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Tue, Jan. 21

Talk of the Town: Council's Dells inaction insults voters

Many in the community might have left the April 8 Prescott City Council meeting thinking that the council's generosity in designating $500,000 from this year's budget would expedite the purchase of the Granite Dells. Far from it. This is the council that flouted the wishes of our community and an earlier council that in 2000 voted for a special 1 percent sales tax for road maintenance and the purchase of disappearing natural open space.

The policy of the city at that time, in Resolution 3231, was that $34.29 million would be allocated for streets and $40.71 million for open space. To assure that there would be adequate monies available for street improvements the open space allotment was capped at $40.7 million.

Contrary to expectations, the 1 percent sales tax enacted in 2000 realized far more than was anticipated, amounting to a whopping $185 million of which $168.75 million was spent on road improvement and only $16 million on open space (less than 9 percent instead of the intended 54.3 percent).

This council's allocation of tax revenues is in clear and unambiguous defiance of those who had voted for the tax increase and the allocation of those funds. This current council, on its own admission, didn't feel obliged to follow the wishes of the 2000 ballot decision.

The 83-acre Granite Dells Resort property owned by Mark Wirth is valued at $5.3 million. He has offered it to the town for $4 million and has agreed to donate a three-acre parcel at the center of the property to the Granite Dells Preservation Foundation (GDPF) that would be responsible for managing the 83 acres should the sale ever materialize. This three acres has several historic buildings, the site of the former swimming pool and dance hall that so many Prescott natives have fond memories of. The council had implored the GDPF at previous meetings to do its part in raising money for the Dells purchase, which it did, and most recently gained $1.5 million in commitments from private donors toward the asking price.

Councilwomen Jean Wilcox started off the council discussion by pointing out that the city's streets/open space sales tax - set to expire in December 2015 - would generate about $13 million for each of the next two fiscal years. "Surely," she exhorted, "somewhere within that $26 million, we can find the money to negotiate a reasonable and fair price with Mr. Mark Wirth." The rest of the council scrambled before a packed audience to assert their love of the Dells while at the same time raising a host of reasons why they might not be able to support the purchase.

This council has never supported the Dells purchase, but has begun to realize that the community has awakened to their arrogance in disregarding the voters' wishes. Unfortunately, most council members seem to clearly lack the courage to separate themselves from the sway of Mayor Marlin Kuykendall and his Mayor pro tem, Jim Lamerson - the two most opposed to the town's purchase of the Dells. The question that many in this community are beginning to ask is, "who runs this town, Marlin or the collective council?" We would all like to know.

In summary, we have lost 13 years of tax collections resulting from the 1 percent special sales tax - amounting to $184.8 million, of which $168 million was spent on roads and $16 million on natural open space lands.

Fortunately, there is still time to save the Dells and as councilwomen Jean Wilcox pointed out, there will be sufficient revenue in the next two years - for this council to do the right thing. But can they? The voters will take note of their response. Done right, they could create a lasting legacy in this sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary year.

Ron Smith, of Prescott, is a veteran. He worked for Outward Bound and Prescott College in the late 60s and early 70s. He led National Geographic supported expeditions in the Arctic and Ethiopia. He is CEO of Roy H. Smith Consulting and a consultant to the defense industry.

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