by Trent Thomas

Five years ago this November, Vail and Corona had a major decision to make about their future governance – remain unincorporated or become a city? It was known as “Proposition 403” and with a simple majority of a yes vote, most of the 85641 ZIP code would become a self-governing city. In fact, Vail would have become the 92nd city in the state if approved by voters. Over 11,000 residents would be affected by this vote and needed to decide the best course forward.

After a tremendous amount of discussion and debate, a majority 54.7% of voters chose to remain unincorporated. According to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, it was the first time in Arizona history that voters rejected incorporation of being a city through election. Five years later where do we stand as a community? What has changed?

Primarily debated were five reasons of whether or not to incorporate: taxes, a stronger voice in government, road improvements, public safety, and economic development. Let’s take a brief look at each of these points five years later to better understand what did or did not come true.

Taxes. All governments need taxes to provide the required services to residents. During the Prop 403 debates it was stated a new city of Vail would not raise taxes. Well, at least in regards to property taxes for homeowners. Bill Staples is the Pima County Assessor and added, “When comparing areas that are incorporated versus unincorporated, there is no specific increase in property taxes.” However, it is important to realize that property taxes vary based on different services or districts they fall under. For instance, homeowners in the Vail School District pay extra taxes for a budget override that are not applicable to homes outside of this school district. Residents can always choose to increase taxes upon themselves in order to have more services.

However, that doesn’t mean residents escape taxes all together. “Sales tax would most likely go up for any new city,” according to Tom Belshe, the deputy director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. “All 91 of the current Arizona cities and towns have adopted a city sales tax to pay for the required services.” Because we aren’t a city, we don’t have a city sales tax. With the recent influx of new businesses in Vail, shoppers are able to benefit from avoiding the 2% city sales tax that is added on to products and services.

A voice in government. In 2013, some in the community felt Vail and Corona did not command the same level of attention by our local leaders as compared to our neighboring communities. Shortly after Steve Christy was elected in early 2017, the South East Regional Council (SERC) was born. Modeled after another unincorporated area in the county called the Green Valley Council, the SERC serves to promote the interests of Vail and Corona residents. “Each meeting (of the SERC) is attracting a significant number of residents who want to be a part of the solution,” said Supervisor Christy, District 4 County Supervisor. Christy added, “This volunteer group serves as a unified voice for the Vail and Corona communities to convey collective concerns to our local government officials.” Concerns regarding traffic, health, and safety are discussed between residents and department officials. Christy said, “The SERC is solely and explicitly for the needs and desires of Vail and Corona.” In other words, a more direct voice to government.

Road Improvements. If you drive a vehicle or ride a bike, then roads are something that affect you. The Colossal Cave Road was hotly debated as being a center piece of the entire Prop 403 issue. Commute time traffic jams around an elementary, middle, and high school along with two sets of railroad tracks made the entire area a mess. After Prop 403 was defeated, the county began a 3-year $5.8 million dollar project to improve the near mile long stretch of road. Annabelle Valenzuela of Pima County Transportation added that, “The project improved safety, operations and general mobility by reconstructing the roadway to improve sight distance at several locations, as well as adding a two-way left turn lane, plus paved shoulders for bikes as well as multi-use paths and sidewalk for pedestrian activity.” The project was completed in August 2017.

Public Safety. Prop 403 proposed for either a new police force, or for contract services of the Pima County Sheriff Department, to still work in our community. It is difficult to compare 2013 to present since it’s not possible to compare crimes that haven’t occurred under different law enforcement agencies. However, Vail and Corona continue to be safe places to live. According to Sperling’s Best Places, the 85641 ZIP code is fairly safe when compared to national rankings. On a scale of 1-100 with 1 being low crime, we have a violent crime rate of 20 and property crime rate of 18.8. Compare that with the US average of 31.1 for violent crime and 38.1 for property crime.

Economic Development. While remaining unincorporated this year we are witness to the opening of Safeway Grocery and several other neighboring businesses in Vail. According to the president and CEO of the Vail Chamber of Commerce, MaRico Tippet said, “The opening up of Colossal Cave Road and Mary Ann Cleveland Road widening project, having a Safeway in Vail and the growth of the Houghton Town Center have all helped. I would say we are starting to have an emphasis on infrastructure and quality of life improvements in our area.” Some are projecting our population will double over the next 4-5 years. “Businesses are now thinking there is a population to support,” Tippet added.

One last point. Is it possible for Tucson to “take over” Vail and Corona? In short, the answer is no. Arizona state law details the requirements in ARS 9-471. Tom Belshe said, “There is a dual requirement for any annexation process. You’ve got to have 51% of the assessed valuation and 51% of the property owners agree to annexation. A city must have both in order to annex.”

For a simple example, let’s assume Tucson wants to annex Vail and there are 10,000 land owners. Also assume there are 20,000 acres, of which 1 person owns 10,000 acres and the other 9,999 people own the remaining 10,000 acres. With the dual annexation requirement, there would need to be a majority of owners (5,001 or more of them) say yes to annexation. There also needs to be a simple majority of the total land valuation (10,001 acres or more) that say yes as well. If the proposal doesn’t have both majorities of land owners and land valuation, then there isn’t an annexation.

Will Vail/Corona incorporate in the future? “That’s an interesting question,” stated Tom Belshe. “It’s hard to know whether or not that area would consider it again. People talk about incorporation when they aren’t happy with what’s going on. But since the (Prop 403) election, I’ve received no phone calls or emails,” said Tom. “It’s been quiet.” Perhaps there has been a lot of change in the last five years with which people are now content.

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Trent Thomas

Trent enjoys writing about what effects our local community. He has served in the U.S. Army, worked as a business manager and even been an airline pilot. He and his family have lived in Vail since 2007.