The Independent examines Scottsdale bond package: Question 2

The projects within Question No. 2 of the 2015 Scottsdale bond program primarily consists of road, intersection, and pedestrian transportation projects. (File photo)

The projects within Question No. 2 of the 2015 Scottsdale bond program primarily consists of road, intersection, and pedestrian transportation projects. (File photo)

Scottsdale voters will be asked this fall to approve a $95.9 million bond proposal the majority of Scottsdale City Council say is necessary to maintain and repair public infrastructure.

The Scottsdale Independent, through a six-part series, is providing readers with a breakdown, explanation and commentary on each bond question and its projects each week leading up to the November election.

Question No. 2 of the Nov. 3 bond proposal totals $16.54 million and is primarily focused on what city officials consider “Transportation.” There are five projects within the question:

  • Improvements to the intersection of Hayden and Chaparral roads. City officials say this project will cost $2.5 million and include the lengthening of the northbound right-turn lane to improve safety, increase the intersection’s capacity and enhance access between downtown Scottsdale and Loop 101.
  • The widening of Happy Valley Road from Pima Road to Alma School Road. City officials say while this project has a total price tag of $16.1 million the project is eligible for regional funding leaving a $4.8 million cost to the municipality.
  • Improvements to the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Goldwater Boulevard. City officials say this project costs $2.1 million and includes sidewalk and intersection improvements.
  • The improvement and repair of sidewalks in downtown Scottsdale. City officials say this project will cost $4 million and involves rebuilding missing sidewalk segments and improving sidewalks in the general area bounded by Goldwater Boulevard, Camelback Road, Drinkwater Boulevard and Earl Drive.
  • The addition of bike lanes along McDowell Road. City officials say this project will cost $3.1 million and includes adding bike lanes along McDowell Road from 64th Street to Scottsdale Road and from Hayden Road to Granite Reef Road.

The Scottsdale Independent is sponsoring two debates on the bond pitch in partnership with community organizer Fran Droll and two local churches.

The forums will be held at the following locations:

  • From 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1 at Scottsdale Bible Church, 7601 E. Shea Blvd.
  • From 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 3 at North Scottsdale Christian Church, 28700 N. Pima Road.

The event will feature opening statements of both pro and con arguments, a debate between Scottsdale Vice Mayor Linda Milhaven and Councilman Guy Phillips on the merits of the bond program, and a question-and-answer segment.

The proposed bond would cost homeowners 11.5 cents per $100 of net assessed valuation used for secondary property tax purposes.

According to the city, an average Scottsdale homeowner living in a home valued at $370,000 would pay an additional $3.50 per month if the bond is approved.

The six proposed bonds to be voted on in November include:

  • Parks and community facilities — $31,900,000.
  • Transportation — $16,540,000.
  • Citywide technology — $6,870,000.
  • Street pavement replacement — $12,500,000.
  • Public safety-fire — $16,350,000.
  • Public safety-police — $11,800,000.

The city of Scottsdale today carries $619 million in outstanding general obligation bonds, of which $331 million is supported by preserve sales taxes and $288 million supported by property taxes, Independent archives state. The city has about $3.5 billion in assets.

Does the good outweigh the bad?

Joanne “Copper” Phillips, who served on the now-disbanded Scottsdale bond task force, says the majority of the projects in Question No. 2 involve new construction while maintenance items are the result of a lack of capital improvement funding experienced during the Great Recession.

Joanne Phillips

Joanne Phillips

“Most of the items in this question are new construction, and not maintenance,” she said in a Sept. 22 written response to e-mailed questions.

“The sidewalk repair should have been managed from the maintenance and operating budget. However, capital improvement budgets were unfunded for several years during the Great Recession as sales tax revenue dropped. Should the council have prioritized such works? Probably so, but the fact of the matter is that they did not, and the then-city manager did not prioritize it either.”

While Ms. Copper says the projects are worthy of a bond proposal she acknowledges bad planning has created the amount of need now present on local streets.

“Bad planning? In my opinion, yes. But we either admire the problem or get over it, make the repairs, and plan better for future M & O funds for capital improvements,” she said.

Ms. Phillips says she believes some of these projects are the result of recent development cases passing through municipal hallways.

“Two items of the bond are the direct result of council-approved high density developments,” she said. “In the north, the Sereno Canyon Resort Community caused the need for road widening of Happy Valley and in the south, a slew of high rise, multifamily complexes has overloaded the Highland intersection.”

