The area known as Vail could soon become the town of No.
Incorporation backers are willing to say “no” over and over again in order to get thousands of Vail voters to say yes to Proposition 403 on this year’s ballot.
No city hall. No police station. No senior center. No new parks. No performance center. And most important, no increases in property taxes.
Citizens for Vail, a pro-incorporation group comprising volunteers living in the area, believes the town can live off just state-shared revenues to provide the bare minimum of services required under state law.
Its planned $3.2 million budget would only pay for in-house law enforcement, road maintenance and a handful of administrators. All other services would be contracted out to third parties at an undefined cost.
By incorporating, the group argues, Vail residents will finally have a voice in decisions affecting them.
Residents opposed to incorporation efforts are critical of the hypothetical budget, calling it unrealistic.
They suggest incorporation will actually cost Vail residents money in the long run, with fewer services to show for it.
More money, more control
At a recent crowded town hall inside a school gymnasium on Colossal Cave Road, George Mower seems to know everyone in the audience by his or her first name, rarely having to stop to introduce himself.
Mower has become the public face of the Vail incorporation efforts, often leading the public discussions and acting as a spokesman for Citizens for Vail.
He wasn’t always an advocate for Vail to form its own government. In fact, he once opposed it.
Mower was a member of the Vail Community Action Board several years ago, which looked at what might be best for the future of the area.
At the time, he favored the Green Valley model, which supports a part-time coordinating council that acts as the voice for the community through homeowner fees.
But Mower began to see how Vail could bring in more revenue through incorporation. Not just state-shared revenues, but sales taxes, impact fees and Highway User Revenue Funds.
“My eyes were open to how much resources there are for an incorporated town,” he said.
Now Mower puts his full faith in Proposition 403, saying it is the only way to pry back control of local issues from county officials.
Colossal Cave Road, Mower offers, illustrates the problem of having no local control over road maintenance.
Portions of the road are, by all accounts, in poor shape and crumbling every passing day.
In 2000, it was identified for a major rehabilitation, but a portion of the project still remains to be worked on. County officials say they have no identified revenue stream to finish the $4.61 million project.
Another segment of Colossal Cave Road, between Camino Loma Alta and Vail Road, cost the county nearly $10 million when it was finished in 2009.
The county has spent an estimated $13.7 million on Vail projects since 2005, according to county documents.
The Arizona League of Cities and Towns estimates the roughly 11,500 residents of the unincorporated town annually generate $688,000 in state-shared revenues as well as highway-user-fund revenues to be used for road maintenance.
A proposal for contracted services for Vail, written by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry almost a year ago, says the county would want $417,000 to maintain Vail streets in the first fiscal year.
Mower sees this as an example of Vail being treated as a “donor” community by the county.
“With incorporation, Vail will have more road-maintenance money, at least $688K per year (not including other funding sources) and with lower costs,” Mower said.
Priscilla Cornelio, director of the Pima County Department of Transportation, says that isn’t the case.
The $417,000 only reflects the costs of two divisions of her department, traffic engineering and general road maintenance related to Vail, she says, and does not reflect the cost of other services offered by the county.
One example she offered was consultation with the school district on current traffic-flow problems they are having.
Steve Barker, a Vail resident opposed to Prop. 403, picks apart what he calls the “cobbled-together” budget offered by incorporation proponents, suggesting the $1.5 million set aside for law enforcement and the $700,000 for road maintenance are largely inadequate for the area’s current needs, not even factoring in for growth.
The cost of providing law enforcement is still being debated, with Pima County suggesting it will contract with Vail officials for no less than $2.5 million annually.
Mower believes the cost will be closer to $1 million to $1.5 million. (See box at right.)
Barker says incorporation is designed to improve services, not a model offering zero community improvements and a part-time staff.
He favors the Green Valley governance model, at least for now.
“We have time to get this right,” he said. “The Green Valley model gives us a voice and a seat at the table.”
A recent study by Huckelberry suggests the figures touted by Citizens for Vail are far too small to actually run the community. A survey of incorporated towns in Arizona with a similar population found their annual budgets ranged from $5.6 million in Camp Verde to $21.1 million in Cottonwood.
In letter to incorporation backers, a staffer for Huckelberry noted the proposed budget would need to be increased “by a considerable amount” as some services were not factored in to their current draft.
No parks or airfields
Robert Samuelson, another member of Citizens for Vail, takes issue with Huckelberry’s analysis, saying it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.
Vail has no parks to maintain or airfields to run, for example.
Take out the amenities Vail doesn’t plan on offering, he argues, and their proposed budget is right in line with other Arizona communities.
The $3.2 million hypothetical budget, he concedes, isn’t a concrete figure.
“It is not a budget. We didn’t have any standing to create a budget,” Samuelson said.
An actual budget — if the residents decide to incorporate next month — will be decided by the new mayor and town council.