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County budget facing $745,000 deficit for post-Museum Fire flood mitigation
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County budget facing $745,000 deficit for post-Museum Fire flood mitigation

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Coconino County is looking for solutions to a $745,000 budget deficit caused by post-fire flood mitigation efforts this year.

The Flood Control District, the Board of Supervisors and various town mayors and managers from across the county met Tuesday to discuss potential budget solutions for the upcoming fiscal year, such as a secondary property tax rate increase or a reorganization of flood control projects.

To reduce damages from flooding such as in the aftermath of the 2010 Schultz Fire, the County’s Flood Control District has bolstered its flood mitigation efforts since the Museum Fire this past summer, with additional plans slated for completion prior to the start of the 2020 monsoon season.

County Flood District Director Lucinda Andreani said that although county officials were able to reduce the flood control operational costs to help pay for mitigation efforts, a $745,783 deficit remains.

This deficit equates nearly to 16% of the district’s $4.69 million approved expenditure budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which began July 1, 2019, and will end June 30. This year, the Coconino County has already spent $1.2 million on emergency flood mitigation following the fire. Before the end of the fiscal year, it expects to spend an additional $85,000 to stabilize the alluvial fan above Mt. Elden Estates, $15,000 to remove sediment from the drainage channel that runs alongside North Wildrose Trail and $75,000 to prepare the public for a potential “Museum Flood” with sandbags and additional resources.

To continue to mitigate flood impacts in the 2021 fiscal year, the county expects to spend up to $700,000 on residential drainage channel improvements and $50,000 for flood preparation.

The district’s primary source of funding, secondary property taxes, will provide Coconino County an additional $223,000 this year due to increased property valuations within the district, Andreani said. Nevertheless, with high project costs and the loss of funding sources like the Navajo Generating Station’s property taxes, this is still not enough to cover the costs of needed flood mitigation efforts.

It would take a tax rate of $0.2602 — a 14% increase over the current rate — to cover new costs and the emergency reserve. For a residential property valued at $300,000, this would be an annual increase of $9.66, to $78.06 in total.

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A series of federal grants may also help offset current and future flood mitigation costs, Andreani said. These potential reimbursements could total up to $870,000, though the specific amount is still to be determined.

Coconino County has already been awarded about $158,000 from the U.S. Forest Service to stabilize the alluvial fan above Mt. Elden Estates, reducing erosion. Construction is scheduled to begin in April, with completion by July 1. Additionally, the county is looking to apply for a $128,000 hazard mitigation grant from the state emergency management department that, if approved, would be awarded in January 2021. This grant would be used to prepare residential drainage channels for a five-year storm event and would require a $43,000 match from the county.

“If we have the rainfall events that we’ve seen historically, we’re going to have flooding,” said Christopher Tressler, Flood Control District engineer. “Nothing’s a guarantee, but all the indicators are there and we want to prepare and respond in such a way to be ready for it.”

A county letter to property owners in the area, dated Feb. 11, recommends residents keep flood mitigation in place at least through the 2020 monsoon season and said a community meeting to discuss the mitigation projects will be held within the next two months.

Countywide flood control

In addition to Museum Fire-related efforts, the discussion Tuesday also centered on a drainage project in the Mountain Dell neighborhood southwest of Flagstaff and forest restoration on Bill Williams and Mormon Mountains, leaving participants concerned about the county’s more outlying regions.

Though they agreed post-Museum Fire flood mitigation should be a priority, participants suggested developing a clear method of prioritization to justify how the order of countywide projects is determined.

“We’re a county board of directors. Let’s focus on the whole county,” Supervisor Lena Fowler, chair of the board, said to the group.

Andreani said direction from the board is needed to help determine how projects could be reorganized or resources spread out to better meet the needs beyond Flagstaff. The County’s annual budgeting process typically takes places throughout April and May.

Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253. 

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