Political games at the state level over fiscal year budget 2009-10 are boiling across city lines.

As next year’s state budget remains an unknown, Sedona administrators — who depend on state funds — are trying their best to establish budgets for their governmental entities.

The city of Sedona is set to approve its FY 2009-10 budget Tuesday, June 23, and the Sedona Oak Creek School District must approve its budget by Wednesday, July 15.

jan_brewer_mugThe city and the school district depend on funding from the state, and leaders from both are preparing their budgets for worst-case scenarios.

Although the state must approve its budget by Tuesday, June 30, the state Capitol has reached a stalemate after legislators passed a budget proposal June 4, but still haven’t given it to Gov. Jan Brewer for her approval or veto.

On Tuesday, June 16, Brewer filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Legislature, asking the Arizona Superior Court to order the Legislature to send her the budget bills.

In court records, Brewer accuses the Legislature of violating state Constitution by refusing to send her the proposal.

Threats of a partial government shutdown in Phoenix, which would occur if a budget is not approved by June 30, echo up to the Verde Valley.

Sedona’s Interim City Manager Alison Zelms is convinced that next year will be unstable whether the state passes a budget June 30 or not.

“I think whatever choice they make it needs to be a sustainable choice that looks at the long term and I don’t know if that’s what’s happening now,” Zelms said. “I don’t envy their position. I don’t know if there’s a good answer at this point.”

From the state, the city is expected to receive $840,000 from state sales tax, $1.4 million in state revenue sharing income tax, $506,000 in vehicle license tax, $785,000 in Highway

User Revenue Fees and $49,000 in Local Transportation Assistance Funds.

Regardless of what budget the state approves, the city needs to be prepared for things to change throughout the year, Zelms said.

“We need to be ready to make the expenditure side changes that would need to go along with any reduced revenues,” she said. “If we waited to do a budget, I’m not sure we’d see that much more stability.”

According to League of Arizona Towns and Cities Executive Director Ken Strobeck, the league is researching what a partial governmental shutdown would mean for towns and cities.

“In Arizona statute, it says that we are to receive the payments, so technically it would be a violation of state statute if those payments weren’t paid,” Strobeck said.

Towns and cities would get their funding from the state whenever it was back up and running, he said, so whether or not a possible delay would be illegal, he’s not sure.

“What the specifics would be on the first day of July, we just don’t know,” he said.

At the Sedona Oak Creek School District office, Superintendent Mike Aylstock worries that a partial government shutdown of all non-vital services would include school districts in the summer.

“I really hope she doesn’t do that,” he said. “I hope she’s using it as leverage with the Legislature, but neither side seems to want to budge so there might be some drastic measures taken.”

The school district can normally plan its budget without too much concern for the state budget, Aylstock said, since it usually knows how much it’s getting based on student population and money from Proposition 301.

“But with everything going on down there, none of us are willing to outguess them,” he said.

To prepare for the worst, SOCSD issued 23 Reduction In Force notices to first year teachers in May, and have called back nine so far.

“We’ve already had some teachers who have found jobs in other locations, which we knew was going to happen,” Aylstock said of handing out notices before the state decides its budget, something school districts are required to do by May 15. “It’s sad that we’re losing good, talented people, but that’s the price we have to pay right now.”


Alison Ecklund can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 125, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Intercity public transportation between Sedona and Cottonwood is slowly coming up to speed with a midafternoon trip starting Monday, July 6, and eight trips slated to begin Thursday, Oct. 1.

The Cottonwood Express, which currently transports commuters from Cottonwood to Sedona in the morning and back to Cottonwood in the evening, added midday service with a trolley leaving Cottonwood and returning at two new times.

“Expanding the intercity commuter really is going to be a healthy step for Sedona and Cottonwood,” Jim Wagner, Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority Sedona project manager, said.

roadrunner_logoOn the current schedule, Sedona RoadRunner trolleys pick up riders in Cottonwood at 7:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. on their way to Sedona to service Uptown and State Route 179 throughout the day. At the end of the day, the trolleys pick up riders at various locations in Sedona beginning at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The new schedule will leave Garrison Park in Cottonwood at 7:45 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Trips back to Cottonwood from Sedona will be at 8:30 a.m., 3:15 p.m. and 6 p.m.

In October, when the service is expanded to eight trips, the commuter route will become its own, independent service, according to Wagner.

NAIPTA announced this spring the eight-trip schedule would begin in July, but pushed the start-up date back for a number of reasons.

