The Scottsdale City Council crossed a major hurdle in its quest for a bond when it unanimously supported calling for a Nov. 5 election that will ask voters to approve $319-million to fund improvements throughout the city.
But its work is hardly done.
“The next item on the council’s agenda is to approve a special bond election in November for the bonds,” said Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield. “I believe this request for approval will come to council this month.”
Then, council members, and other bond proponents in Scottsdale, will then spend the next seven months reaching out to voters to gather support for the measure.
Though council members cannot advocate for ballot measures with the use public resources, they all are committed to advocating for the bond as private citizens.
“This is about the bond, and we are all committed to working with the public to educate and let them know how important this measure is to the entire city,” Mayor Jim Lane said.
Several members pointed to the unanimous vote to call the election as an important signal to voters that they all back the measure.
“The important thing to note is that it was a unanimous vote to support the projects and $319-million (bond),” Korte said.
In an op-ed submitted to the Progress, Council members Littlefield, Suzanne Klapp and Guy Phillips – who served on the subcommittee that vetted bond projects – committed to advocating for passage of the three bond questions agreed upon by the Council.
The three Council members wrote that they have already started attending community meetings to discuss projects.
“We feel that the most important thing we can do from now until Election Day is educate the public on the projects and why they’re on this list of projects that are necessary now,” Klapp said.
Korte said, “Everywhere I go and everyone I talk to, I make sure they know I support it 100 percent.”
Korte said that bond failures in the past can be connected to Council members who actively worked against them.
Littlefield hedged her bets somewhat and committed to supporting the bond questions as long as they don’t deviate from the size and scope that previously received Council approval.
“Assuming the bond package of three questions for $319M remains as presented and approved by the Council as a whole, I will advocate for the bonds and request citizens to vote for them,” Littlefield said.
Littlefield, Phillips, Klapp, Korte all emphasized the importance of informing residents that passing the bond would not increase their secondary property tax.
According to estimates from the City Treasurer, the annual secondary property tax for a Scottsdale resident – which services bond debt – would not go up if a $350-million bond is passed, because existing debt is being retired as the city assumes the new bond debt.
Those estimates were based on a resident with a $300,000 home.
Councilwoman Solange Whitehead said she will make an effort to assure voters that she plans to use bond money, if approved, in conservative and responsible manner.
“Just because allocate $23 million for x, y or z doesn’t mean we can’t do everything possible to make it cost less,” Whitehead said. “Voters don’t pass tax hikes if they don’t trust city government.”
Council members said they have not seen anything approaching organized opposition to the bond so far.
Lane said that is a credit to the process the city went through to finalize the package.
That process included months of vetting by the subcommittee and a handful of open houses where residents could meet with city staff, learn about projects and provide feedback on their priorities.
“Unlike some previous packages that could correctly be described as driven by politicians this was the result of Scottsdale’s rising citizen engagement. In many ways it is the people’s plan,” wrote Mike Norton and Paula Sturgeon-Mortensen, of the pro-bond For The Best Scottsdale PAC.
Still, some residents were left wondering why the Council did not ask for more money, considering the city’s needs and the ability to ask for as much as $450 million without raising residents’ taxes.
Klapp, who sat on the subcommittee that considered the initial $700+ million list of unfunded projects, said she did not go into the process with a specific dollar amount in mind and was committed to looking at projects in terms of their need and their appeal to citizens.
“So I’m feeling good about the $319 (million) total,” Klapp said. “This is made up of projects that people have said they will support based on the community meetings that we had or that have been identified as high priority community needs.”
“Why go out and ask for $450 (million) just because we can?” Klapp added.
Lane conceded that the Council went with what could be considered a relatively conservative proposal to head off potential opposition to projects that could be considered divisive with residents.
“With an abundance of caution, we didn’t want to face any opposition that we knew about beforehand,” Lane said, noting the removal of $27 million for the Reata Wash Flood Control project that he personally supports.
There have been rumblings of dissent among citizens.
Klapp said every city has to be prepared for a certain amount of baked in opposition whenever the prospect of raising tax rates are involved.
“You have to always consider certain percentage of people who will not approve anything related to taxes,” Klapp said.
She said that is why it is important to continue to educate voters on why each project is important and that the effective tax annual levy on properties will not go up under a new bond as existing debt is retired.
Still, Council is cognizant that the city has not passed a bond package this large in nearly 20 years – and has turned down a dozen questions in the interim.
At the City Council meeting on April 15 when the Council called for the election, both Alexander and resident Betty Janik warned that citizen resentment over unrelated issues such as upzoning could undermine confidence in the council and torpedo the bond.
“People will not view this bond as a standalone topic…this bond proposal will be a reflection of confidence and support for the direction the council is taking the city,” Alexander said. “And right up to Election Day, the campaign to pass the bond will also essentially be a campaign about support for City Council’s decision-making and direction.”
Earlier, Alexander expressed support for the bond and the public outreach process the Council used to determine projects to include.
Still, several Council members seemed to take the statements made at the meeting as threat of a looming fight over the bond.
Councilwoman Linda Milhaven cautioned against “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
Milhaven said “While there may be people in this community who vigorously disagree with me on issues, someone mentioned zoning tonight, I think it does our community an amazing disservice if we make an investment in parks and public safety and senior centers contingent on whether or not we agree on zoning issues.”
Lane, who made similar comments at the Council meeting, told the Progress that Alexander and Janik “pretty much gave us an ultimatum that if we make a decision other than what they would like, they would oppose the bond.”
Recently, an organized effort has emerged to promote the bond in the form of a political action committee.
That committee, called “For the Best Scottsdale – Yes on Questions 1, 2 and 3,” officially submitted its organizing documents and is headed up by residents Mike Norton and Paula Sturgeon-Mortensen.
For those plugged into Scottsdale’s recent political climate, those two may seem like odd bedfellows considering they fell on opposite sides of the contentious McDowell Sonoran Preserve debate that resulted in the passage of Proposition 420 in November 2018.
The pair conceded that point in an op-ed for the Progress, writing “We were on opposite sides of that debate, sometimes taking direct swipes at each other on social media.”
Norton and Sturgeon-Mortensen spun that past negativity into a positive, stating they are putting their differences aside for the good of Scottsdale and that they believe the bond has wide support throughout the city.
Big time Scottsdale public relations consultant Jason Rose, who helped form the PAC, said he could not comment on the makeup of the rest of the PAC’s steering committee before its first meeting on May 8.
But he said it is made up of “diverse and deep members of the community that have come together to support.”
Mayor Jim Lane said it had been indicated to him that sitting City Council members and those planning to run for office in 2020 will not be allowed to serve on the committee.
Lane said he was not a fan of the rule banning Council members from the bond PAC, because “we (on the Council) can probably have the best message as to the process we went through.”
“I would like to be involved on that basis, but I think right now we will be excluded from it,” he added.