Ms. Phillips points out the 2014 citizen-run bond task force made attempts to consider the resulting impact of now forthcoming development.

“The real question is why weren’t the respective developers made to pay for this impact and cost?” she asked. “Surely, city planners considered traffic volume and impact in these areas when negotiating and approving these projects with the developer? Improving these intersections at taxpayer expense may not resonate well with residents.”

Political posturing aside, Ms. Phillips says the bond is needed and the projects, if approved, will be a positive reflection on the community and a denial at the ballot box will come with consequences.

“Residents need to consider the impact of not completing these projects and any resulting safety and tourism ramifications,” she said. “It would have been easier if residents had a line item vote rather than a bundled one. I suspect some of these projects have wide support but others may be marginal. Residents need to decide if the good outweighs the bad in each question.”

Same council, different views

Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips is against issuing debt to pay for projects he says should have been paid for through General Fund allocations and responsible fiscal management of councils that came before him.

Guy Phillips

Guy Phillips

“Transportation is the biggest boondoggle in the city,” he said in a Sept. 22 written response to e-mailed questions. “They always have money for expensive projects like double-lane roundabouts and never enough to fix resident complaints. I’m sure with careful scrutiny of the transportation budget and reallocation of funds from social experiments to honest work projects there would be no need for any of these projects to ‘require’ a bond.”

Scottsdale residents just need to look around them to see the true priorities of established city government, Councilman Phillips claims.

“Just look at all the brand new city vehicles and employee raises and you will see where city priorities lie,” he said.

Councilman Phillips says these projects should not be a part of a bond package.

“Some of the project should have been paid for by developers — the Highland Avenue intersection — and aren’t even necessary or wanted, bike lanes,” he said.

A lack of an infrastructure capital improvement program points to bad government, Councilman Phillips contends.

“Probably not, which shows how contrived they really are,” he said in response to being asked if any of these projects were apart of a capital improvement program. “Made up ‘feel good’ projects who’s real intent is to free up General Fund money for special-interest projects like the $80 million desert discovery center.”

Councilman Phillips calls the bike lane proposals “a social experiment” meant to reduce traffic.

“It’s a social experiment being pushed by certain council and staff liberals who’s ultimate goal is to reduce traffic lanes to allow room for Light Rail down McDowell Road — this is the same reason they are touting reducing Scottsdale Road downtown to two lanes as well.”

Scottsdale residents need to understand that careful planning could have and should have addressed the majority of projects within Question No. 2 of the November bond proposal, Councilman Phillips contends.

“Your city government will never be fiscally responsible if residents inadvertently enable them by volunteering/voting to raise their own taxes,” he said. “Careful planning and responsible leadership is all Scottsdale needs to keep our city well maintained and special.”

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte says the improvement of roads and pedestrian experiences is a constant endeavor.

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

“As a community we must continue to improve our roadways and pedestrian experiences given that our transportation options consist of personal vehicles or a less-than-desirable bus system,” she said in a Sept. 23 written response to e-mailed questions. “Our residents, workforce and visitors depend on an efficient roadway system and a solid transportation system, and is critical to the economic sustainability of our city.”

Dollars in municipal coffers do not cover the cost of the proposed projects in Question No. 2 of the November bond proposal.

“Annual revenues for street construction and maintenance total approximately $35 million,” she pointed out. “The sources of these funds are the city’s 1 percent privilege sales tax, Highway Users Revenue Fund and other sources. These funds do not meet the needs of maintaining and expanding our roadways and bus services.

Transportation is the fundamental infrastructure of a community and critical to its economic sustainability.”

Adding bike lines will create connectivity throughout the community for multi-modal transportation and aligns with the city council’s No. 1 priority, Councilwoman Korte contends.

“The city council identified the McDowell Road Corridor as the first priority in its five year strategic plan,” she said. “Increased housing options, expansion of SkySong, public and private schools and several large activity centers have contributed to increased pedestrian and bicycle use. Continuous bike lanes would improve the safety of bicyclists on this corridor and create an important link between the Indian Bend Wash and Papago Park.”

As population grows and needs change, Councilwoman Korte says the municipality has to be ready to react to those changing conditions.

“The five projects for road and pedestrian improvements will improve the ever-increasing transportation needs of our city,” she said. “They will create safer intersections, improve pedestrian experiences in our downtown, link recreational opportunities and increase traffic flow, reducing traffic congestion and pollution.”

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

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