Scottsdale GO bond debate to reach likely conclusion Tuesday, May 1

The center of 68th Street Bridge in Scottsdale has been deemed unsafe by transportation officials. The two inside lanes of traffic have been restricted. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

By the end of Tuesday, May 1, Scottsdale residents should know one way or another how elected leaders plan on paying for crumbling infrastructure citywide and the true potential of issuing a November 2018 general obligation ballot question.

Scottsdale City Council Tuesday, April 17 hosted a special meeting where elected leaders agreed to:

  • Host a discussion Tuesday, May 1 on the deferment of a possible $350 million general obligation bond election until calendar year 2020 and a possible action for an increase of .15 percent to the municipal sales tax for transportation project needs; and
  • Host a discussion during the same meeting on the possibility of a 2018 November general obligation bond program.

Both measures passed by a 4 to 3 margin at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

The first measure, which speaks to a hybrid approach to infrastructure maintenance needs, was approved by Scottsdale councilmembers Guy Phillips, Kathy Littlefield, Jim Lane and Suzanne Klapp.

Guy Phillips

The second measure, which appears to seek an up-or-down vote on the prospect of issuing a 2018 general obligation bond program, was approved by Scottsdale city councilmembers Virginia Korte, Linda Milhaven, David Smith and Mr. Lane.

A political line in the sand appears to have sprouted at Scottsdale City Council.

“The idea to put transportation on the sales tax came when I talked to the city manager a while ago and he told me if we don’t raise $70 million we will lose out on the $240 million from the Prop. 400 funds from the state,”

Mr. Phillips said after the April 17 special meeting.

“Also, when I went through the capital projects subcommittee it occurred to me that half the projects were transportation related, so I surmised that if we put transportation on the sales tax it would free up $70 million of capital projects we could do and at the same time leverage the $240 million from the state. Its a win-win.”

Mr. Phillips is no fan of debt — general obligation or otherwise — but says he now believes some projects need the bond funding mechanism.

“If voters approve this .15 (percent) or so sales tax for transportation only, then I feel we can go ahead with a GO bond in two years with real capital projects that citizens will vote for,” he said of the logic.

Mr. Smith, a public proponent of 2018 GO bond issuance, says he believes he was elected to provide the best possible plan of action for all things Scottsdale, including fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers.

He says bond issuance is the most transparent and cost-effective approach to curing failing infrastructure.

“I think there was a misunderstanding and some political posturing,” Mr. Smith said of the April 17 special meeting. “That is unfortunate because the issue is bigger than the politics of this year, but it didn’t matter. I don’t think collectively the council has the courage to deliver the message they need to — some might call that leadership.”

Mr. Smith is adamant municipal infrastructure is crumbling and an immediate bond issuance is paramount.

“Somebody has to rise above that and say, ‘I hear you, but this is the best way forward,’” he explained of his steadfast position. “We just didn’t have enough people with courage who wanted to take on that marketing challenge. That is what I would wanted to do is bring to the voters a bond package that I believe is worth supporting.”

Kathy Littlefield

The Littlefield lecture

Following staff presentations and initial council deliberations, Ms. Littlefield asked to share her thoughts. While her speech was eloquent, soft-spoken and otherwise pleasant, the No. 1 point of her April 17 soliloquy? Trust.

“When I spoke it caused an uproar because they weren’t actually hearing what I said,” she said. “And, I think they didn’t really want to listen to what I had to say nor wanted to understand what I said. And, that is a shame.”

Ms. Littlefield explained her perception and experiences with talking with constituents over the past few months. She says nearly everyone has expressed a sense of distrust.

“What I said was, I was opposed to the idea of putting all of the $350 million on a single bond question,” she said. “Not dividing out by police and fire like we usually do. Just having a single question is a recipe for this to fail.”

Ms. Littlefield says Scottsdale has been enthralled by the current and ongoing debate on whether or not a desert-appreciation and research center ought to be constructed within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

“In the last two bond questions we had 11 different items and only two of them were approved,” she said. “There is a huge disconnect between what we are seeking and what our residents want to receive.”

Proponents of the Desert EDGE say the Preserve itself is not enough for visitors to appreciate the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, while detractors say the proposed facility is nothing more than a pet project for a handful of the community’s elite.

“They (residents) are telling me they would vote against these new bonds because they don’t believe we would spend it wisely,” Ms. Littlefield said. “I believe the lack of transparency that this kind of a question would have could be a major reason for this bond to fail.”

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

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