinance can be considered.
A public hearing will be scheduled in December, after which the council can take action. The new tax is scheduled to become effective Thursday, March 1.
An increase to the sales tax rate only requires adoption by council via an ordinance. The Fiscal Sustainability Work Group, which met
for nearly a year, unanimously voted to recommend a 1 percent increase over 10 years to cover the proposed $62 million in capital transportation projects.
They also recommended setting a sunset on the tax increase of 10 years or less if deemed appropriate. At that September meeting, City Manager Justin Clifton presented the council a breakdown of the dozen or so traffic mitigation projects that have been discussed.
He listed each along with what percentage of each that could be undertaken [50 to 100 percent] to still be effective. In the end, Clifton presented an estimated budget over the next 10 years of nearly $35 million. This cost would be covered by both a tax increase and use of capital reserves.
“The really big caveat to this is that we understand that this particular arrangement of projects and revenue assumptions is likely to change quite a lot,” Clifton said after that meeting. “In other words, its really not a commitment to complete the projects as they’re outlined on the spreadsheet. Rather, it reflects that there are various scenarios that could play out but that in any event we should be able to complete a lot of great projects with a halfcent sales tax.”
Now that a half-cent tax has been approved, the rate in the Yavapai County portion of Sedona will increase to 9.85 percent while on the Coconino County side [Uptown] that will be 10.4 percent. Based on recent figures, a half-cent tax increase would equate to $2.7 million a year with $1.8 million coming from visitors and $900,000 from residents.
It also equates to about $7.50 in additional spending a month for the average resident. Councilman Jon Thompson said he had some reservations about increasing the sales tax and that a half-cent would be as much he’d be in favor of — considering his project total is even less than Clifton’s $35 million.
“I believe traffic is not as big a problem as people perceive it to be,” he said. “I think we have an expectation for smooth sailing as we drive; that’s unrealistic. I think it’s because we have not evolved as fast as our technology. When we’re behind the wheel of a car, we feel like we should move as unimpeded as when we’re walking.”
He said people talk about traffic in hyperbole and use terms like “being a nightmare,” “road became a parking lot,” and “it took forever to get there.”
“These are over-statements that aren’t really the truth,” he said. “Traffic is not as bad as we think.” He added that it’s more important to reduce the number of vehicles on the road than it is to simply focus on reducing travel time for those vehicles.
Martinez, who has been one of the more fiscally conservative members during his tenure on the council, said that not only was he in favor of the 1 percent increase, but also expressed the need to complete traffic projects in a timely manner.
“We were laughed at — another traffic study that was just going to sit on a shelf,” he said. “Damn it, we’re not going to put this one on the shelf. We’re going to start implementing stuff. I depend on the experts we had. We have great staff members that say this is what we should be doing. Now it’s up to us. We’re the ones who are going to have to ask, ‘Do we do it or not?’”
He concluded by saying, “The betterment of the city is greater than my own thoughts. I’m in favor of a half percent and we’re not putting this puppy on the shelf and spend more money on another study.”