Smith: more ways than one to vote on the Desert EDGE

At the April 10 Scottsdale City Council meeting, I made a motion for council to discuss and consider seeking voter approval to issue bonds for up to 50 percent of the construction cost of a Desert Discovery Center or Desert EDGE, as it’s now known. No one else on council supported my motion.

David Smith

Don’t get me wrong … as the pragmatic financial member of council, I have many reservations about the DDC/DE as presented. I need to get comfortable with the total construction cost; I need to know how construction could be “staged.”

I need to know where a DDC/DE could be sited to have the best chance of success. I need to better understand the cost and benefit of partnering with ASU. I need to be sure the business plan is reasonable and attainable; and, if the business plan predicts an operating loss, I need to know where the operating subsidy will come from.

With this many open questions, why did I make a motion to seek citizen funding?

Consider this: the only matters a governmental body can “refer” to its voters are (1) legislative acts, (2) City Charter amendments or (3) tax issues.

The DDC/DE is not a legislative act — it’s only a proposal. Furthermore, a specific prohibition against construction of a DDC/DE cannot be drafted into City Charter language. Even the Charter language on the Protect Our Preserve petition being circulated only restricts construction in the Preserve as it says nothing about a DDC/DE that might be built elsewhere in our city.

The only way citizens can vote on a DDC/DE is with their pocketbooks. By saying they approve or refuse to pay for half the construction cost, they could have their voices heard.

Construction of the DDC/DE is estimated to cost $68 million, but we don’t have that kind of money at the city even if we dedicated all the carry-over cash and all the bonding capacity of the Tourism Development Fund.

Cash may accumulate in the Preserve Fund, but it is problematic whether these funds could be dedicated to a DDC/DE without voter approval. Several months ago, I crafted ballot language to ask for voter approval to spend Preserve fund money to partially fund construction of a DDC/DE. My council colleagues did not agree.

It may be premature to put a DDC/DE question on the ballot the way I suggested, but it would have given many voters the opportunity they seek: “a right to vote on the DDC!”

Editor’s note: Mr. Smith is a member of Scottsdale City Council

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