Wagner said NAIPTA wants to brand the expanded commuter service as a program separate from the RoadRunner and it’s not quite ready to do that.

The service will be called Verde Links, according to NAIPTA General Manager Jeff Meilbeck.

Part of the new image is use of different vehicles. Arboc Spirit of Mobility buses will be used.

The new low floor buses are 28 feet long, comply with the Americans with Disability Act and seat up to 25 passengers. The buses will be paid for in part with money NAIPTA received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

NAIPTA didn’t want to confuse people by switching the vehicles after the service started, Wagner said.

The expanded service will be more convenient for workers while also accommodating other riders, according to Wagner. Sedona residents can use the system to access shopping, doctors and Verde Valley Medical Center. The commuter will drop riders off at Garrison Park where they can hop on the Cottonwood Area Transit that circulates all over Cottonwood and into Clarkdale and the Verde Villages.

Riders will also be able to ride the bus between Uptown and West Sedona. The buses will stop at marked pick-up locations on their way out to Cottonwood and back in.

The schedule for the eight-trip system has not yet been set, Wagner said, but the earliest trip to Sedona will probably be at 6:30 a.m. and the latest back to Cottonwood at 6 p.m.

The idea to expand the commuter service came from citizen review committees NAIPTA formed in Sedona and Cottonwood. Those groups told NAIPTA more trips were needed between the communities.

Camp Verde isn’t included in the service starting in October, but Meilbeck said the service’s name, Verde Links, indicates NAIPTA plans to eventually bring other Verde Valley communities on board.

“Verde Links identifies that this service is ultimately for the entire Verde Valley,” Meilbeck said. NAIPTA’s five-year plan includes linking Camp Verde to the system, but it doesn’t have the money to do so at this time.

The one-way fare to ride from one city to the other is $2. Riders also have the option of purchasing a monthly pass or punch-pass card for 20 rides; both cost $40. To ride from Uptown to West Sedona or vice versa, a rider will be charged $1.

For more information on the commuter schedule and stops, visit www.roadrunner.az.gov or call 282-0938.

Yavapai County supervisors aren’t quite ready to lift the county hiring freeze even though county staff anticipates a balanced fiscal year 2009-10 budget.

Yavapai County Administrator Julie Ayers asked the board Monday, June 15, if it felt comfortable lifting the freeze. She said all departments met the board’s 7.5 percent budget cut and that lifting the freeze would give department heads the power to fill vacancies as long as doing so didn’t cut into their 7.5 percent cut.

yavapai-county-sealLifting the freeze now would be premature, Yavapai County District 2 Supervisor Tom Thurman said. In another month, however, the board can have the conversation again.

Originally, the county went into a hiring chill in January 2008, which meant the board asked department heads to be conservative when filling positions, Ayers said.

The chill then turned to a freeze requiring department heads to submit all hiring requests to the board for approval.

Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis said the county needs to be patient while waiting for the state to set its budget. The budget process this year has been based on assumptions about what will happen, and the scenario created by the county may or may not be correct.

“We best just sit tight until the smoke clears and make our decisions then,” Davis said.

According to Ayers, the budget cuts imposed on all departments forced some to designate positions they will not fill in the next year. However, if a position the department budgeted for comes open in the next year, it can be filled.

The county anticipates lifting the freeze sometime after adoption of its tentative budget, Ayers said, which is scheduled for Monday, July 6.

The county expects May tax revenue numbers this week, according to Ayers.

Numbers from April set the county back 21 percent in county sales tax compared to April 2008, and state-shared sales tax was down 18 percent for the same month.

Over the last two years, the county has seen a 27 percent drop in county sales tax and a 26 percent decrease in state-shared sales tax.

What the state decides to do with its budget will also

impact the county, according to Ayers.

“We still have dueling budgets [at the state level],” Ayers said.

A meeting between Cottonwood and Clarkdale scheduled for June 3 to discuss Cottonwood’s bid to annex a second large parcel of land was abruptly canceled by Cottonwood city staff last week.

In addition to the 10-square mile parcel of Arizona State Trust Land that the city of Cottonwood wants to annex, the city has its sights set on annexing a second piece of property — this one an eight and a half square mile parcel of U.S. Forest Service land.

The Forest Service land shares a common border with the trust land, its eastern boundary traversing part of the trust land’s western boundary.

cityofcottonwood

A public hearing was held by Cottonwood to announce these intentions on Oct. 8.

