Littlefield: Scottsdale bond package is too big, bloated and undefined

Some of my fellow city councilmembers want to place a single, large $350M bond question on the November ballot. It would be all-or-nothing, citizens would only be able to vote for all of it or none of it.

I am opposed to this idea.

Kathy Littlefield

I have listened to all the comments and testimony claiming the city really needs this bond election, so we can maintain the city and pay for the new infrastructure needed due to the growth, development, and obsolescence we’re experiencing in Scottsdale.

We do have some real needs out there that the city must address. And yet, Scottsdale voters have rejected nine of the 11 bond items put before them over the last five years. Why the disconnect?

As I travel around our city talking to residents they tell me they would vote against new bonds mostly because they do not believe the city would spend those dollars wisely, or in the way they were promised the money would be spent.

And, bond money would enable us to free up other money from other funds which would then become available for some other favored project.

Residents also tell me they don’t think the city needs all the money requested. They understand bundling multiple projects into one giant bond request is a way for the city to leverage real needs to force them into also approving unnecessary projects designed to pad the municipal piggy bank.

I believe a lack of transparency was one of the reasons the last two bond requests fared so poorly; it is even worse this time around.

In the current request package all of the bond projects are lumped together into one massive, all-or-nothing $350M bundle, making this the least transparent bond package offered to citizens in the last 20 years!

I believe that alone is a recipe for a huge defeat at the ballot box. This lack of transparency and choice will doom this bond package should we be foolish enough to refer it to the ballot in its present form.

Another complaint I hear from residents is they don’t want to give this council more money because they don’t like the way we spend the money we already have.

They know that all the development this council has approved over the last few years doesn’t pay for itself. When we vote to cram more people into smaller spaces, the current residents have to pay to upgrade and enlarge the infrastructure to accommodate that growth.

That translates into more police and fire personnel and equipment to keep us safe, wider roads to accommodate more traffic, more water and sewer lines, more trash and garbage pickup, including again more personnel, trucks, etc.

Current residents are being forced to pay for growth they didn’t want in the first place! They don’t like it, and they sure don’t want to tax themselves to pay for it. If they can’t choose what they are willing to pay for, they will pay for none of it.

Citizens were upset with the council’s spending priorities during the last two bond elections. But this time they have an even bigger reason to be upset, the Desert Discovery Center or, as it is now called, the Desert EDGE. And, they are not just upset: they are angry!

There is plenty of evidence Scottsdale voters don’t want this project.

Independent polling and the public testimony before this council over the last two years confirm this fact. Even more telling, Scottsdale citizens have organized and have collected to date over 18,000 signatures from all parts of our city, north, central and south, to refer this issue to the ballot, a feat unprecedented in our city’s history.

This is the real elephant in the room! The resentment and anger that they have regarding the EDGE issue is growing. And this anger is not linear, it pervades throughout all city issues.

Scottsdale citizens don’t want to build the EDGE, and they don’t want to waste millions of general fund dollars every year to subsidize its operating shortfall. I have quite literally heard: “if you have this kind of money to waste, you don’t need more.”

I am convinced Scottsdale voters will not support any new bonds until the Desert EDGE is off the table. That means this bond in whatever form it takes — should wait until at least 2020.

However, there is one pragmatic problem with this. For years Scottsdale citizens have been paying County Prop. 400 taxes — an approved tax by the voters for transportation needs in Maricopa County.

We have paid far more into this fund than we have taken out for our city’s use. We have a huge $70M balance available through 2020 which will pay matching dollars for city projects that meet its criteria.

Unfortunately, those monies will start to leave Scottsdale’s account to be spent in other communities if we do not tap into them by 2020. The current available funding would double our money for transportation and would enable us to catch up on many of our city’s rather urgent needs in this area.

Citizens have already paid the taxes to the Prop. 400 fund and I believe it would be extremely remiss of us not to ask our citizens for the needed matching funds from a temporary sales taxes so we can take advantage of this opportunity.

However, I would also want to insure proper use of the funds by requiring Transportation Commission approval of projects over a certain amount, council approval, and review by the bond commission.

To summarize, I will not support referring the $350M bond package to the voters in its present form. It is too big, too bloated, too undefined, and it lacks any transparency at all.

I would support a small, temporary sales tax to raise about $70M dedicated for transportation needs so we can use the Prop 400 money to double those dollars before those taxes, already paid by Scottsdale citizens, are lost to us.

We could then restructure the remaining bond requests under the various departmental needs and submit a leaner, multiple-question bond — less transportation, of course — to the voters in 2020 for their consideration.

It’s long past time that we re-align ourselves with our citizens, focus on what they see as the needs of our city, and apply ourselves to that task.

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