A Scottsdale bond election is one step closer to becoming a reality and all signs point to a package in the $350 million range.
City Council’s Capital Improvement Plan Subcommittee on March 18 unanimously voted to recommend calling a 2019 bond election “at the earliest opportunity.”
Next, the full council will discuss which projects to include and how to group them on March 26 and likely finalize those selections April 2.
If all goes according to plan, the City Council will call on April 16 for a November bond election.
The subcommittee members – Councilmembers Guy Phillips, Suzanne Klapp and Kathy Littlefield – seemed generally in favor of 59 projects proposed by city staff totaling $349,131,858.
If a $350-million bond package is passed by voters, Scottsdale residents would not pay more secondary property tax than they pay today because existing debt from previous bonds is due to retire soon, according to city projections.
The projection shows that the affected tax rate would drop from $0.5705 in 2019 to $0.5159 next year. The rate would continue to gradually drop, reaching $0.0555 in 2030, assuming the city assumes no new bond debt before that date.
A city estimate showed that a homeowner in Scottsdale with a $300,000 home currently pays a little over $170 per year in secondary property tax, which is used to service existing debt.
A slight bump from about $165 to $170 occurs between year two and year three under the new bond when the city takes on its first debt associated with it, but the overall trend shows the burden reaching about $110 annually by year 15.
Staff developed its list of recommended projects using feedback culled from residents who attended six open houses or responded via the city’s website.
According to the city, 211 people attended the open houses and 5,285 users visited the dedicated page on the city’s website.
The city received 975 public comments and 4,211 total responses and of the 59 projects proposed by staff, 58 were marked as “this project should be a priority” by at least 50 percent of respondents.
Eleven police and/or fire projects were deemed priorities by at least 80 percent of respondents.
Respondents did not shy away from big-ticket items either.
Several of the highest-rated projects included a new fire station near Hayden and Loop 101 ($10.5 million), Civic Center renovation ($27.3 million), repairs to the lakes at Vista del Camino Park ($23.5 million) and a new building and swimming pools at Cactus Pool ($32.2 million).
The only project that did not reach the 50 percent priority threshold is a proposed sports field and parking project near WestWorld that would cost approximately $47 million.
That money would fund the upgrade or new construction of soccer/football fields at three locations in the Airpark area. The fields would be fortified so they could double as parking on limited occasions to support major special events such as the Barrett-Jackson automobile auction.
The three projects could provide as many as 8,800 parking spaces for special events. They would also include upgrading the fields at McDowell Mountain Ranch and up to 13 new fields at two sites at McDowell Mountain Ranch Road and Thompson Peak Parkway and Bell Road and 94th Street.
Though only 33 percent of respondents indicated the project was a priority, city staff consider the project necessary because the Arizona state trust land currently used for parking for special events is likely to be sold off for development in the future.
Kroy Ekblaw, Scottsdale’s Preserve director, said the city typically uses about 150 acres of trust land for parking for major events and 50 acres of that area has already been sold off. He anticipated developer interest in the remaining land will grow over the next two years.
City staff suggested two potential bond packages to the subcommittee. While they both total nearly $350 million, one option included all projects in one question while the other separated projects into three separate questions under the categories “Quality of Life,” “Community Wellbeing” and “Cultural Facilities.”
Both Klapp and Littlefield supported breaking the bond ballot into multiple questions while Phillips said he was leaning toward one question.
Phillips said the history of the bonds in Scottsdale – a major bond package has not been passed in its entirety in nearly 20 years – made it important to pass all proposed projects and he did not want to see one question approved and another fail at the polls.
He said he thought residents would support one $350-million bond every 20 years.
The last time the city passed this level of bond funding was in September 2000, when voters approved $358 million.
Littlefield also cited the city’s bond history in defending breaking the package up into as many as five questions.
She noted that during that successful election in 2000 the bond ask was broken up into nine questions. Voters approved six.
Both Klapp and Littlefield also wanted to tweak the categories suggested by staff.
Calling the “Quality of Life” term “nebulous,” Klapp suggested changing it to Neighborhood Enhancements, which would include projects like a new park at Ashler Hills Drive and 74th Way, upgrades at Cactus Pool and an expansion at Granite Reef Senior Center to include an adult daycare center.
Klapp also suggested naming the other categories “Cultural Facilities Preservation” and “Community Safety and Wellbeing” to more accurately reflect the inclusion of public safety projects that received much community support at the open houses.
Littlefield said she would like to see traditional terms that voters are used to – like “Public Safety” and “Parks and Recreation.”
Littlefield thought the suggested categories were the result of combining popular projects with less popular projects “just to get things passed.”
“Our citizens will see through that; They are not dumb,” Littlefield said.