Before you vote…

By Doug Stavoe | February 25, 2009

At last week’s candidate forum, the moderator asked each candidate to state what he/she thought was Carefree’s most pressing one year and five year challenge. The answers include protecting our financial base and enhancing our living environment.

What is our financial status?

The Carefree founders established the principle to fund our town government with sales tax revenue (and not property tax). I agree with this axiom – no property tax, ever. This is a sound position as long as we recognize where our funding comes from and we take steps to protect it.

Our current revenue is declining: First quarter sales tax revenues down approximately 10 percent, second quarter off more than 20 percent, my estimate of third quarter (traditionally our most productive quarter) indicates another 20 percent plus decline. Couple this with reduced development fees and other revenues (which make up the remaining one-third of the budget) and the result is a shortfall in budgeted revenue exceeding $1,000,000.00 annualized. The included tax revenue from Lowe’s further masks the severe erosion of our traditional tax base.

Going beyond the budget, the real challenge we face is the deterioration of our sales tax base. More specifically, our challenge is to encourage a more stable business environment in the town core and halt the cycle of businesses opening and then closing. This root issue behind our town’s impending revenue crisis won’t be resolved by zero based budgeting for fiscal year 2009-2010.

$1,300,000,000.00 (that’s 1.3 billion) of taxed retail spending is required to fund our town at current spending levels. This amount is equal to every Carefree voter spending $450,000 in Carefree annually. Clearly, most of our funding comes from outside the community. It comes from local and area residents and visitors from around the world, and we can ill afford to lose this revenue.

The solution to our financial challenge lies in Carefree’s valuable reputation. Our very special Carefree living environment is directly tied to our ability to draw spenders to our town. Protection of our existing zoning is an important part. Nurturing and enhancing our community reputation through quality of life initiatives is critically important, not only from a lifestyle viewpoint, but also a tax producing perspective. Vigilant caution and thoughtful judgment considering future development must continually be exercised. As we move forward we must take proactive steps to nurture and enhance Carefree’s very valuable image in every way possible.

To help address these future challenges, we should consider integrating a formal economic stability and development effort into our town government and staffing structure. Resources utilized to achieve this end should include a cross section of local businessman, citizens, staff, and expert advisors. In anticipation of what current fiscal trends indicate, we need to redouble our efforts to minimize town spending and sharpen our focus on town processes & procedures.

2 versus 4 year terms?

Extending the council term to four years would not be productive in addressing our future challenges. Continuity in government seems to be weak justification for asking voters to extend council terms (a majority of incumbents have been re-elected since I can remember, this provides plentiful continuity). I see no other value for Carefree voters to relinquish their right to vote out underperforming council members. I plan to vote NO on proposition 401.

Should Carefree voters directly elect the mayor?

Regardless of how our mayor is selected, he/she must work with the council in order to accomplish town business. Currently, the mayor is appointed by a majority of the town council (only four people out of 2,900 voters). The community has no voice. This issue requires honest evaluation because the issues today are too complex, and the dollar amounts too large.

One consideration is that the job of mayor is different than a member of council. The mayor sets the town agenda. Because he is the figurehead, the mayor also has special influence regarding committee appointments, authority over staff, and appointment of vacated council seats.

All incumbent candidates now say publicly they support direct election of the mayor in principle. The few objections include legalese, which I’m confident can be adequately addressed following the election. I urge you to take pause anytime someone suggests it is not in your interest to have the right to vote.

I believe the essential issue here is “accountability.” When the mayor is appointed by himself and three others, he is accountable to only three individuals. This structure is prone to favor swapping and special interest. If the mayor is elected by the community at large, then he is accountable to all the voters. At a time when we all need more accountability in government, some advocate less. I feel we should raise our standard. Carefree’s intelligent citizenry is best suited to vet mayoral candidates. I plan to vote YES on proposition 404.

Douglas Stavoe is running for Carefree Town Council. He has a B.A. in Accounting from Michigan State University, is a 16 year Carefree Resident, and owner of Blue Sky Restaurant in Carefree. He and his wife of 25 years, Monica, have two children, Katherine and Andrew, both students at CSHS. He can be reached via email at or visit his web site: