Rita Billi Sign

By Barry Barbe

It just takes one.

It was the spring of 2017 when I received a call from then-Councilwoman Billie Orr. She was in the process of creating a coalition of community members to address the City of Prescott’s PSPRS liability, which at the time stood at more than $78 million.

It was during a later meeting where Billie gave a brief TED talk of sorts on the pros and cons of defaulting on our liability. Not only were the pensions and security of public safety personnel at risk, so was the quality of life that we as Prescottonians have come to expect and appreciate.

If you have ever met Billie Orr, you know that she rarely takes no for an answer, and you simply don’t say no to Billie. Her tenacity, perseverance and determination to fight the good fight are unparalleled.

As a result of her servant heart, Billie was able to quickly assemble a group of bi-partisan individuals to do what many at the time felt impossible. The group, known as “Stand for Prescott,” all shared a common goal: to preserve the future of Prescott, by recognizing and respecting the commitments our public safety personnel had made to us, while guaranteeing that we, as a community would stand by our commitment to them.

There were those at the time who felt it was acceptable to deny this responsibility, and allow the city to file bankruptcy in order to avoid this obligation. “Doing nothing about the millions of dollars in unfunded liability the City of Prescott faced was not an option,” noted co-chair of the “Stand for Prescott – Yes On 443,” Sherri Hanna.

The long-term effects of such action could have been catastrophofic, especially when partnered with the future events of 2020.

The alternative to paying down the obligation addressed by Prop 443 was pretty bleak. The payments to the PSPRS liability were becoming a drain on the General Fund, and putting much needed public safety services at risk, as well as stymieing programs such as Parks and Rec, Library Services, and others that we as community members have come to expect and appreciate.

Billie, along with Councilman Steve Sischka, put out the call for action, and action is what took place.

Within seemingly no time, a committee of concerned citizens convened, with the group being co-chaired by Cecelia Jergenson and Sherri Hanna, both longtime community advocates. Linda Nichols was secretary, and Ann Buchwald was tasked with treasury duties. The group formed a Political Action Committee, and hit the ground running, never stopping for the next eight to nine months.

The balance of the core group was rounded out with Terri Teshner networking local business leaders, Bob Betts as community liaison, and Peg Travers, and Rita Kavanaugh arranging everything from promotional materials, house gatherings, coffee talks, town halls and communications.

There were many, many more. Way too many to list, but it was a tireless team with a mission.

Marketing was handled by Tracey Horne of Helkin and Horne Ad Agency, which handled the creation of marketing pieces, TV spots, radio advertising, yard signs, bumper stickers, rack cards, buttons, and helped keep the message concise and on topic.

And through it all, there was Billie, who never wavered in her commitment, nor in her willingness to stump for the cause. And she did it all with grace and humility.

Everyone who was involved was committed, but we were all driven a bit more by the example that Billie gave. Her commitment to the future of her second hometown was genuine and heartfelt. Her commitment to those in public service was obvious and personally on display.

This week, the Prescott City Council will vote in recognizing the success of the many individuals who stood for Prescott, who stood for our commitments, and who stood to help guarantee the future of Prescott. When the vote to sunset the 75-cent sales tax that was voted in November 2017, and came into effect in January 2018, the longest the tax could run was 10 years, or 2028. Since that time, our city and country have experienced financial and social challenges like never before.

Now, in December of 2022, after only five years, the tax will go away. The obligation of the PSPRS will have been satisfied to fewer than $1.5 million. Another chapter will have passed, and another ever brighter one, is on the horizon.

Billie and others in the group had hoped, at best, the tax would sunset in seven years. Despite the challenges of 2020, and with additional contributions made by the city, a debt once contemplated by some to be addressed through bankruptcy, will have been satisfied. And we community members and our city will be able to stand proud.

“The Stand for Prescott group was a true grassroots-style campaign and an amazing collaboration of community leaders and concerned citizens. Honestly, in political advertising, relationships such as these are not often seen. I’m proud to say we can now look back to our message we campaigned on, and say we were true to our word. ‘Promises given, promises kept,’” said Tracey Horne of Helkin & Horne.

For myself, and everyone involved in “Stand for Prescott,” it was a challenge I’m glad we all accepted, and we are all glad that Billie Orr took the position of not just leader, but mentor, advocate, councilwoman and community member.

With the payment of this debt, comes one to you.

Cheers, and thank you.

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