Scottsdale City Council candidates talk cure for the collateral damage of affluence

Local voters are set to elect three people to serve atop Scottsdale City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 6. This election year features five candidates seeking three City Council seats.

The incumbents are: Kathy Littlefield, David Smith and Linda Milhaven; meanwhile, the challengers are Bill Crawford and Solange Whitehead.

The Scottsdale Independent is hosting a candidate debate from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1 at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. The debate will be aired on local cable access.

The field is set, and the Independent offers its sixth installment of an eight-part, question-and-answer series, helping readers better understand the motivations and beliefs of these five candidates.

From the outside looking in the community of Scottsdale is one defined by affluence and illustrated by million-dollar homes, five-star resorts and apartment complexes transformed into luxury dwellings. Residential properties are seeing increases to values, living wages are more common and vacant office space is slowly — but surely — being filled at every corner of the municipality.

All indicators suggest the brand of Scottsdale has never been stronger, resident, city officials and elected leaders agree, while tourism remains the No. 1 economic driver for “The West’s Most Western Town.”

But collateral damage of the age of affluence being enjoyed by many in Scottsdale is forcing a wider gap of economic inequality as outreach numbers surge and legacy residents struggle to make ends meet.

About 9 percent, or just over 21,000 human beings, live below the poverty line in Scottsdale, which is defined as a gross annual income less than $21,954 for a family of four, according to the latest Census figures.

As of 2015, the population of Scottsdale is estimated at 234,495 — which has grown by 7,577 people since 2010, Census figures show — whereas in 2010 roughly 8 percent, or 18,759 people, of the population lived below the federal poverty line.

The Scottsdale Independent reached out to each candidate seeking their interpretation of how the municipality ought to help those in need throughout the city of Scottsdale. This is what they had to say:

Bill Crawford

Bill Crawford

•Socioeconomic inequalities are all around us and Scottsdale is no exception, but many would be hard-pressed to believe about 8 percent of the city’s population lives beneath the poverty line. If you are elected to City Council, what role do you think the municipality should play in helping the less-fortunate?

Let’s start with the most visible disenfranchised population with a growing presence in Scottsdale: the homeless. In the last five years, hundreds of homeless have moved to Scottsdale, particularly downtown. As any recent visitor to southern California can attest, homelessness can have a negative impact on a community’s public safety, property values and tourism. As a downtown Scottsdale resident, business owner and community leader for over 20 years, I met with and helped organize my fellow neighbors and business owners into stemming the tide of indigent on our streets and sidewalks.

If elected to City Council, I will take what I’ve done on a micro level and apply it to our city at large. I will help organize my fellow leaders in neighboring cities and I will ask for a summit conference to address this issue.

By working with neighboring municipalities and pooling our resources, neither Scottsdale nor the indigent will have to “go it alone.” We can identify homeless citizens who want to transition and return to a normal life and assist them in doing so. We can identify those who need psychiatric assistance and provide them with the proper care they need. Finally, we’ll identify criminal behavior and engage law enforcement accordingly.

For those less fortunate, there are housing options and assistance available at local, state and federal levels, such as Scottsdale Housing Authority, Section Eight program and HUD apartments. We must continue to be proactive, seeking innovative ways to address these critical issues impacting our great city.

•If you are elected, is helping the disenfranchised something that will matter to you?

Absolutely. I’m proud to say that helping our city’s disenfranchised is something I will continue to work on. In fact, I have invested a lifetime in public service on many levels. In late July, I was the only City Council candidate who volunteered at Scottsdale Community Partners’ annual

“Covering the Bases: Back to School Program” at Scottsdale Stadium. I had the pleasure of working with other volunteers, providing meals, backpacks, school supplies, shoes, clothing and other services for more than 1,000 Scottsdale school children in need of assistance. One of my campaign volunteers even took a day off work and started volunteering at the event at 5:30 AM!

If elected to City Council, I will continue playing an active role in helping those in need throughout our city and encouraging charity and volunteerism. I will help the needy to connect with resources in the private sector and faith-based charities.

•As real estate values soar in Old Town and southern Scottsdale areas, how do you think the city of Scottsdale can help the aging population of established homeowners find equitable housing and healthcare options?

Setting a fine example in leadership regarding this issue, Scottsdale appreciates and cherishes its elderly residents. It’s one of the primary reasons why so many choose to retire here. We embrace the elderly and do all we can to ensure that they live in a healthy environment. As the home values in Scottsdale escalate, so does the equity in older homes owned by our aging population.

When it’s time for older Scottsdale citizens to consider housing changes, they are in a good position to profit from their homes. I will do everything I can to protect Scottsdale property values citywide. This is one of the reasons I have been endorsed by the Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors. Even though our city has become a hub for seniors and charitable causes assisting elderly homeowners, we can and must do more.

