Column: 'Yes' on Question 3 saves critical city services

As citizens of Prescott we are currently very concerned about the future of our city. There is a ballot measure in this upcoming primary election that will essentially determine whether Prescott prospers or spirals for the next twenty years.

That ballot measure is Question 3.

The City Council has given us, the citizens, the opportunity to determine if we want to pay off Prescott's debts and avoid suffering deep cuts to essential city services.

There is no question where the business community stands on Question 3 - the Prescott Chamber of Commerce endorses a yes vote, so do the police officers and firefighters.

The city owes the state roughly $72 million in unfunded liabilities for the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS). The PSPRS is a system created and managed by the state, and municipalities like Prescott pay into it as part of their contractual compensation to employees. Because Prescott made minimum payments on its obligation for many years (choosing to fund other priorities) large payments are now coming due.

By law and simple common sense, the City of Prescott must pay its debts, just like every citizen. The sooner Prescott covers its debts, the less we the taxpayers will be forced to pay in interest.

The city has made deep budget cuts over recent years to the point where any additional cuts will result in the loss of vital services. Our ballparks, trails, and vibrant city atmosphere draw countless visitors to our area. If we close our ballparks, there will be no more tournaments, which will decrease tourism and further increase revenue loss. If we lose police officers, our crime rate goes up. If we close fire stations, response times take longer, safety ratings go down and insurance rates go up.

These are exactly the reasons why police officers, firefighters and the Chamber of Commerce are united in urging you to vote yes on Question 3.

Property taxes in the City of Prescott are fixed at the current rate by state law. The only option that the city has to pay off this debt without cutting it out of critical city services is to implement a sales tax of slightly more than half a cent, raising additional revenue.

As a result, Question 3 really comes down to this: will Prescott continue to maintain its quality of life and important services or will we be the first city in the region to take the economic hit and be faced with fenced off parks, reduced public safety, a damaged economy and diminished property values.

The notion circulated by some that rejecting the sales tax measure will somehow "send the state a message" is reckless and wrong. The state does not care whether our library is only open two days a week. Nor does it care if we have one single park in our city, or if it takes 20 minutes to get a police or fire unit to your house during a life-threatening emergency.

Being "conservative" means being fiscally responsible. Refusing to pay Prescott's debt and allowing that debt to balloon through interest just kicks the problem down the road and causes greater hardship. That's neither conservative nor responsible.

The City of Prescott has the lowest sales tax rate in the region. We also have property tax rates significantly lower than the surrounding area. How can we continue to enjoy the same high levels of service, with these added PSPRS expenses, without finding some way to pay for it?

If the proposed 0.55 percent sales tax is added to the current sales tax rate in Prescott, the new rate will be 8.85 percent. This would actually keep us right in the middle of the pack for the region, slightly more than Prescott Valley's 8.68 percent and well below Chino Valley's 10.35 percent. And it would be half a cent less than Prescott's 9.35 percent sales tax rate was from 2010 to 2013.

The state legislature passed a pension reform bill in 2010 that was overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court. This shows that they are definitely aware that there are serious problems with the PSPRS.

If you really want to send them a message, vote yes on Question 3 to keep the Prescott that we love and then contact Gov. Doug Ducey and the rest of the state legislators who can actually fix this problem. Please join police officers, firefighters and the Chamber of Commerce in voting yes on Question 3.

- Citizens for Prescott