Two Scottsdale councilwomen have moved to slow down the process to call a bond election so that city staff can hold more public outreach on which projects voters might support this fall.
The list of projects being considered includes several that could significantly alter city amenities and public spaces – including a $27-million overhaul to Civic Center Plaza.
At a meeting of the City Council’s Capital Improvement Plan Subcommittee last week, Scottsdale Arts CEO Gerd Wuestemann presented a plan to turn the Civic Center Plaza into a premier public park capable of hosting major events.
Wuestemann said that if the city can get the project up and running by Fall 2022, it would give Scottsdale the opportunity to host the Super Bowl Fan Zone.
Consultants visited Scottsdale over the summer to begin devising plans for the site – which Wuestemann said could become an “iconic amphitheater” that hosts “symphonies to family friendly events to Shakespeare in the Park.”
Wuestemann said the project is a way for Scottsdale to reinvest in its identity as a cultural hub in the Valley as other cities like Mesa and Phoenix continue to invest in their own cultural projects.
The project would cost the city $27.3 million, according to subcommittee documents. Wuestemann said that Scottsdale Arts fundraising staff could also help raise money for the project.
The subcommittee voted to give residents the opportunity to weigh in on Civic Center plan and other projects.
At the Jan. 31 meeting, the subcommittee voted 2-1 to direct city staff to conduct four to six public meetings.
“I have no idea why anyone would say yes (to a bond) if we don’t ask them,” said Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield, who proposed the measure. She said the political climate is bad in Scottsdale and the city needs to open up dialogue with residents in order to form trust.
Littlefield and Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp voted to approve the motion.
Vice Mayor and Subcommittee Chair Guy Phillips voted against Littlefield’s plan and expressed concern that slowing down the process would affect the council’s ability to call a bond election in a timely manner.
Phillips and Klapp had both previously expressed a desire to call an election by April.
At the time, Klapp said that would give the city enough time to communicate the need for the bond to voters.
Phillips also disagreed with a portion of the motion that requires city staff to bring the list of potential bond projects back to the subcommittee for approval after the community meetings before the list goes to the City Council.
“I think the subcommittee is taking control of bond issues that should be the council’s decision,” Phillips said.
With the new direction, the subcommittee did not recommend a specific list of projects, but it did remove some projects from consideration for the time being.
Staff initially presented the subcommittee with a list of 99 unfunded projects at a cost of $529.3 million, but that was pared down to a list that would cost around $300 million.
The subcommittee had previously removed transportation projects from the list due to the passage of a 0.1 percent transportation sales tax in 2018 that will unlock funding for some of the city’s transportation capital projects.
The subcommittee also recommended to remove two projects totaling $8.2 million from the unfunded list and have them funded under the General Fund in the next fiscal year.
Those projects include the replacement and repair of 19 bathrooms at city parks and the first phase of a renovation at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park that includes new bathrooms, expanded parking and renovated buildings.
The panel also recommended removing over 20 storm drainage projects from bond consideration – a move that would significantly decrease a potential bond ask.
The only project that would remain in consideration is a $27-million project to build flood protections in the Reata Wash Flood Plain.
City Manager Jim Thompson said that remaining drainage projects could be funded by a $1 increase in a stormwater fee that is dedicated to stormwater capital projects.
That fee, adopted by the city last year, is currently $2 per utility customer per month. Council would have to approve an increase.
City staff must now prepare a new list based on those council recommendations.
That list will likely carry a cost well below the $450 million bond ask floated at previous subcommittee meetings.
“My quick math has (the project list) at a lot less than $450 million,” City Treasurer Jeff Nichols said.
Klapp said she was more comfortable with a bond in the $300 million range.
“I think we have to consider what (projects) we can actually explain to voters are critical for the City of Scottsdale,” Klapp said.
A $300-million bond would actually result in a property tax decrease from where it stands today, another aspect Klapp supported.
The list could still shrink further as committee members expressed skepticism at multiple other items on the list, including plans to underground utility lines along Scottsdale Road.
Littlefield suggested the city investigate creating a facilities district to fund the $62.6 million needed to underground utility lines, which would put the costs on residents who live in the area versus all homeowners in the city.
Thompson, the city manager, said staff will present the pared down list to the subcommittee at its next meeting in February. If the subcommittee approves the list, it will be presented to citizens at upcoming public outreach meetings.
Thompson said the outreach process will likely take 45 to 60 days, meaning the City Council could still call a bond election by the end of April.