One undertaking that can immediately help our city’s seniors is to provide a dedicated funding source to one of my, as well as Mayor Lane’s, favorite programs: Operation Fix It. This program assists senior homeowners with limited financial resources with repairs and maintenance for their homes.

Established at the low point of the economic downturn in 2009, much of the program’s financial support comes from donations and profits generated from Mayor Lane’s annual State of the City Address and the Scottsdale Business Development Group.

City Hall can do more to help Operation Fix It grow. Not only can we provide more funding, but we can organize more volunteer events and provide incentives to residents for volunteering.

Furthermore, City Hall can encourage proper redevelopment of vacant parcels to meet the growing demand of seniors. A recent example of our city’s cooperation in this area was demonstrated by working with Spectrum Retirement Communities as it seeks to convert the former Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts site into an assisted-living center. We should always be pursuing opportunities for creative usage of vacant properties to provide more housing options to Scottsdale seniors.

Solange Whitehead

Solange Whitehead

•Socioeconomic inequalities are all around us and Scottsdale is no exception, but many would be hard-pressed to believe about 8 percent of the city’s population lives beneath the poverty line. If you are elected to City Council, what role do you think the municipality should play in helping the less-fortunate?

Scottsdale’s appearance of “wealth” for many is a thin veneer. Far too many residents live below the poverty line and many more are barely making ends meet. Raising my kids here, I witnessed these financial struggles up close.

A city government should ensure taxes are spent conservatively to keep taxes low and quality of life and public safety services fully funded. I believe the city must continue to offer and expand safety net programs in partnership with community nonprofits that provide a “hand-up” to neighbors in need. Together, these priorities have the greatest impacts on those with the least but serve the community as a whole. Five of my priorities are provided below:

Step one: Stop the bleeding.

Lack of fiscal restraint and bad priorities have already harmed every Scottsdale resident, but disproportionately those with the least. Tax dollars that should have been spent maintaining bridges, building fire stations, and making park bathrooms handicap accessible have been spent elsewhere. As a result, taxpayers are on the hook for an $800 million repair bill plus interest.

A $21.9 million tax dollar giveaway to a developer in June — almost 25 percent of the police department’s annual budget — is the type of spending that is crippling the city’s budget.

Step two: Protect public assets from private exploitation.

Most families can’t afford Tahiti getaways on spring break. But wilderness, no matter how close to home, is like an exotic vacation. Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a spectacularly beautiful, wild, and free adventure for all our residents. Public open spaces and our resort like amenities raise the ‘quality of life’ bar for all. Keeping public land and amenities free, maintained, and accessible for the enjoyment of the public increases the well-being of our entire community.

Step three: A penny saved is a penny earned.

Every dollar not borrowed is a dollar available to drive a senior to a doctor’s appointment and to teach a tot how to swim. Staff needs to be empowered and incentivized to streamline the scope of projects, enforce the competitive bidding process, implement cost saving ideas, and eliminate wasteful spending.

Step four: Prioritize Low Cost, Big Impact programs.

The best ideas aren’t the most expensive ideas. Programs like Handlebar Helpers is one such example. Police and citizens donate abandoned or non-working bikes, kids learn bike mechanics and repair the bikes to working order earning a free bike every 40-hours, the public has access to inexpensive bikes sold at the shop.

Listening to residents is another way the city can identify inexpensive ways to help the community. I met a senior citizen that has requested a bench in the dog park for five years. Let’s get that done and top if off with some shade.

Step five: Monthly bills, staying healthy, and food.

Increasing trolley and public bus routes, requiring state-of-the-art energy efficiency in new construction, and incentivizing energy efficiency in existing homes are two ways to reduce monthly bills of residents. I am also interested in — but not up to speed on — partnerships with mobile health clinics and the establishment of a food pantry.

Ensuring that all residents have access to preventative care is the difference between life, death, and can prevent crippling medical bills. Food pantries benefit residents and reduce food waste going to the landfill. A well-run city government should raise the health and wealth of all its constituents by spending tax dollars for the community benefit. That is my singular goal on council.

•If you are elected, is helping the disenfranchised something that will matter to you?

I have spent two years fighting against a City Council majority’s effort to disenfranchise all Scottsdale voters. As a former Preserve commissioner, I have worked to stop a majority on council’s attempt to cede voter approved, taxpayer funded preserved land to private interests. And, to prevent the use of public debt to build the Desert Discovery Center.

In response, the City Council majority voted to deny a public vote and I helped lead the successful effort to collect 37,600 voter signatures to override this City Council. A “YES on Prop 420” campaign on the ballot will protect Scottsdale resident from being disenfranchised today and in the future. And, a “YES on Prop 420” vote protects Scottsdale’s $1 billion investment from poor decision making or political corruption.

