Council trims bond request, calls for vote
By Wayne Schutsky
After months of outreach and deliberation by the city, the future of a bond in Scottsdale is officially in the hands of voters.
At its April 15 meeting, the Scottsdale City Council called for a $319-million bond special election November 5 to seek funding for dozens of infrastructure, public safety, recreation and other projects throughout the city.
The council presented a unified front at the meeting, voting 7-0 to call the election.
That unity stood in stark contrast to last year’s bond deliberations – which ultimately went nowhere due to disagreements among the council and uncertainty over public support.
Some disagreements lingered as recently as a March study session when the council appeared split on some key issues, such as what projects to include and whether to have one or several questions.
Ultimately, the council voted to break up the 58 projects and $319 million over three questions covering parks, recreation and senior services; community spaces and infrastructure; and public safety and technology.
Parks, recreation and senior services includes 14 projects for $112.6 million.
Community spaces and infrastructure includes 20 projects for $112.3 million.
Public safety and technology includes 24 projects for $94.1 million.
The $319-million bond ask presented by the city to voters was culled from an original list of 148 unfunded projects at a cost of $723.4 million.
A subcommittee then went through the list to prioritize projects and reduce costs, and also directed staff to conduct outreach with residents to explain the costs and justifications behind each project.
Those meetings were generally well received by residents, who could also leave feedback on the city website.
The results of those meetings were not statistically viable but did provide the council a glimpse into residents’ priorities.
The council largely allowed those priorities to guide the bond process.
All projects included in the bond were seen as a priority by at least 50% of respondents at meetings and through the city website, with two exceptions.
One project that did not meet that threshold was a sports field project in the Airpark area that will double as special event parking for major events at WestWorld and TPC Scottsdale.
The council opted to keep that project included in the bond, though it reduced the cost by $7 million to $40 million.
Previously, concerns were raised that the project’s name, which emphasized the parking component, could mislead residents who were unaware it would primarily function as multi-use sports fields.
The council also added a $4.5-million expansion of Via Linda Senior Center that 43% of respondents saw as a priority.
While the council presented a unified front on the bond, it was obviously still concerned about garnering enough community support to pass the measures with voters in November.
That uncertainty is reflected in the total ask of $319 million—which is well below the level at which a bond would begin to significantly affect residents’ secondary property tax burden.
City Treasurer Jeff Nichols presented a chart to the Subcommittee at an earlier meeting that showed the city could adopt a $450 million bond and not cause property tax levies to increase due to other bond obligations that will be coming off the book in the near future.
That chart, based on a resident with home valued at $300,000, showed an annual secondary property tax levy of just under $180 that would drop slightly and remain in the $160 to $180 range for the next 10 years before dropping below that threshold.
Trimming the bond to $319 million included some tough decisions.
One was dropping the $27.3 million Reata Wash Flood Control project, which could receive matching county funds contingent on the city funding a portion.
The project would fund the creation of a flood control channel to provide 100-year flood protection in areas north of Loop 101 in northern Scottsdale extending to just south of the freeway.
But it was seen as divisive as some residents felt it only benefited those living within the flood plain.
Scottsdale Floodplain Administrator C. Ashley Couch would provide significant value to residents in the flood plain but would also provide citywide benefits by protecting critical infrastructure located in the area that serves residents throughout the city, including the Scottsdale Water Campus.
Even though the council took a conservative approach to the bond, several members still hedged their bets and cautioned residents to consider the good of the city over individual complaints when voting on the measure.
“Some of the comments that were made by folks tonight remind me of an old expression my grandmother used to use, which is ‘don’t cut off your nose to spite your face,’” Vice Mayor Linda Milhaven says.
“While there may be people in this community who vigorously disagree with me on issues, someone mentioned zoning tonight, I think it does our community an amazing disservice if we make investment in parks, public safety and senior centers contingent upon whether or not we agree on zoning issues,” she says.
Mayor Jim Lane expresses a similar sentiment.
Lane says he hopes “new issues” would not affect “whether or not a group is going to decide to somehow actively work against the greater good – frankly, I think everyone has pretty much acknowledged that there is a lot that is needed and is good for us here.”
Though no groups have come out in direct opposition to a bond, Milhaven and Lane may have been addressing comments made by resident and activist—and potential City Council candidate—Jason Alexander.
“I think we are all in agreement that we need Council and citizens behind this if it’s going to pass and the city desperately needs it,” Alexander says. “We all as a community need to be excited about investing in our city.”
However, Alexander cautions the council that he believes other council decisions unrelated to the bond—from zoning changes to the use of Preserve funds—could undermine voter confidence.
“People will not view this bond as a standalone topic…the reality is this bond proposal will be a reflection of confidence and support for the direction the Council is taking the city,” Alexander says. “And right up to Election Day, the campaign to pass the bond will also essentially be a campaign about support for City Council decisions.”
The special election will be mail-in only, meaning all registered voters in Scottsdale will receive a ballot by mail approximately 27 days before the election date even if they do not receive a mail-in ballot during regular elections.
Scottsdale voters who have not signed up for the Permanent Early Voting list will still receive a bond special election ballot by mail but will not be added to the Permanent Early Voting list for future elections where in-person voting is an option.
City Clerk Carolyn Jagger said the decision to use the mail-in method was decided by the county, not the city.
Jagger says there will be at least one voting center where residents can go to receive a replacement ballot or assistance.