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SVOC Annexation:
Has the Time Arrived?

by Charles Aurand

Editor’s Note: Aurand, Ph.D., is a retired university administrator/professor, and has lived in the Village of Oak Creek for the past 12 years. He has participated in the Sedona Forum, and is a member of the Arizona Town Hall. He is a past president of the Northern Arizona University Retirees Association, the Flagstaff Kiwanis Club, the Arizona Alliance for Arts Education, Citizens for an Alternate Route. Currently he is the President of the Northern Arizona Chapter of the Nat’l. Soc. of the Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR), and is presently a member of the Sedona Medical Center Foundation Board.

It has been a dozen years since the issue of annexation or incorporation has been seriously discussed in the Village of Oak Creek, also called the Big Park.

If one takes an historical look at this issue, the VOC was requested on two occasions to participate in the incorporation of the City of Sedona when that issue was initially under consideration. At that time, the VOC elected not to be a part of Sedona.

In the last 12 years, a considerable amount of change has taken place in the VOC. The area has probably doubled or tripled in population, the business community has expanded, and the influx of new residents has brought new demands on the infrastructure.

Clearly the VOC is now an urban area. The government of the VOC is still the same; the VOC is governed by the Yavapai County Supervisors with the dominant leadership role provided by the District #3 Supervisor in Cottonwood.

When I discussed the present governance system in the VOC with former District #1 Supervisor Bill Feldmeier, Mr. Feldmeier stated flatly the “County government was not designed for and is not adequate for urban areas.” He further stated that when he was Supervisor and was asked by constituents in communities comparable to the VOC whether to incorporate or annex, he consistently encourage the areas to pursue either of these options.

There are multiple reasons for the VOC to annex to the City of Sedona. The present needs of the VOC area include (1) police protection, (2) sewer expansion, (3) local government, (4) the return of a greater portion of the millions in area tax dollars that are going to Yavapai County, (5) area planning relating to roads, and local control over buildings, parks, and other services. (6) The ability to secure State and Federal grants. Let us examine these issues:

(1). The VOC has no local police. It relies solely on the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office for professional police protection. Granted the VOC has a Volunteers in Protection (VIP) program in operation, however, these individuals are not licensed police officers and can, at best, serve only as “backups” during a police emergency.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s officer staffing, I have been told by the Sheriff’s Office, has three vehicles on patrol during the night hours and four vehicles on patrol during the daytime. Three or four vehicles on patrol from Rock Springs (North of Phoenix on I-17) to Peach Springs, 100 miles west of Flagstaff, and from Wickenberg to near Strawberry in the White Mountains!

While there is a local Sheriff’s Office in the VOC, it simply serves as a base of operations for the VIPs and a point where the occasional Sheriff that is patrolling can stop. Contrast the VOC’s protection with the City of Sedona, which has a staff of four patrolling officers on duty 24 hours a day to meet their policing needs. Clearly, police protection should be a major concern for any resident in the VOC.

(2). Sewer Expansion. The need for a comprehensive sewer system in the VOC is a need that could become eminent at any time. The present sewer serves only about 20% of the residents of the VOC.

One has to question how many more months 5,000 citizens in a fairly compact area can put raw sewage into the ground without seriously affecting the quality of the ground water. The sewer issue was the primary cause that motivated Sedona residents to incorporate. A similar scenario could mandate the Village do the same.

The Big Park Sewer Board estimates that each resident will be required to pay approximately $13,000 to $15,000 to “buy into” the proposed sewer system and the system will be completed only when 51% of the property owners agree to become a part of the plan. Many doubt that the local residents will agree to this system of financing the sewer expansion. Are there alternate options? Some feel that bonding the expansion cost coupled with a more modest property owner fee would be a better way to develop the system we need.

3. Government. Presently the VOC area has little in the way of elected governmental officials. Indeed, the District #3 Supervisor, with offices in Cottonwood, is the only elected official that the community has.

In an attempt to provide for local input from the residents into the governance of this unincorporated urban area, former District #1 Supervisor, Carlton Camp, proposed the establishment of a Big Park Council comprised of representatives from the various housing associations in the area. There are now 18 representatives on the Council, including 17 housing associations, plus a business association.

The Village of Oak Creek Association (VOCA) currently has an estimated population of approximately 4,000; another association, Highland Estates, has a population of 30 to 40 residents. All of the associations have one vote. Most importantly, the Council has no autonomous authority - it simply makes recommendations to the Supervisor. Many feel that local government is best.

4. Tax Dollars to Yavapai County. The VOC contributes millions in tax dollars to Yavapai County. One must ask, “Is the Village receiving quality services for the tax dollars it pays?”

The VOC, we estimate, contributes $262,000 in Sales Tax receipts to the County, $444,000 in Arizona State Income Taxes, $474,000 in Arizona State Highway User Fees, and $242,000 in Vehicle License Fees. Many feel that since approximately $1.42 million in state tax dollars could/should be returned to the VOC area, the VOC is not receiving its proportionate tax dollars.

5. Lack of Local Planning. Local control in planning road improvements, connecting roads, a unified building code and equal enforcement of that code, local building inspection, park development, and recreational facilities for residents are all essential elements in a well-functioning urban area. It is time for these services in the VOC.

6. State & Federal Grants. It should be noted that incorporated areas, or cities, can apply for grants.
It was recently announced that the City of Sedona has received a $450,000 grant from Federal Highway Funds for improving sidewalks in the Uptown area. The City also has applied for a $400,000 grant from the State Parks Department to develop Sunset Park, and it received $140,000 for street beautification. None of these grants are available to the VOC as an unincorporated area.

What are the VOC arguments against annexation or incorporation? I can see only two annexation negative arguments; (1) Local pride in being an independent community, and (2) An increase in the sales tax from 5.5% to 8.5%. Incorporation might immediately eliminate the sales tax increase in the short term. However, it would probably be required to implement the infrastructure the independent community would require in the future.

Property taxes would remain the same since they are assessed by the County Assessor; the fire district would remain the same; and school taxes should remain constant. The Village, should it decide to annex, would of course need the consent of the City of Sedona.

Sedona will grow, the VOC will grow. Now is the moment to plan for this growth.

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