TUSAYAN, Ariz. — After a contentious election season across the country, residents closer to home in Tusayan learned they would have to adjust to a new fiscal reality Nov. 7.
The town’s alternative expenditure limitation, or “home rule” provision, failed to win approval with voters Nov. 6. That means on July 1, 2019, the town’s budget will be limited to just under $1.4 million for the next four years. For comparison, the town’s fiscal year 2018 budget was set at just under $15 million and including funding for the entire Ten X housing development.
Now, those funds are off the table. No matter how much revenue the town takes in, for the next four years, the town council will only be able to allocate and spend the amount set by the State of Arizona according to its funding formula, which hasn’t been updated since 1978.
At a July meeting discussing the home rule provision, council member Al Montoya said the effect of services in the town would be drastic and immediate. For example, he said, the town spends about 300,000 on law enforcement services, which would comprise a full quarter of the new budget.
Basic services would continue to operate, such as the law enforcement contract with the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, services provided by the sanitary district, and other public health and safety programs.
Town Clerk Bruce Northern said many of the programs the town supports, for both residents and visitors, will stop after June 30.
“The assistance we give to the school, the Chamber of Commerce, a lot of local institutions, all that stops,” he said. “The subsidy to the Kaibab Learning Center stops. Everything stops.”
Kaibab Learning Center receives about $40,000 annually from the town, which goes toward paying a second teacher in the classroom, as well as tuition scholarships for town residents and employees who send their young children to the community’s only childcare center.
“To say we would not be affected by less funding would not be accurate, but we are so grateful for the funding we have received thus far,” said Kaibab Learning Center Director Michelle Pahl. “By having two teachers, we can ensure quality care for our community children.”
Other programs, such as the summer lunch program, community-wide wifi, the Town Hall computer lab, Cub Scouts, the Grand Canyon School PTA and Booster Club and even the fire department are in jeopardy, and Northern said most will likely be cut.
The housing development at Ten X, which broke ground this summer and has made headway in clearing and grading the lot, will lurch to a stop as soon as the new fiscal year hits. Northern said the town can continue building with the money they have on hand until then, but said the town is considering whether or not it wants to spend that money instead of saving it to maintain operations.
Northern said the town does have options, but those options won’t affect the budget for Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020. He said the town can place a one-year override, which authorizes a one-time budget increase, on the ballot next year, but it won’t go into effect until Fiscal Year 2021. After that, the town will once again have the opportunity to vote on whether or not to allow home rule.
“In 2020, home rule can go back on the ballot, but it’s not a renewal, so the town can’t place it on the ballot, so it’s going to have to be a citizen initiative,” he said. “It only takes 11 people to get a referendum on the ballot.”
Another option is a permanent base adjustment, which will allow voters to approve a set amount of money the town can spend and what it can spend the money on. If approved, a permanent base adjustment will remain in place until the town votes to re-impose home rule.
Since the alternative expenditure limitation rule went into effect in 1980, only one municipality has ever voted against home rule — the town of Florence in 2014. Since then, the town voted to reinstate it.
Town Manager Eric Duthie was in Phoenix following the election to meet with the town attorney and the consulting firm that helped Florence re-instate home rule after voting it down in 2014. Florence utilized a permanent base adjustment until home rule could be placed on the ballot.
Both Duthie and Northern attributed the loss partly to voters not understanding exactly what is at stake in such a measure, with Northern stating in his experience, it’s common for voters to sometimes do little research on ballot measures, and the language can be confusing.
Duthie pointed out that one vote — the final tally was 57 to 55 — prevented the town from holding a run-off election.
“If one person had voted differently, we’d have a run-off,” he said. “If one person had just moved their pen up a quarter-inch on the ballot, that’s how close it was.”