Tea Party of Scottsdale, AZ
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City of Scottsdale - Bond Issue & Taxes, by Bob Littlefield

Bob_Littlefield.jpgIt’s that time of year again, tax time! I don’t mean when we prepare our income tax returns, although it is that. I mean it is the time of year in Arizona when state and local governments prepare their budgets and look for ways to increase your taxes. Because I was on the Scottsdale City Council for 12+ years I am going to focus on the current tax issues facing Scottsdale city government.

I believe that most Arizonans are willing to pay their fair share of taxes to fund critical government services. But they don’t want their tax dollars wasted on special interest handouts, and they don’t want to fund government functions that are not necessary. And, of course, they want what government functions they do fund conducted as efficiently as possible.

In Scottsdale we have problems in all three of these areas. The defeated 2013 bond packages contained projects for flood control to benefit developers and a parking garage to benefit bar owners. We give $4.5M/year of your tax dollars to 

a private special interest, the Cultural Council, to fund a theater and a museum of contemporary art that few residents attend.

And there are certainly plenty of examples of how the city could be more efficient. At a City Council meeting last year the Transportation Director described how he handled one project he had expected would be funded by the 2013 bonds. His staff re-evaluated the project in-house, developed a solution that was better than what the consultant had proposed, and actually cost less money! Of course, this begs the question: why wasn’t this kind of vetting done on the bond projects before citizens were asked to reach into their pockets for more money?

That is why I am very wary of the proposed bond package that some Councilmembers want to put on the ballot this fall or next. The city does have legitimate needs that are best funded by bonds. But before I would support any bond package, it must meet the following criteria:

  1. It must be lean and contain only the highest priority projects – no fluff, and certainly no taxpayer giveaways to favored special interests;
  2. It must be line item so voters can pick and choose which projects they are willing to increase their property taxes to fund. The excuse that “we don’t want to make the ballot too crowded” is an insult to the intelligence of Scottsdale voters. They will make the effort to study the proposals they are being asked to approve.
  3. It must be absolutely transparent. Many voters were turned off on the 2013 bonds when the City Council reserved for themselves the power to move bond money around between projects. The voters did not believe that the projects they wanted would actually be built, or feared that those they did not care about or want would be built first. They resented what they saw as an attitude on the part of some Councilmembers that voters should just pass the bonds and then get out of the way.
  4. Most importantly, the Scottsdale City Council must do more to cut general fund spending and not try to use bond money to cover their lack of fiscal responsibility. I certainly won’t support a bond package that will end up being a piggy-bank of free money for the City Council majority to spend as they wish so they can avoid making hard choices at budget time.

While the proposed bond package is the biggest (dollar-wise) tax issue facing Scottsdale this season, it is certainly not the only one. The idea of repealing the tax on food for home consumption his resurfaced. The state government is threatening to lower the city’s revenue from construction and rental sales taxes. And the issue of fees for certain city services (which are really taxes in disguise) is up for discussion. All of these contribute to your total tax burden, so you need to keep an eye on what the City Council decides about them. In next week’s article I will talk about what Scottsdale city government is considering doing about these issues.

Bob Littlefield is a former Scottsdale City Councilman.  He can be reached by email at bob@boblittlefield.com.

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City of Scottsdale - What's Up? by Bob Littlefield
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City of Scottsdale - What's Up? by Bob Littlefield
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