Fire Chief Tom Shannon Scottsdale

Fire Chief Tom Shannon, center, explains proposed public safety bond projects to residents Cindy Bagacioglu, right, and Nancy Beeson. 

By Wayne Schutsky, Progress Managing Editor

The City of Scottsdale is in the midst of a public outreach campaign to inform voters about hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded capital needs throughout the city in preparation for a potential bond election in November.

Scottsdale voters have only approved two bond measures since 2010 – $12.5 million for streets and $16.35 million for the fire department – out of 10 total questions presented in elections in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

Council scuttled plans to call for a bond election last year amid concerns that it, too, would not receive voter approval.

The City Council’s Capital Improvement Subcommittee narrowed the list of unfunded projects it is considering for inclusion in the bond to 67 at a total cost of $436.6 million.

Voters can provide their own feedback on those projects and which ones they think should take priority.

They can provide input online at scottsdaleaz.gov/construction/unfunded-cip-projects. The website also features an interactive map and detailed explanations about the projects.

The CIP Subcommittee will use that feedback at its meeting on March 13, 2019, when it makes recommendations to the City Council, which will have to make the final decision on which projects to include if it does call for a bond election.

The city has two additional meetings planned on March 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Scottsdale Airport and March 7 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Granite Reef Senior Center.

The failure of bonds in the past has left a laundry list of needs throughout Scottsdale that span nearly every city department – as evidenced by more than a dozen city staff members present at the public outreach meetings.

Public safety, specifically, has several needs as it looks to maintain services in a growing city, and several residents who attended meetings so far have expressed support for those projects.

Public safety needs great

Both Scottsdale’s Fire and Police Departments have significant unfunded capital needs that need to be addressed, Fire Chief Tom Shannon and Police Chief Alan Rodbell said at a community meeting on Feb. 27 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Despite being one of the few city departments that has received bond funding in recent years, the Fire Department has remaining needs in order to keep response times down in growing areas of the city and address pending retirements.

Fire Chief Shannon said many of those needs are driven by the fact that Scottsdale Fire was started from whole cloth in 2005.

“On July 1, 2005, we imported a whole department overnight,” he said.

That means all the firefighters who began working on that date will be eligible to retire in 2025. Shannon said the department is poised to lose 150 to 160 firefighters in the next five years.

The current list of proposed bond projects includes $18.3 million for a new fire department training facility and $4.2 million to modernize and expand the current police and fire training facility.

Shannon said the department currently does much of its training at one of four regional training centers that it shares with other municipalities and there is not capacity to meet the department’s needs once retirements begin.

“The capacity at the regional facilities is what it is; everyone has retirements,” he said. “When you lose 160 over five years, that is just overwhelming.”

The need is approaching fast.

Shannon said, “If we wait until they are leaving, we are behind the eight-ball.”

Rodbell, the police chief, said his department also has training needs that could be addressed by the bond, including the $4.2 million to modernize the current facility.

Though the Police Department is not facing the same level of impending retirements as Fire, Rodbell said those improvements are important across the board for new officers and veteran officers alike.

Describing the current facility as a collection of “lean-to” sheds and other buildings that have been put in place over time, Rodbell said there is a need to “make a much more dependable space for our training needs.”

“It needs to be more professional and safer,” he said.

Both departments are also in need of a new vehicle training track, which would cost $1.9 million. The current track has been rendered unusable by pot holes and other damage caused by the use by the fire department.

Rodbell said the track was built prior to the creation of Scottsdale Fire Department and was not designed to handle heavy vehicles.

“Our officers spend their whole day in their vehicles, so we want to make sure they are very good at that,” said Rodbell, who called the track improvements “absolutely necessary."

Beyond those training needs, both departments have a need to expand or build new stations throughout the city.

The Fire Department has bond proposals to replace an aging station at 90th Street and Via Linda ($5.9 million) and build a new station near Loop 101 and Hayden ($10.5 million).

Shannon said the department inherited stations from private operator Rural Metro Corp. when it came into existence and those stations were not necessarily designed to meet the needs of the city.

“They were a county-wide operation, so they put stations in based on county needs, not city needs,” Shannon said.

The current Via Linda station is one such station, and Shannon describes it as “essentially a Jiffy Lube.”

He said the Loop 101 and Hayden station is needed to meet growing population in the area and make sure the department can meet its goal of a four to six minute response time.

He said all new are based off of a department masterplan that can be modified based on the needs of the area and growth potential in the community.

Meanwhile, the Police Department is also requesting three new renovations or expansions at Civic Center Jail and Downtown Station and the Via Linda and Foothills Police Stations totaling $30.9 million in order to provide adequate space for current staffing levels.

Rodbell said the Civic Center Jail expansion would allow the city to participate in a program that could save taxpayer money in which individuals can opt to stay in the city jail instead of being transferred to a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department facility.

He said revenues from the program would outweigh the costs to maintain the expanded facility.

Public meetings appreciated

The public meetings have helped residents see that public safety needs within the context of the city’s overall capital needs.

Residents have said they appreciated the format of the meetings, which gave them access to in-depth information about proposed projects.

“So much of the information that tends to flow is distorted,” said Margaret Gallagher, who attended the meeting at Via Linda Senior Center. “This will help get the real information to citizens.”

While residents have expressed support for the public safety projects, they have also shown support for other areas, including improving the city’s technology infrastructure.

Scottsdale Chief Information Officer Brad Hartig said the power systems for city computer systems are at end of life and need to be replaced. He also said the back up power for police communication systems have a seven-year lifespan and are currently in their 10th year.

Resident Janny Jones, who attended the Via Linda meeting, said she supported updating the city’s technology infrastructure.

The current list of potential bond projects also includes a number of parks and recreation and tourism-driven projects, including pedestrian and road improvements downtown, the addition of a much-asked-for dog park at Thompson Peak Park in northern Scottsdale and an expansion of Cactus Pool.

Gallagher, who said public safety issues topped her list, said she also supported some projects downtown like the $27-million Civic Center renovation, renovating a stage at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and improvements along Marshall Way.

“We’re a lovely city and keeping those types of things up to snuff is important,” she said.

Jones said she thinks many of the downtown projects are beautiful, but she has not yet determined where they land on her list of priorities.

Resident Cindy Bagacioglu, who attended the meeting at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts with her mother Nancy Beeson, said she initially attended the meeting because her daughter swims at Cactus Pool.

However, she expressed support for the public safety projects and said all of the projects presented contribute to quality of life in Scottsdale.

“These will keep us moving forward,” she said. “Many of these facilities are 20 or 30 years old and don’t meet our needs anymore.”