To combat a deceptive and anonymous “No” campaign’s effort to undermine a fair vote on Prop. 420, I walk different neighborhoods every day and talk to residents.

Today, an 85-year old resident of south Scottsdale told me, “I think of the Preserve every day and I am so worried that people will accidentally vote No.” I am impressed at the high level of awareness and unity on Prop 420 and other issues facing Scottsdale today. But I am not surprised, Scottsdale residents are a smart bunch.

•As real estate values soar in Old Town and southern Scottsdale areas, how do you think the city of Scottsdale can help the aging population of established homeowners find equitable housing and healthcare options?

Fixing the city’s financial health is needed in order to protect all citizens especially our most vulnerable. That includes our senior citizens. Scottsdale has many resources including the senior centers, the free trolley to the hospitals, senior ride services, and a “lockbox for seniors” program giving the fire department has quick access into a home in an emergency.

This is a good start and we need to reign in poor spending choices to ensure these resources and programs continue to receive sufficient funding. Expanding services should be the next priority and can be done in partnership with local organizations and with input from the seniors themselves.

David Smith

David Smith

•Socioeconomic inequalities are all around us and Scottsdale is no exception, but many would be hard-pressed to believe about 8 percent of the city’s population lives beneath the poverty line. If you are elected to City Council, what role do you think the municipality should play in helping the less-fortunate?

You correctly state a sad reality; not everyone in Scottsdale is “enjoying the good life.”

When a fire recently devastated Navajo Elementary School, near Granite Reef and Camelback Road, citizens were surprised to learn 40 percent of the student enrollment receive a free or reduced cost lunch under the Federal “Title 1” program for economically disadvantaged children.

The first challenge for our government to help those in need is to “do no harm” — in other words, don’t make their plight more difficult. Sadly, we fail that challenge.

I have argued since before joining council that our local sales tax applied to groceries is punitively burdensome on our neediest citizens. The state doesn’t tax our food. The county doesn’t tax our food. More than half of Arizona’s citizens live in communities that do not tax food. But Scottsdale does as it is estimated a family of four pays $175 a year for this tax, just to eat!

In addition, if our neediest citizens do not own a home, we impose another punitive tax on them. The owner of every apartment building in the city pays property taxes and passes that expense along to his tenants as part of their monthly rent. But the city also imposes a sales tax on the rent collected and the landlord passes that along as well. If a family pays $800 a month for rent, the city’s sales tax adds another $158 a year, just for a place to live!

•If you are elected, is helping the disenfranchised something that will matter to you?

Yes, it will matter, as it has mattered during my entire first term. I will continue to support adequate funding for our City’s social service programs. Providing a safety net for those in need is a legitimate priority of our government.

I will also continue my efforts to remove the punitive taxes our city imposes. Within sixty days of joining Council for my first term, I agendized a discussion of elimination of the punitive sales tax on food. More than a year later, I was able to persuade a majority of my council colleagues to transfer the food tax revenues out of the General Fund and put them (temporarily) in the capital Fund. I will not relent until we have completely eliminated this punitive tax.

The responsibility, though, is not entirely that of your local government. There is something every caring citizen can do, as well.

  1. Designate “YES” on your utility bill to contribute $1 per month to “Scottsdale Cares.” Our community’s aggregate donations of $150,000 are distributed to local charities, based on a review of needs by Scottsdale’s Human Services Commission.
  2. Participate in the “Holiday Adopt-a-Family” program sponsored by Vista del Camino Center and Scottsdale Community Partners to help provide food and gifts for the Holidays families in need.
  3. Make a charitable donation to “Helping the Working Poor” and earn an Arizona income tax credit of an equal amount.

•As real estate values soar in Old Town and southern Scottsdale areas, how do you think the city of Scottsdale can help the aging population of established homeowners find equitable housing and healthcare options?

Setting aside a whimsical comment that Scottsdale citizens are aging no more rapidly than anyone else (i.e. one year at a time), there are a number of federally funded programs administered by the city’s Human Services staff to provide housing and related assistance for needy citizens of every age. These include the Community Development Block Grant Program; the HOME Investments Partnership; and the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Vista del Camino provides a variety of services to Scottsdale residents. Their goal is to help meet the basic needs of individuals and families in crisis, relieve economic stress and assist individuals to maintain self-sufficiency. Among their social services, they offer rent, utility and mortgage assistance to persons in need.

Other than direct assistance, the city also helps address community needs by working with Scottsdale’s many non-profits and faith-based organizations. Together, they work to provide temporary and long-term assistance to residents in need.

Linda Milhaven

Linda Milhaven

•Socioeconomic inequalities are all around us and Scottsdale is no exception, but many would be hard-pressed to believe about 8 percent of the city’s population lives beneath the poverty line. If you are elected to City Council, what role do you think the municipality should play in helping the less-fortunate?

