Scottsdale’s fiscal year ended June 30, so again I’ll report on Council decisions over the past year that affect you and your city’s livability. Let me begin by introducing our new City Manager – Mr. Jim Thompson – hired January 1. If you have a chance to deal with him, you’ll find he is an engaging listener and a creative problem solver. Now to other Council business…
Council adopted a Balanced Budget for next year…that’s good! Unfortunately, the Budget isn’t sustainable and hasn’t been for several years. That’s because the money we budget for capital improvements is woefully short of the amount needed. For the fourth year in a row, your city’s net depreciable assets declined. In the private sector, that’s called business liquidation.
Speaking of capital projects, readers will remember that last year Council authorized a Desert Discovery Center study to answer questions that have haunted this idea for years. The study results will be available this fall, but ahead of its release, Council has dealt with citizen petitions, lawsuits and heated debate from a deeply divided community. Ultimately, the open issues may only be resolved with a public vote.
The future face of housing has a lot to do with the livability of your community. Most residents express dismay with the density and congestion of several new apartment projects approved in prior years…ones like the massive complex north of Costco or the block-buster buildings on Scottsdale Road, south of Osborn. Last year a narrow Council majority approved another major development called “District at the Quarter” with 622 apartments on just 10 acres. This project will be one of the densest housing developments ever approved in the city.
Another issue that’s always a public concern is taxes. I’m still arguing to get rid of the city’s sales tax on food, mindful this tax costs every Scottsdale citizen about $50 a year ($200 every year for a family of four!) Citizens least able to pay are hit hardest. You’ll remember the small step we took two years ago when food tax revenues were phased out of the General Fund and put into the capital program. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t give citizens the tax break they deserve. So, we’ll keep working on this.
The Arizona Legislature eliminated the sales tax on fine arts at the state level, realizing it was a disincentive for tourists to visit and patronize fine art venues. At my urging, Council directed staff to pursue elimination of the city’s tax on fine arts as well. Doing so will require various approvals, so it’s going to take time.
We have resumed the state-allowed 2% annual property tax increase. Council has waived this tax since the 2008 recession. The primary beneficiaries of the waiver have been businesses, high-value property owners and out-of-state investors, so I argued it was time (past time!) to stop this waiver.
Most often, the City has no say over a Charter school’s plans, but one plan this year proposed a partnership with the city to put a charter school’s sports and recreation facilities on a DC Ranch designated park. This we do (and will) have a say about!
We lost further ground on restricting the proliferation of downtown bars. In one case, a bar district business was given permission to change their license from a series 12 (restaurant with alcohol) to a series 6 (bar only.) The applicant argued for the change “…so as not to worry about the 60/40 alcohol to food ratio of the series 12 license.” I think I know where this is headed!
One serious responsibility of your Council is to stay on top of threats to public health and safety. At my urging, Council heard a report on our preparedness to deal with a ZIKA virus and, later, how well we’re dealing with the Opioid drug problem. Following Governor Ducey’s declaration of a state-wide opioid Medical State of Emergency, this latter issue has taken on renewed urgency. In addition, regulations of medical marijuana in our community and sober homes in our neighborhoods are still deserving (and getting) our attention.
It’s often said local government actions affect your lives more than what happens at the State or National level. I think you can appreciate the issues we wrestled with really do matter to you, your family and your neighbors! That’s why many of you emailed me last year about these and other local issues.
I have been honored to represent your interests and tried to protect your economic and emotional investments in this great city. I welcome hearing from you in the future.