BY HOWARD MYERS | OCTOBER 16, 2013
Bond Vote – On November 5th, you be voting on either 4 or 5 bond questions in November, depending on where you live in the city. The 5th question has to do with water service in a small area of the city so it is unlikely you will see that one. The other 4 each have 5 to 14 specific projects lumped together as one question. There are questions for “Library and Community Services”, “Public Safety”, “Neighborhood Flood Control”, and “Transportation, Streets, and Trails”. As usual, the council combined projects unlikely to get public support with some that the public will probably want in a single question, to entice you to vote for all the projects. Questions you may have.
1. Are these projects needed? Projects fall in to three categories, capital improvements, maintenance (mostly of infrastructure), and extra projects that go beyond what the city would normally provide. The maintenance is definitely needed, though it shouldn’t be funded in this way. Some of the capital projects are definitely needed while others are not. The extra projects are generally things people want to maintain or improve quality of life. Infrastructure has degraded or needs to be upgraded and new facilities are needed to keep pace with the population growth, however a lot of them should have been funded through the city’s yearly income, not as special bond projects. See the discussion below and the attached summary.
2. Should you vote for some or all of them? The answer to that is not so easy as there is good and bad in each and every question, so it starts to become a matter of personal preference, however there are also other issues you may want to consider that are described below.
I have attached a summary of what projects are in each question, plus an estimate of the type of project each one is, “CapImp” for capital improvement projects that should have been funded by the CIP fund, “Maint” for a project that is involved with maintaining or upgrading infrastructure, or “Xtra” which is a project that goes beyond what a city would normally be responsible for supplying, like trails, scenic corridors, libraries. I have also attached the detailed descriptions for each project so you can have a better idea of what they are supposed to do.
The main issue is that most of these projects should have been covered by yearly contributions from the General Fund into the Capital Improvements Projects (CIP) fund or other funds for maintenance of infrastructure. In the past, the city used to put some of its yearly income into these funds for use in the future, however in the past 8 or so years, the city has had budget problems because expenses were exceeding income. While the recession had something to do with that, the big issue is that development does not pay for itself so as we grew, our deficit also grew. In the past, the positive income from tourism made up for any loss caused by growth, allowing the city to not only balance the budget, but put money aside into funds to pay for long term projects, infrastructure repair, and other projects that are mostly required to support the growth we have seen. However, at some point the excess income from tourism was not enough to compensate for the increase in expenses caused by all the development we have had so the city now finds itself in the position of not having funds for necessary projects and even salaries for employees, so most of these bond projects are to get money to do projects that have become a necessity to support the growth this and other city councils have allowed.
The quandary we have is that if we vote for the bonds, to fund some needed projects, we are essentially sending the city council a message that it is acceptable to continue to approve projects that will negatively impact the city financially. Unfortunately the city is currently in a situation where its budget is not sustainable and that has to be fixed. Passing these bonds may provide some short term relief but will only make the city less sustainable financially in the future, because the major issues that impact its income and expense aren’t understood and controlled. If the bond questions are turned down, the city council will be forced to take a hard look at the city’s income and expenses and how the projects they approve impact our expense to income ratio. The city is not sustainable if our expenses, which include any money necessary to fund capital projects and infrastructure improvements or repairs, exceed our income. This city council thinks the way out is to just ask the voters to fund bonds to provide necessary income while they continue to blindly approve projects that will negatively impact the city. No matter what you call it, you are being asked to increase your taxes and that will not stop until these issues are addressed. There are already more projects, that are not on the list for this election, waiting in the wings. Unless we control the growth of our expenses, that result from increasing our population, our taxes will have to continue to go up. As you know, this council is on a mission to approve as many apartment and high density housing projects as it can without any regard to what it is doing to the city’s finances and therefore the city’s sustainability and your future taxes.
So the decision is yours, and I’m sure you will hear plenty from the two organizations that were formed to push the bonds. You can check them out at http://preservescottsdalesfuture.com/ andhttp://www.saaronline.com/news/2013/08/09/saar-supports-scottsdales-2013-bond-election . Keep Scottsdale Special is opposing the bonds and you can check out their arguments at: http://www.keepscottsdalespecial.org/. You can also find more information at http://www.scottsdaletrails.com/bonds/ , the John Washington site, which contains some questions and links to other information.
For me, this bond package contains much more than just “needs” and passing it will perpetuate the problems that caused the city to have to raise money in this way to fund needed maintenance and capital projects. But the flip side is that it does contain some much needed projects.
It might also be helpful for you to have an opinion, from a citizen who served on the 2012 citizen bond task force. The 2012 bond task force came out with a much cheaper list of projects that were all deemed to be really necessary. That task force was disbanded and a new one was formed for 2013 that contained more growth advocates. The 2013 task force came out with a much more expensive bond package. The quote below is from Copper Phillips who was a member of the 2012 bond task force, and who also ran for city council in the last election.
“I was on the 2011-12 Bond Task Force. We recommended that only repair and maintenance projects go forward to a Bond Election in 2013. However, just 4 months after that recommendation was made, the Council instead created yet another Bond Task Force to expand the list of projects. The new list included many projects rejected by the first Task Force as not meeting the criteria as necessary to protect City assets, but to increase them. I have forwarded this information to you as you are a Scottsdale resident and deserve to have accurate information on issues that affect your taxes. … Regardless of how you feel about the Bond, you need to hear both sides of the argument, get ALL the facts and then make a decision based on those facts.”
Hope all this helps you in your decision to support or not the bonds the city is asking for.