Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans and four other mayors from across Coconino County have sent a letter expressing displeasure with the county Flood Control District.
The district collects taxes from residents across the county, but in the letter, the mayors allege that although their residents are being taxed, they are not benefiting from tax-funded projects. The district generally funds flood control projects in the unincorporated parts of the county.
“The county plans to spend money collected from Flagstaff and other municipal jurisdictions on projects that provide no demonstrated common benefit,” the letter reads.
At the flood district meeting on April 15, Evans reiterated this point to the County Board of Supervisors, who oversee the flood control district and advocated for a comprehensive master plan.
But Board of Supervisors chair Art Babbott was incensed by the claim that the projects they were funding did not demonstrate common good, especially as they put as much money into forest restoration projects as they can.
“We are not in the realm of theoretical risks to our community. [Fire] is the number one public health and safety issue that we face as a community,” Babbott said. “So it is really important for those jurisdictions who have not walked through those risks like we have to understand the lens that we look at this through, the reality of post-catastrophic fire and flooding.”
Areas with large forest fires, which may strip slopes and drainages of vegetation, are prone to substantial flooding in subsequent years.
At the meeting, Evans also called for the creation of a county-wide master plan to help determine what projects receive money from the district.
“To be very specific, we think that the county’s flood control district needs to be working with each jurisdiction to put together a county-wide comprehensive stormwater plan, and that there needs to be a fair and transparent process and program by which we submit projects,” Evans told the board of supervisors.
But County Public Works Director Lucinda Andreani said Evans’ proposal is not how the flood control district works.
The purpose of the flood control district is not to fund projects put forward by individual cities and towns, Andreani said, and the district has no requirement to do so. Instead, the district is tasked with funding flood control solutions for the county as a whole and the unincorporated area.
Municipalities do have the opportunity to be included in the flood control district’s jurisdiction, but virtually no city does. In Coconino County, only Sedona has decided to opt into the flood district.
By opting out, cities are able to manage the local floodplain themselves, but by opting in, Sedona has ceded this responsibility to the county, Andreani said.
But this also means while residents of all cities are required to pay into the flood district, Sedona is the only city the county is required to fund.
“This notion of having a county-wide plan, it doesn’t really work because these cities have said, ‘we’re going to manage our own floodplains,’” Andreani said. Instead, these cities and towns are responsible for raising their own money to address issues of flooding.
But Evans told the board of supervisors she doesn’t buy that argument.
“Yes, as cities, we can assess a stormwater fee, and we have done that, but our residents in our city see this as a double taxation issue,” Evans said.
The board of supervisors is considering providing a certain amount of money out of the district to the cities, likely proportionally based on the amount of taxes cities pay.
During the April 15 meeting, the amount presented to the Board of Supervisors was $500,000 to be split between the cities, but Andreani said this was just meant as an example and that the board may decide on a different amount.
But with a budget that could be in the millions of dollars range, depending on if the board raises the rates for taxpayers, Evans said the cities should get more.
Councilmembers had hoped that money from the district could go to help pay for the city's Rio De Flag flood control project.