The Sedona Fire District is in the exploratory stage to see if a general obligation bond is needed to catch up on improvements that were identified more than 15 years ago.
The district is establishing a citizen committee to look at options of how to generate the needed funding to replace two fire stations and update others.
“At this point, we have a lot of work to do in order to determine that going for a bond is the right decision for SFD as well as what the items we would like to consider to be included in the bond,” SFD Chief Kris Kazian said this week. “I can assure the public, we do not take this topic lightly as we appreciate the responsibility of providing emergency services while being responsive to the taxpayers of our district.
“I’m also aware doing nothing is not being responsible for long-term planning. There will be a transparent process and good communication with our community throughout this process.”
If it’s determined that a bond is the best route to take, Kazian said the estimated figure needed would be $15 million, which would be paid off over the next 20 years. The measure would be put on the November ballot for public approval. If passed, that amount would equate to $22 a year in additional taxes for homeowners per $100,000 valuation on their home. This would
be the first bond SFD has ever issued.
“We could, and may end up, simply considering a lease purchase as the best option, like we did for Station 6 and build a station and pay for it over a period of 20 years,” he said. “However, we also need to weigh all of our options, and considering the benefits of utilizing a bond is one of our viable options. If a bond is determined to be the best financial option, we would use only the necessary bonding capacity to make the identified necessary capital improvements.”
If a bond is the route chosen, included in that would be replacing Station 4 in Uptown as well as Station 5 in Oak Creek Canyon. Station 4 would be built on the same location on Forest Road while Station 5 would be moved north and closer to Slide Rock. Two-thirds of that station and land it sits on is owned by the Garland trust. When built, it was a volunteer station but SFD paid to install living quarters and other features for two full-time firefighters. The district pays the trust $3,000 a year to lease it.
The bond could also pay off the loan for Station 6 in the Chapel area and make renovations to Station 1 in West Sedona and Station 3 in the Village of Oak Creek as the district looks toward the future.
Kazian said it’s not as though the district is living outside its means or asking for something it can’t afford. Instead, the bond would help secure the funding for these projects, especially in the event there is another economic downtown, which could delay improvements for another decade. And in the process, it would improve service levels.
As early as 2001 SFD determined that improvements were needed to stations 4 and 5. Then in 2007, SFD formed a citizen committee and listed its priorities. Creation of Station 6 was the top priority followed by replacing Station 5, creating a new communications center and finally replacing Station 4. The communications center is no longer needed now that SFD has a contract with Cottonwood Police Department to handle those services and Station 6 was completed three years ago. Because of the economic downturn in 2008, plans for stations 4 and 5 were shelved.
“We simply have outlived our welcome in some of our facilities, and operational needs have driven our buildings into obsolescence,” Kazian said. “In fact, the buildings we are primarily concerned with were not necessarily designed for the way we are using them today and in there is a potential they may not last much longer.
“We have to get started on developing long-term strategies for our infrastructure and capital needs. We have ignored them for too long and it has now become our responsibility to provide a long-term and sustainable emergency response solutions for Sedona Fire District.”
Kazian said the hope is to have the committee members chosen by mid-February and their findings back to the board by its June meeting.
“By creating a committee, we are taking the first steps needed to determine the true needs of the district as it relates to infrastructure and capital projects,” he said. “This is the first step in determining the potential financial challenges and developing a plan for how we may decide to pay for those needs.”