Smith: Scottsdale infrastructure needs should supersede political infighting

A fundamental citizen right, guaranteed by Arizona law, is the right to vote on matters of taxation — both sales tax rates and property tax assessments.

David Smith

Citizens will exercise that legal right when they vote on a tax question this fall to fund a few capital projects. I will be voting for this ballot question.

Several tax and bonding questions have been put to voters over the past few years, but the last time citizens voted on and approved a capital bond program in any major amount was September 2000. It was then they approved bonding for $358 million of projects.

Last week, I participated in a public forum to discuss the current capital needs of the city. I surprised several attendees when I said I was sorry citizens were being denied their legal right to vote this year on a larger package of critical capital investments. I explained how that happened:

Early last year a Capital Investment Program Subcommittee of the council was appointed, comprised of Councilmembers Korte, Phillips and myself. After more than a year of work, we concluded the backlog of urgent projects was a little over $800 million.

Although a few of these projects might be funded with tourism bed tax dollars or wastewater surcharges, the bulk of the needs, roughly $650 million, will have to be paid for with new tax authorizations.

The specific recommendation from the CIP subcommittee to the full council was that we ask citizens to approve a $350 million bond package to address our most critical needs — almost half for transportation projects. Of the transportation projects, $71 million qualify for large matching dollars from the County and $102 million do not.

A view of crumbling infrastructure at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. (Submitted photo)

There is consensus among councilmembers the need has reached a critical level. Even without the subcommittee’s recommendation, every councilmember has heard from their constituents about general street deterioration. Many citizens are aware the 68th Street bridge across the canal north of Indian School has been restricted to two lanes because delamination of concrete has created safety concerns.

Fountains in our Civic Center have been turned off because they leak onto Drinkwater Boulevard below. The list goes on.

Initially, there seemed to be majority council support for the subcommittee recommendation; then things went completely off-track. Instead of discussing urgent reinvestment needs, council began discussing what the voters might approve.

“Voters are angry and don’t trust the council!” we were told. If we ask voters to approve a $350 million capital program to arrest the deterioration of their city, they will vote “No.”

In the end, the unidentified “angry and distrusting” citizens effectively vetoed the $350 million question before it ever went to voters. A Council majority decided to ask voters in November to increase our sales tax by roughly $10 million a year for 10 years.

Any vote to address the larger backlog of urgent capital needs was deferred – again.

In my opinion, councilmembers are elected to study the investment needs of the city and share their conclusions. Citizens then have the legal right to decide whether to tax themselves to fund some or all those needs. Is it possible the majority of voters would have approved a $350 million ballot measure to restore and enhance their city’s assets?

Without asking, we’ll never know!

Editor’s note: Mr. Smith is a member of Scottsdale City Council, who is seeking re-election this November

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