Flagstaff voters will not be asked to weigh in about their support of a sales tax to fund the Rio de Flag flood control project, but that does not mean they will not be paying for it.
The Flagstaff City Council directed city staff not to pursue a ballot question asking for a sales tax, but said they would like to see options for raising the stormwater fee, which does not require voter approval.
If the council decides to fund its portion of the project entirely from the stormwater fee over the course of seven years, which was the time frame suggested by city staff, the additional cost would be $166 per year for the average residence, Management Services Director Rick Tadder told the council. Over the course of the seven years of the fee, the total impact to the average residence would be $1,162 and the fee would raise $36 million for the city for the project.
Councilmembers asked city staff to bring back options of different time frames for the stormwater fee to see how much it would cost residents over different lengths of time. Acting City Manager Barbara Goodrich said she would have staff members research the impact of spreading the fee over seven, 10, 12 and 14 years.
Stormwater fees are paid based on Equivalent Rate Units (ERUs) which are calculates by the square footage of impervious surface on a property. One ERU is 1,500 square feet of impervious surface, which can include buildings, pavement, compacted gravel surfaces, decks, patios, rooftops, sidewalks and other surfaces that prevent or significantly impede the natural infiltration of stormwater into the soil. Residential properties can be charged for a maximum of five units, but there is no maximum for commercial properties.
An average single-family home has three ERUs, and the entire city has about 93,000 ERUs, Tadder said. To fully fund the city’s portion of the project, which is supposed to be supplemented by the Army Corps of Engineers, the fee would need to increase $4.61 per ERU.
In December, the council voted to raise the stormwater fee to $2.26 per ERU to pay for several short-term capital projects as well as the city’s portion of the Rio de Flag design work.
In a previous city council meeting, James Duval, the project manager for the flood control project, said if the city were to do the entire project without the aid of the Army Corps of Engineers, the cost would be $56 million. If the Army Corps of Engineers is able to secure funding, the city is responsible for coming up with $36 million and Army Corps of Engineers would spend the remainder of the projects $103 million estimated cost.
If the city had chosen to ask the voters to approve a sales tax, the tax would have lasted seven years and would have had an annual impact of $38 to an average family of four making between $60,000 and $70,000, Tadder told the council.
However, the council seemed in agreement that a sales tax was not the right mechanism for the funding.
“I don’t think a sales tax at this particular time is the way to get the project done,” Mayor Coral Evans said. “We don’t even have 100 percent design yet, and we have a large percentage of the community that doesn’t fully understand the issue.”
Evans said many in the community do not know what the effects of a 100- or 500-year flood would be on the city, and therefore might not think it is important enough to vote in favor of a sales tax.
She suggested the city could start to save money for the project, and then later could decide to ask voters to match it with a sales tax.
Councilman Charlie Odegaard suggested raising the stormwater fee by a smaller amount, which he said could generate about $1 million per year to show a good faith effort on the city’s part to the Army Corps of Engineers when it comes time for the project’s funding to be considered. Odegaard suggested raising the fee 92 cents per ERU.
“I don’t think it would be a good idea to shock the people receiving the bill with such a high amount,” he said.
Councilman Jim McCarthy agreed that if the city did not add the sales tax it should increase the fee, but said if the fee does not collect the target amount in seven years, and the Army Corps of Engineers is ready to fund the project, the city will have to use debt financing to pay for the rest of it. Other councilmembers at the meeting voiced opposition to debt financing.
Councilwoman Celia Barotz said she would have to “believe in miracles” to think the Army Corps of Engineers would receive the funding for the Rio de Flag project anytime soon, and she was not too concerned that the city would need to come up with the money within seven years.
City staff will present time frame options for the length of the increased fee at a future meeting.
More than a week after Flagstaff City Manager Josh Copley submitted a scathing letter of resignation, the targets of his criticism have remained silent – at least in public.
Copley’s letter put the blame for his departure on two unnamed members of the city council, who he said treated him badly for months.
“Over the course of the past few months, I have repeatedly been treated in an unprofessional and discourteous manner by two city council members who seem to be more concerned with their political ambitions and personal agendas than the good of the city as a whole,” Copley wrote in his letter of resignation.
Copley did not name the two council members, but said the remainder of the council “appear to have chosen to succumb to unseemly tactics and renege on a commitment made to me to allow me the small courtesy of deciding when I would choose to retire.”
When reached by phone, Copley declined to identify the two council members in his letter or the specific behavior that he found objectionable.
Several people with knowledge of the situation were willing to talk to The Daily Sun off the record about who they suspected the council members were, but none was willing to speak publicly.
When asked for comment over the phone or in person, Mayor Coral Evans, Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan and council members Scott Overton, Jim McCarthy and Charlie Odegaard declined to comment. Council members Celia Barotz and Eva Putzova did not respond to phone calls asking for comment.
The council unanimously approved appointing Barbara Goodrich as acting city manager Monday during the same meeting at which they formally accepted Copley’s resignation. Goodrich was most recently one of two deputy city managers. She previously worked at the city as budget director, finance director and management services director.
Copley, for his part, sent a final letter to staff that was more cordial than his resignation letter.
“Along with my previous military service, I have served for over forty years as a public servant,” Copley wrote in a goodbye letter to city staff. “I have worn a uniform or suit and tie for so long and my wardrobe opportunities have just opened up considerably. I am looking forward to getting to be just a private citizen for a change, and I kind of look at that as a promotion of sorts.”
The Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board and the Flagstaff Education Association have come to an agreement after a three-year hiatus.
The Board approved the agreement by a unanimous vote. Board member Carole Gilmore was not present at the meeting and did not vote.
FEA President Derek Born said, “It was extremely gratifying, after a three-year-long battle, to come to consensus with this board and ratify an Agreement --unanimously on both sides -- that recognizes our association as a valued source of input on our profession, our compensation, and our working conditions.”
“We didn't get every right from the past Agreement restored, but we were heard and met in the middle,” he said. “Plus, this agreement contains a new process where FEA will meet and confer with the board twice each year in open session, which means we can continue to have open, honest dialog around continuing to improve the relationship until it's one of the best in the state.”
The one-year agreement allows FEA, whose members include teachers as well as noncertificated staff, to have three members on the Meet and Confer Committee that is run by the Superintendent’s Office. The committee will meet with the superintendent on any recommendations relating to salaries, benefits and working conditions within the district before presenting to the governing board. The committee will meet with the board at least twice a year.
FEA may also use district buildings to hold meetings, for a fee, and according to district policies, including having insurance and reserving the space ahead of time. The association is also allowed to use the district's e-newsletter system to communicate their events and a shared bulletin board to post items in each school. FEA will also be able to distribute materials to all staff members using staff mailboxes in the schools and via FUSD email.
The board’s previous agreement with FEA lapsed during the 2014/2015 school year, supposedly because the board at that time felt that the association didn’t adequately represent all of the district’s employees because its membership was so low, about 40 percent of FUSD employees. The current membership of the organization is still around 40 percent of teachers in the district.
The cost of annual dues may be part of the reason why membership is so low. Annual dues for FEA are about $650. That agreement allowed FEA to negotiate salary and working conditions on behalf of district employees with the board. Two committees, a Voice and a Negotiation Committee, were created to take the place of the agreement.