The city serves as a conduit and a convener. For example, Vista del Camino Community Center and the Granite Reef and Via Linda Senior Centers connect people in need with programs offered by non-profits as well as programs offered by county, state and federal agencies.

The city also provides ways for people to donate time and money to help others. For example, Scottsdale Cares allows folks to donate by adding to their water payment. The Human Services Commission then uses these funds to make grants to local human services agencies. Operation Fix-It is another all-volunteer program supported by private contributions that brings together folks who want to help with folks who need assistance maintaining their homes.

Volunteers play a critical role in our city. They support our community center operations and provide programs and services. By working together, the city helps to connect folks in need with the people and resources that can help.

•If you are elected, is helping the disenfranchised something that will matter to you?

I believe that each of us who are blessed with good fortune should be grateful and find ways to help others who need assistance. It has always mattered me.

•As real estate values soar in Old Town and southern Scottsdale areas, how do you think the city of Scottsdale can help the aging population of established homeowners find equitable housing and healthcare options?

The city of Scottsdale and the community at large provides access to many services that support seniors and help them to age in place.

Our Senior Centers on Granite Reef, off of McDowell, and on Via Linda, off of Shea, are points of pride for our community. At these centers, seniors find social workers and connections to social service agencies that can help. The centers also provide opportunities for seniors to connect with various activities and support groups.

Senior centers provide numerous volunteer opportunities for seniors to stay engaged and connected and to help one another. One of my favorites is Partners in Health and Aging: DUET. Volunteers assist homebound seniors. Volunteers visit, help with shopping, and do odd jobs, whatever they can do to help.

In addition, the city has a close relationship with Honor Health. Honor Health supports Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health, also known as NOAH. NOAH provides services to people regardless of their ability to pay. They have two locations in Scottsdale.

The fire department has a special relationship with Honor Health. They work together to identify citizens, many of whom are seniors, who use emergency services but would be better served using other services for health care.

Working together, they connect seniors to needed health services and reduce 9-1-1 calls for medical help. As a community, Scottsdale citizens demonstrate their generosity by donating time and money to support those in need, including our senior population.

Kathy Littlefield

Kathy Littlefield

•Socioeconomic inequalities are all around us and Scottsdale is no exception, but many would be hard-pressed to believe about 8 percent of the city’s population lives beneath the poverty line. If you are elected to City Council, what role do you think the municipality should play in helping the less-fortunate?

The city of Scottsdale is active in providing services to the citizens of Scottsdale and nearby areas. Our social services department works extremely hard to acquire HUD housing vouchers, available food and clothing outlets, and gasoline and transportation coupons to all families who are in need of assistance. During the four years I’ve been on council, I have worked with staff in this area, and I have been very impressed by how dedicated and capable our Scottsdale employees are.

Scottsdale residents also support financially a great many organizations in Scottsdale through the voluntary Scottsdale Cares donations by our citizens in their water bills. There is always more that could be done, of course. One course of action I would like discuss is increasing the voluntary amount people can pay into Scottsdale Cares. Funding for these charities is always a limiting factor.
Increasing the maximum people can donate from $1 per month to perhaps $5 per month might allow us to help a great many more people who struggle to make ends meet.

•If you are elected, is helping the disenfranchised something that will matter to you?
Yes, this has always mattered to me.

One of the first projects I tackled after election to Council was to assist the residents in a very old trailer park in Southern Scottsdale. The park was sold to a developer. He originally told the park residents they had 30 days to clear out. Many had lived there for 50 years, were elderly, and they had no idea of what to do or where to go. My husband and I worked to gain more time, which we did, and I asked for the assistance of the city social services staff. They were amazing; they even came to the park at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning to fill out forms for those who might qualify for a HUD voucher.

Veteran Affairs responded and came in to help with the veterans and spouses of veterans. I worked with Cindy Hill at POSA to organize a fund raising effort to help residents move their trailers or help find new trailers to replace those so old they could no longer be moved. We raised many thousands of dollars for this fund from many groups throughout Scottsdale, proving once again that Scottsdale citizens are truly a very caring and giving group of people. It took a long time, but we ended up finding a home for every resident who needed help.

•As real estate values soar in Old Town and southern Scottsdale areas, how do you think the city of Scottsdale can help the aging population of established homeowners find equitable housing and healthcare options?

In spite of our success in finding homes for these Scottsdale residents, the experience brought home to me several truths. While we may have many critical services available to the poor in our community, we do not have an adequate inventory of low-cost homes. Those we do have can be bought and bulldozed down and there is no requirement that they be replaced. We will always have those in our city that are in need of this kind of housing.

I would like to see some serious discussions on what the city can do to address this issue. Perhaps one such discussion could center on a requirement that developers help fund replacement housing for any such low-cost residential housing torn down for redevelopment.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.