Open space issue generates dissent among Prescott Council hopefuls
This is the fourth question that The Daily Courier asked candidates seeking seats on the Prescott City Council.
The City of Prescott's open space debate began soon after the voters approved a sales tax extension in 2000, and it has been raging ever since.
The dispute has extended into the 2013 City Council election, with an even split among the candidates. Four of the eight say the city has fallen short of its promise to the voters in 2000, while four say the city has followed through.
Central to the debate is the 2000 ballot wording, which stated simply that the city would extend the 1 percent street sales tax until 2015 (from the previous 2005 expiration date), with revenue going to street improvements and the acquisition of open space.
While the 2000 City Council later approved an accompanying resolution that earmarked as much as $40.7 million of the new sales tax revenue for open space, the City Council has operated with the understanding that it has the discretion to set the priorities on the sales tax money.
A Superior Court judge upheld that stance in a 2006 lawsuit ruling: "The court finds that there is no requirement that mandates the city to spend the revenue according to any particular formula. The city is correct that the court cannot force it to honor representations made to voters."
Now, with less than two years left in the sales tax, the city has spent about $16 million of the $40.7 million, and no new open space purchases are on the horizon.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the sales tax money has gone toward street improvements.
Although the city has budgeted $500,000 for open space acquisitions in each the past several fiscal years, little of the money has been spent, and the unspent money has not accumulated. Each new fiscal year has started with $500,000 for open space.
For the current fiscal year, the city reportedly has no major open space acquisitions in the works.
"There's nothing imminent," Parks and Recreation Director Joe Baynes said this week.
He pointed out that the city earlier paid about $83,000 of its open space money to the Arizona State Land Department as a deposit for the necessary easements for about 6.6 miles of new trail for the Prescott Circle Trail.
An adjustment in that amount might be necessary before the city receives the "right of entry" to begin trail construction, Baynes said. If so, he said, any additional money would come out of the $500,000 in the current year's budget. (Baynes said he hopes to get the right of entry from the State Land Department within the next 30 days, after which his department would begin flagging the new trail that would nearly complete the 50-miles Circle Trail. Construction could take about 18 months.)
Over the past 13 years, the city's open space purchases have totaled more than 300 acres. The most recent acquisition was the $56,000 purchase in 2011 of the 30-acre Westridge parcel, which helped with the 2012 completion of the Centennial Trail.
Prior to that, other major purchases have included:
2009 - the 14-acre Beurie parcel for $842,707. The purchase brought the entire shoreline of Willow Lake into public ownership.
2008 - the 80-acre James parcel for $4,018,067. The property now features the Constellation Trail near the Phippen Museum.
2008 - the 35-acre Granite Gardens/Hazelwood parcel in the Granite Dells for $3,056,344.
2008 - the 1.5-acre Gardner parcel in the Thumb Butte area for $182,443.
2008 - the six-acre Green Family parcel in the Granite Dells for $365,687.
2008 - the 10-acre Granite Haven parcel in the Granite Dells for $503,771.
2007 - a land exchange with Yavapai County for the rodeo grounds and associated open space, $905,281.
2007 - the 8.7-acre Hisakota parcel in the Granite Dells north of Willow Lake for $527,181.
2006 - the 18-acre Williamson Valley Road-area Community Nature Center from Prescott Unified School District for $1,813,521.
2005 - the 28-acre Payne parcel along Granite Creek from the Trust for Public Land for $188,569. (The Central Arizona Land Trust holds the conservation easement).
2004 - 34 acres of Storm Ranch land on the eastern shoreline of Watson Lake for $1.5 million.
2001 - the 32-acre hill east of Thumb Butte from two different owners for $1,673,597.
2001 - the 25-acre Ericksson parcel in Granite Dells north of Watson Lake for $352,678.