TOMBSTONE — With an eye on the future, the Tombstone Planning and Zoning Commission is proposing an annexation that commissioners hope will bring new businesses and growth to the City of Tombstone.
“If tourism and gun fights continue as the only egg in our only basket, we’re doomed,” Commission Chairman Russell Jennings said Tuesday evening during a public hearing where he presented information about the annexation. “We have a tourist-based town, and the population of Tombstone is decreasing.”
Jennings said that attracting more businesses to help increase the town’s population would boost Tombstone’s tax base and secure more state and federal money for badly needed infrastructure improvements.
About 15 county residents attended the hearing at Schieffelin Hall to learn the commissioners’ reasons for wanting to annex a chunk of state trust land northeast of Tombstone, as well as a smaller piece of land south of town along Charleston Road.
While none of the people who attended the hearing own property in the affected areas, most have land adjacent to and in the vicinity of the northeast section.
Several objected to the annexation because of concerns about property tax increases as well as setting a precedent for further annexations that could encroach on their properties.
“If the area northeast of Tombstone is annexed, how will this benefit landowners in the area,” John Kousky asked. “How will it affect our property taxes?”
In his response, Jennings said that, because the people at the hearing do not live in the area to be annexed, nothing is going to change for them.
“Am I making this clear?” he asked. “If you’re not in the annexation area, you’re not getting any benefits in any way, and you’re not going to be affected by taxes. Your properties are not involved in the annexation.”
Jennings did, however, offer the following hypothetical assurances.
“Hypothetically, if there were residents living in the area to be annexed, their taxes would not go up anymore than what they’re currently paying. Their taxes would not go up because they’re already paying a county-district fire tax, which is exactly the same as what the city tax is. So, you’re going to trade one for the other, with no increases.”
Jenings also pointed to advantages of owning property within Tombstone city limits.
“One advantage is that property owners who live within the City of Tombstone are able to vote on city-related issues,” he said. “It allows you to be an involved citizen by participating in the city’s decision making process,” Jennings said.
Another concerned property owner, Elyse Politi, said people are not worried about the annexation that is happening now, but are concerned about the potential of future annexations.
“I forsee the future where the city will come in and annex our properties, not for our benefit, but for the town’s benefit,” she said. “The commissions’ long-term goal is to expand Tombstone city limits for the purpose of attracting more business here.
“And they have a short-term goal of attracting people to the city because Tombstone needs to bring in more money through a bigger tax base. We chose to live in a rural area, out of the city limits, and that’s how we prefer to live.”
The next step in the annexation process is to hold a second public hearing in approximately 30 days. Property owners within the proposed annexed area will receive a notice apprising them of the hearing, along with a ballot to vote for or against the plan.
“After that hearing, the commission will make a recommendation to city council based on responses from the returned ballots that were sent out,” Jennings said. “Those ballots will come from about 30 property owners along Charleston Road. We need 51 percent of property owners supporting the annexation to move forward with the proposal.”
The next step is to take the proposal before city council. If council passes an ordinance to annex the area, the ordinance is sent to the county, notifying county officials of the ordinance.
“The county then redraws the new city limits with the annexed areas in place,” Jennings explained. “This process does not happen overnight. It takes about four or five months. All four members of the commission understand that this decision is up to the people involved. We serve the people, not the other way around.”