Scottsdale Issues & Experts Forum defines infrastructure costs, plan of action

A photo collage showing Scottsdale councilman David Smith, Vice Mayor Guy Phillips, Scottsdale Independent Managing Editor Terrance Thornton, and Councilwoman Virginia Korte. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

The state of Scottsdale’s infrastructure, funding options and the cache that makes up the West’s Most Western Town were all discussed during a recent Issues and Experts forum.

Moderated by Scottsdale Independent Managing Editor Terrance Thornton, the Issues & Experts forum included three Scottsdale City Councilmembers: David Smith, Guy Phillips and Virginia Korte.

About 50 guests attended the morning event held at Scottsdale Community College, 9000 E. Chaparral Road, on Wednesday, June 20.

The forum was hosted in partnership between Independent Newsmedia, the Scottsdale Coalition of Today and Tomorrow and the Scottsdale Community College.

The forum was anchored by a May Scottsdale City Council vote, where officials will ask residents for a .10 percent increase to a local sales tax to help fund transportation needs. Of discussion at the Issues & Experts event was just how bad of shape some of the city’s infrastructure is, and how tourism plays in to maintaining city needs.

On May 1 — by a 4 to 3 measure — Scottsdale City Council approved a resolution ultimately destined to materialize in a ballot measure where city officials will ask for a .10 percent increase to local sales tax in hopes of raising just over $70 million to help pay for transportation projects.

In all, city officials speculate the sales tax measure, if approved by voters this November, will make the municipality eligible for $171 million in matching funds from Maricopa County to meet the tenants of its arterial life cycle program.

City officials say the sales tax measure will be apart of the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

The May majority vote — with then-Vice Mayor Virginia Korte, and members of council Linda Milhaven and Mr. Smith dissenting — comes on the heels of months-long speculation of if the local governing board is or isn’t going to pursue a $350 million general obligation bond program.

There are 118 Scottsdale infrastructure projects city leaders have identified carrying an estimated cost of $810 million, but elected leaders readily admit municipal needs exceed existing funding sources and mechanisms.

“Our quality infrastructure is what makes Scottsdale great — not only its people and residents, but its infrastructure, our residents, our citizens are used to well-paved roads, intersections that meet traffic and bridges that cross canals and don’t leak,” Ms. Korte said at the onset of the event.

Councilwoman Virginia Korte (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“We’re used to senior centers, we’re used to libraries that meet the needs of our citizens. Infrastructure is an important part of our brand.”

All three councilmembers pointed to the Great Recession as a time when municipal purse strings were tightly drawn. However, it is now time to re-invest in the areas that went unfunded for many years, they say.

The councilmembers say when the recession hit, Scottsdale laid off hundreds of employees and subtracted $50 million from its budget.

“The thing that suffered and the thing we stopped doing was reinvesting in the city,” Mr. Smith said.

“That’s why when our subcommittee looked at the accumulated needs we came up with a mountain of postponed projects — $800 million we have let slide. That’s the order of magnitude of what has to be done.”

From left is Councilman David Smith, Vice Mayor Guy Phillips and Councilwoman Virginia Korte. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Views from the top

The transportation funding measure to be voted on this November will ultimately lend itself to the tourism industry in addition to immediate improvements for residents, Mr. Phillips contends.

“We basically have three major roads and a freeway that goes around the outside of it, we have to look at better wayfaring options, transportation options,” he said.

“I think the Miller Road underpass will be huge for tourism.”

He says with good transportation and road infrastructure, visitors will always have a good experience.

“I think it’s a very exciting prospect coming up, I hope you will too,” Mr. Phillips said of the matching funds project.

With the matching funds from Maricopa County, Scottsdale has 22 road projects up for completion including improvements on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, Raintree Drive, Hayden Road and Shea Boulevard.

“Great things that we really need to get this city rolling with the amount of traffic that we’re seeing nowadays,” Mr. Phillips explained.

Vice Mayor Guy Phillips (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“What I really like about this, if this passes, is these 22 projects that were on the bond list will now be on the sales tax, they’ll now be on our transportation sales tax group. I don’t want to say we don’t have to think about it anymore, but it will be taken care of.”

Mr. Phillips says he’s very excited about the road projects, the matching funds, and he believes it’s the best option for the residents of Scottsdale. Mr. Phillips says he assumes that the closer election date gets, more information will be available on the specific road projects.

“I think it’s going to be exciting — of course no one likes to be on a road that’s being constructed on — but when it’s done, it’s going to be great,” he said.

Mr. Smith says he supports bringing capital into the city to help deal with projects, but he wishes the funding structure was different.

“To impose a sales tax to deal with these particular capital projects is — well frankly, as I said, I thought it was an inappropriate funding mechanism,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith says he wants the business community to contribute to the physical structure of the city.

“They’re going to benefit and there’s no other way we can tax them,” he said.

The councilmembers say they will be voting for the sales tax measure because the needs within Scottsdale need to be met.

Mr. Smith says even if the price tag associated was up to $350 million, he would have voted for it. He conducted a quick poll around the room, where a majority of guests raised their hand showing they would have voted in favor of a large bond package.

“Let me tell you, you have been denied your vote, you have been denied your right to vote to improve your city, your infrastructure, your front yard and you were denied that right because the council, in my judgment, became intimidated by the rhetoric of a few people who said ‘we’re going to fight it if you put it up there,’” Mr. Smith said.

“Of course there’s going to be people who fight it if we put it out there, but since when have we ever let one group of people have a veto right over your right to vote to take care of your city? That’s the part that bothers me is you have been disenfranchised in this process.”
Aging infrastructure points to the need of defining a plan of action, Ms. Korte says.

“Is that a general obligation bond measure every five years? Or every 10 years? What can the community accept and how can we move forward in better planning in our community?” she asked.

“If this sales tax doesn’t pass I believe it’s incumbent upon staff and council to look at the services we provide and cut the cost of services to put back into infrastructure.”

Ms. Korte pointed to annual events like Mighty Mud Mania, special needs services and after-school programs as examples of general funding areas for the city.

“If we do not fund capital projects we’re going to have to look at services and start tightening our belt,” she said.

The No. 1 infrastructure issue for Scottsdale is Scottsdale Stadium, Ms. Korte says, noting that it could cost up to $50 million-$65 million to bring the stadium up to current standards and expectations. “The impact of that is $28 million to Scottsdale alone per year. I can’t imagine what that would do if the Giants decided to move to this land, Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community,” she said.

Mr. Phillips says he can’t pick a No. 1 infrastructure issue.

“I look at it is more as the big ticket items, like I said before, that we’ll never be able to have the money for unless the voters approve a bond,” he said. “The big major items: the Giants, Scottsdale mall, Indian Bend Wash — those things need to be passed by the voters.”

Mr. Smith says his No. 1 need, in a broad sense, is the roads and specifically 68th Street bridge.

“Probably if I were to pick the No. 1 infrastructure need it would be the 68th Street bridge that we’ve all talked about. For all I know it’s collapsed while we were here talking,” he said.

“But in a longer and broader sense I think the infrastructure needs are the ones that will protect our major industry and protect the cache of the city that we all moved here to enjoy.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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