At the time, Diane Joens, mayor of Cottonwood, said that in view of annexations by neighboring cities, it seemed advisable to acquire the land and that the council favored keeping the land as open space.

Red Rock District Ranger Heather Provencio spoke against the annexation, warning that the action would reduce the value of the land.

She added that the parcel contains threatened species in addition to being adjacent to Tuzigoot National Monument.

Mayor Doug Von Gausig of Clarkdale also spoke against the action, presenting a letter to Cottonwood council requesting further discussions with Clarkdale and with other regional groups to allow their input.

Following that hearing, members of Clarkdale’s government repeatedly sought a meeting with Cottonwood to hear a presentation from the Forest Service regarding the impact of annexation vis-a-vis future development of those lands.

Last week, Von Gausig offered additional background on the situation.

“The Town of Clarkdale feels strongly that annexation of Forest Service lands increases the likelihood of trades to private entities and encourages development of those lands,” Von Gausig said. “When Cottonwood announced that they intended to annex approximately eight and a half square miles of forest lands just east of Clarkdale, they stated that their intent was to maintain those lands as open space. At a special Cottonwood City Council meeting in October, the councilors unanimously stated that the desire was to see the land remain open space in perpetuity. At that same meeting, Heather Provencio, district ranger for the Coconino National Forest, told the council that annexations of forest lands made those lands more likely to be traded to developers than if they remained outside municipal boundaries. That fact seemed to put the annexation of the land at counter-purpose to the goals of Cottonwood’s council.”

Von Gausig also said that Clarkdale’s council feels these lands need to remain open space in perpetuity. “We believe that one of the special aspects of the Verde Valley is the amount of open space and the high proportion of public to private lands in our valley. We do not want to do anything that might encourage conversion of forest land in the Verde Valley to private, development property,” he explained. “For those reasons, and because we felt that the only logical reason Cottonwood would want to annex these particular lands was because it would preclude Clarkdale from ever doing so, we offered an intergovernmental agreement guaranteeing we would not annex the lands. We felt that the offer of this agreement would put Cottonwood’s council at ease, and provide them some assurance that the land would remain open space.”

The draft agreement states that neither Cottonwood nor Clarkdale will annex these lands for a period of one year and it would automatically renew each year, but could be unilaterally canceled by either party, with the following very important proviso: In the event either party cancels the agreement, Clarkdale would agree unilaterally not to attempt annexation of the land for a period of 60 days after the cancellation.

Von Gausig said the agreement essentially gives Cottonwood a 60-day “first right of refusal” to annex the land if the agreement is ever canceled.

“We feel that this is a fair agreement that accomplishes both councils’ stated goals of preserving open space, and at the same time, gives Cottonwood the assurance that a future City Council could control the annexation in the future, if they so desired.

“While Clarkdale understood that the staff and leadership in Cottonwood had agreed to an agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, and that they had agreed to consider the agreement described above, apparently there were some communication gaps, and they felt their only choice was to cancel the meeting until their mayor and I could get together and agree explicitly on an agenda that both councils are comfortable with,” Von Gausig said. Cottonwood City Manager Doug Bartosh said there are no issues between Cottonwood and Clarkdale that caused the meeting to be canceled.

“There was a mix-up on the agenda,” Bartosh said. “Some of our council wanted more time and an opportunity to discuss the idea of an IGA and our mayor was going on vacation. We will reschedule after the mayor returns from vacation.”

Sitting behind his desk of 10 years at the Sedona Airport, Manager Mac McCall flips through a hefty study he just helped finish for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA already has an Airport Certification Manual that dictates the ins and outs of running an airport, he explained. What he and two other consultants were asked to collaborate on was a guidebook for an Airport Safety Management System.

(Photo courtesy of Sedona Fire District)

 
Even looking into the smoky windows that enclosed so much hard work and passion of the past 18 years, Phyllis Cline’s optimism didn’t fail her.

“It could have been worse,” she said surveying the damage to her restaurant, The Heartline Cafe, early Monday morning.


Sedona City Council agreed, 4-2, to fill its vacant seat until the term expires in 2012.

When former Councilman Marc Sterling resigned April 22 to pursue filming a movie in Sedona, the six remaining councilors were left with some options to replace him.

In an unanimous decision, the Sedona Fire District Governing Board agreed to begin contract negotiations with its next possible fire chief.

On Saturday, May 9, the board voted 5-0 for a contract to be sent to Nazih Hazime, currently the fire chief for the city of Dearborn, Mich., in hopes he’ll become SFD’s chief.

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