Westworld Bond Issue

After reviewing a potential bond package for the first time, the City Council was divided on a number of issues, including whether to include projects that would support tourism-related events at WestWorld.

A potential Scottsdale 2019 bond package has come before the full City Council for the first time and highlighted some divisions among members over how it should be constructed and what projects it should include.

Though there was overall support for a bond package, the council last week was split over whether it should be presented to voters as one, all-inclusive question or divided into three questions.

The total amount went up slightly from the $349.1 million suggested by the council’s capital improvement subcommittee after members unanimously agreed to add a $3-million expansion of Via Linda Senior Center to the list at the behest of Councilmember Virginia Korte.

The potential bond package now includes 60 projects totaling just over $352 million.

That total will likely be presented to voters as one question.

The council voted 4-3 to use one question, with Mayor Jim Lane, Vice Mayor Linda Milhaven and Council members Virginia Korte and Guy Phillips voting for it

That vote, and all others taken at the meeting, were not binding and simply done to give direction to city staff.

Phillips said he favored one question because, through the city’s public outreach, he found most residents he spoke to were in favor of the bond and he did not want to take the chance that voters would approve one question and not another.

“If it looks like everyone is for it and everyone is going to vote for it, why split it up?” Phillips said.

Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield, who supported separating the bond into multiple questions, said she looked at the city’s history to find out how successful bonds had been constructed in the past.

“I think this is very important to the city, but if we don’t do this right, we are going to have another failure,” Littlefield said.

She also suggested the city use traditional categories for each question, including Information Technology, Parks and Recreation and Public Safety, instead of the terms initially suggested by city staff.

“These are categories that people are familiar with; They know what they are when they look at them,” Littlefield said.

Littlefield cited the last major bond approval by voters in 2000 when voters approved six of nine questions, totaling $358.2 million.

Following that approval, Scottsdale residents voted down a one-question $36.6-million bond in 2010, a four-question $212.1-million bond in 2013 and approved just two of six questions in 2015.

The number of questions to include in the package was not the only disagreement.

One point of contention is the proposed Reata Wash floodplain project, which would create a drainage system to protect approximately 4,600 properties in northern Scottsdale in the event of a 100-year flood.

The project, once included within the proposed Desert Greenbelt, will remain for the time being after a motion to remove it brought by Whitehead failed on a 3-4 vote, with Lane, Milhaven, Korte and Phillips voting to keep it.

Littlefield suggested residents in the area could vote to fund it themselves through an improvement district or that it could be included on its own separate, citywide bond question.

Whitehead said she did not feel comfortable including the wash project because she had not seen data to show it is an immediate need or had caused the city significant costs in recent years.

Public Works Executive Director Dan Worth said flooding in the Reata Wash area had caused a handful of issues over the past year that required cleanup by the Streets Department and cost the city about $2,000 to $3,000 per incident.

Whitehead said those costs did not appear significant compared to the public investment, and she feared the inclusion of the expensive project could derail the entire bond.

Scottsdale Floodplain Administrator C. Ashley Couch said the project had significant support at community outreach meetings hosted by the city.

“This is the type of question where we have to rely on data and not citizen input,” Whitehead said.

Couch said an initial cost-benefit analysis showed the city would save $300 million in flood damage avoided and the removal of required flood insurance for property owners in the area.

He said that project benefited the entire city.

In addition to flood damage at homes, Couch said that his department has performed “state-of-the-art” two-dimensional models showing that the Scottsdale Water Campus, which treats 70 percent of the city’s drinking water and 50 percent of the city’s recycled water, would likely be damaged in a 100-year flood.

The council was also divided on a number of projects at WestWorld.

A motion made by Milhaven to remove all WestWorld-related items from the bond failed on a 2-5 vote, and Korte’s motion to add a shade structure at the venue also failed 3-4.

Both Milhaven and Whitehead – the only two to vote for the removal of all WestWorld projects – expressed concern that bond funds, which are backed by secondary property tax dollars, would be used to fund tourism projects.

Another project near WestWorld that divided the council was a proposed sports fields and parking project in the Airpark area.

The $47-million proposal would fund the upgrade and new construction of soccer fields at multiple sites that could double as parking on a limited basis for major events like the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament and the Barrett-Jackson car auction.

City staff has expressed worries that the continuing sale of state trust land in the area, which the city currently uses for parking at the events, could leave the city without enough parking to support the events.

City Manager Jim Thompson said there is uncertainty about when exactly the state land will sell, but the city “could find ourselves challenged” if the land sells quickly.

A motion by Milhaven to reduce funding from $47 million to $20 million to fund work at one site failed 3-4, with Lane, Korte, Littlefield and Phillips voting to keep the original funding.

Littlefield said she supported the project because it provides much needed soccer fields, including all the associated amenities like lighting and restrooms, while taking care of the parking issue at the same time.

“I think it is a great win-win for Scottsdale,” Littlefield said. “We can have the soccer fields that are in high demand that we don’t have enough of for tournament play soccer and we will get the soccer fields that are built in such a way that they won’t be destroyed if you use them for parking.”

Milhaven questioned whether the city should be responsible for building parking for private events, such as the Phoenix Open, which is the largest single PGA golf tournament in the country in terms of attendance.

“Do we really need to support an event where 240,000 people show up (in one day)… I don’t know that as a community we have a responsibility to create infinite parking to support the Open at the level that it is,” Milhaven said, suggesting the events and associated entities like the Scottsdale Thunderbirds should help fund the solution if more parking is needed.

“I think these events need to pay for their own parking,” Milhaven said.

Thompson said the city is in talks with the Thunderbirds to offset the cost of the parking projects, but no deals have been finalized to date.