Scottsdale’s fiscal year ended June 30, so it seems timely to share a report on some council decisions over the past few months that will affect you and your city’s livability.
Your council adopted a balanced budget for next year … that’s good! Unfortunately, the budget isn’t sustainable and hasn’t been for several years. That’s because the money we have for capital improvements is woefully short of the amount needed.
The city was closely divided for and against the bond issue last November, so there’s little new money for capital investments. For the third year in a row, your city’s net depreciable assets declined, because we reinvested less than our assets depreciated. This problem will compound over time.
I tried to get rid of the city’s sales tax on food, mindful that this most regressive tax costs every Scottsdale citizen about $50 a year — $200 every year for a family of four — and it hits hardest those citizens least able to pay. We managed a small step forward: over the next three years we’ll pull food tax receipts out of the General Fund and put them into the capital program. Unfortunately, that won’t give citizens the tax break they deserve. We’ll try again next year.
Council took several actions that are going to increase density and congestion in your city:
- More and more apartments were approved … sometimes with building plans; other times with only promises. Your council seems determined to provide living quarters for newcomers, regardless of the effect on current citizens.
- The ASU Foundation lease for SkySong was amended to increase the building height from 60 feet to 90 feet at the corner of Scottsdale and McDowell roads. Citizens will see a massive structure … and a precedent has been created. I argued for the city’s 1.5 acre at SkySong to be designated as a city park on the corner, forcing the building back further from curb; I wasn’t successful.
- The rules were changed for a downtown office building to allow less setback (from the street) and waive step-backs — the wedding cake effect. Additionally, council allowed this project and all others downtown to now go 6 feet higher than the previous 90-foot limit. Another precedent!
- A major mixed-use project was proposed north of the 101 on Scottsdale Road. I supported this development because of the commitment to setbacks (nothing higher than 60 feet along Scottsdale Road); the commitment to mixed uses (office, retail and housing); and the commitment to a minimum share of housing units as condominiums.
- We managed to do a small amount of housecleaning on one of the downtown bars. They were enjoying a bargain lease of city property for an outdoor dining agreement … even though they didn’t have a kitchen. We’ve tried to make a point: outdoor “dining” without food is not an ambiance we are trying to promote.
- We are rewriting a 23-year-old ordinance governing special events on city property. It has angered a few event producers who had enjoyed special arrangements for a number of years, but it sends a clear message that we intend to protect the historic downtown areas that continue to be a major tourist attraction.
- We authorized a definitive study of a potential Desert Discovery Center to finally put to rest the questions that have haunted this idea for years. What will it be? What will it cost to build and operate? Where should it be located? And, most importantly, should it be done at all? These issues deeply divide our community and may only be resolved with a public vote. The study results will be available to discuss sometime next year.
- We approved a transportation plan, but we shouldn’t chisel it too deeply in stone. Transportation is changing so rapidly that the “needs” of today may not be the needs five years from now. Keys to the future might well be to implement flexible, affordable solutions.
- Several issues were not resolved. We failed to reach agreement on a new General Plan for our city, so we’ll have to keep working with the last one passed by voters 15 years ago. We struggled with a non-discrimination ordinance that might have afforded greater protection to members of the LGBT community, but bogged down in the details. We tried to impose more local control over charter schools, but eventually had to admit our efforts are largely thwarted by state law. And, we couldn’t agree on a new city manager … so we’ll interview new candidates again after the summer break.
It’s often said local government actions affect your lives more than decisions of state or national governments. I think you can appreciate the issues we wrestled with really do matter to you, your family and your neighbors! That’s why many of you e-mailed me last year about these and other local issues.
I have been honored to represent your interests and tried to protect your economic and emotional investments in this great city. I welcome hearing from you in the future.
Editor’s note: Mr. Smith is a member of Scottsdale City Council