After four years of studying every question they could raise, the Tusayan Incorporation Task Force left the toughest one unanswered at their final public meeting last week - should Tusayan pursue incorporation as a municipality?
The Nov. 29 meeting was a follow-up to one held in mid-June to issue the task force's final report and collect a last round of comments. It was also one of the last official acts for the committee.
"After this we will sunset," said its chairman, Greg Bryan, general manager at the Best Western Squire Inn, where the meeting was held. "It really falls on the residents and business people of the community to start focusing on a direction."
He re-emphasized the group's commitment to remain neutral, saying, "I hope our action has been one of balance. You then take the information and make an independent decision."
The study group, appointed by the Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce in 2003, also included Ann Wren, Clarinda Vail, Brian Ciesielski, John Thurston and Pete Shearer.
This was after community leaders successfully lobbied for new legislation allowing incorporation for communities of 500 or more if located in proximity to a national park or monument. Apart from that, the minimum population for incorporation is 1,500. Tusayan's permanent population is about 560.
The issue was visited by the community before, in the early 1990s, leading to legislation that was later ruled unconstitutional as it applied only to Tusayan.
In 2003, the legislature passed a broader law that allowed incorporation for communities of 500 or more located in proximity to a national park or monument.
Being unincorporated, Tusayan turns to the county for most things, from law enforcement coverage to library services. With voter approval for special districts, they have brought sanitary and fire protection services under control of local boards and supported by local property taxes.
The effect of incorporation on those two districts - the South Grand Canyon Sanitary District and the Tusayan Fire District - was one of the questions studied by the task force.
Bryan said that these districts would have to be dissolved and their function brought under the town government's. The municipality would assume districts' debt as well.
He said that they divided the comments into three categories: pointing to a pro, pointing to a con and making a more or less neutral suggestion.
Most of the concerns related to whether or not Tusayan was ready or had enough involved and/or independent citizenry to
staff boards and committees. One questioned the motives behind those supporting it
"When there are different sides, they always question each other's motives," Bryan said. "That's tough to answer other than to say there are supporters and there are detractors. You'll have to move forward and find a middle ground. There's no way you're going to have people who live in a community not have a particular possessorary interest, no matter what size city you live in."
One of the commenters believed Tusayan didn't even meet the population threshold of 500, though Bryan responded that eligibility would be determined by the 2000 Census, when the population numbered 562.
"Based on that, moving forward, we would qualify," he said. "If someone wanted to challenge that, we'd have to go out and do another census."
There are two ways a community may petition for incorporation. One is without election, through a petition to the County Board of Supervisors, signed by two thirds of the registered voters within the defined area.
"They really have no choice, if registered voters are affirmed and qualified," Bryan said. "The county then recognizes us as an incorporated community."
The other is with election, petitioned for by 10 percent of the defined area's registered voters and decided only by voters in that area.
A simple majority vote decides the question. If it's defeated, it can't be presented again for one year.
Once incorporated, Tusayan would get a seven-member town council appointed by the County Board of Supervisors. They would serve until the first May election following incorporation.
When drafting bylaws, the council would determine whether a mayor would be elected separately or appointed out of the council.
The county would continue to provide services until the last day of that fiscal year, on June 30. Then maintenance, law enforcement and other responsibilities would fall to the town.
"From that date that they recognize incorporation, they provide services no additional cost to the next July first and after that it's all up to us," said Bryan.
While the task force presented a map with boundary overlay of four sections across and five down - far beyond Tusayan's current 144 acres - it was more for illustrative purposes than anything else.
"We needed something for discussion purposes," said Vail.
Bryan said that they would look to expand the land base through the Townsite Act, which allows for an entity to acquire 640 acres of Forest Service land at fair market value if their objectives outweigh the agency's.
To provide needed public housing would be an acceptable use, he said. Other common uses are for libraries, parks and other municipal needs.
Vail said that while they're aware the option is there, studying the cost "would be for another entity to figure out."
"There are a number of hoops that take place to get that done," said Tusayan District Ranger Rick Stahn.
He said that there were constraints on what land could be transferred. For example, for a hypothetically proposed 20-mile corridor annexing Valle, he said, "they would frown on that."
Stahn also asked questioned why the boundaries included so much Forest Service land.
"What other land is there around here? Either Tusayan is 144 acres or we include Forest land somewhere down the road," Bryan said.
Some of the feedback also questioned whether Tusayan even needs that level of government. Bryan said that to levy a sales tax, it does. A community facilities district would also be able to raise money but only through bonds, paid by property taxes.
"It's an option to incorporation, in that we have ability to go out and get money," Bryan said. "But there are only three entities that can assess sales tax under current Arizona legislation. That's state, county or municipality. We can't create a fourth entity with a sales tax capability."
The ability to charge a sales tax, as well as rooms and food taxes, is one of the biggest benefits Tusayan could realize through incorporation, though some thought that was risky as it left the revenue stream vulnerable to downturns.
Another is that the community would have legal standing to develop their own water sources, infrastructure and public housing, as well as to negotiate contracts and apply for some funding.
"Right now, we don't have standing," Bryan said. "If NPS was able to develop a water source program, they don't have an entity to deal with to work with us. There isn't a specific entity that can represent us."
Based on a financial study done by NAU professor Dan Cothran, an incorporated Tusayan could potentially raise revenues of over $2.5 million.
Meanwhile the annual budget was estimated at about $1.6 million. The costliest thing would be law enforcement coverage, estimated at $640,000 in the study - about $130,000 less than it would cost today based on a proposal by the county sheriff's office to provide coverage by contract.
In the supportive comments, one noted that response would be quicker.
"They would be residing here as opposed to being called out from Williams or if they're out in the boonies," Bryan said.
Tusayan could also contract through intergovernmental agreement with the county for some services like planning and zoning.
"Most of those services would be paid by the fees for those services they provide us," Bryan said.
One supporter thought it would change the character of the community for the better.
"The thought is if there's private ownership, you can have a sense of roots," said Bryan. "If you really don't own anything, you can't be part of an overall decision-making process."
Up to voters
It's registered voters who will ultimately decide Tusayan's fate.
Since June, the county has whittled down a 300-name list to about 145. Bryan said that finishing the clean-up would bring it to about 100.
While he acknowledged that they could have studied even further, "you can study and study but how much study is enough? This forum was offered a number of times," he said. "The six of us did the best we could over five years."