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March vote coming on Scottsdale bond package

Scottsdale City Council is expected to vote this March on whether or not residents will be asked in November to approve a general obligation bond package totaling $239.9 million.

The proverbial nod came at a Feb. 12 joint work session between city council and the 2013 Scottsdale Bond Task Force, formed to help determine the size and scope of the coming bond package.

The bond package includes 45 projects presented in four categories: Parks, libraries and community services, public safety, neighborhood flood control and transportation and streets.

Scottsdale City Council July 2 reinstated the 2013 Scottsdale Bond Task Force -- seven residents tapped to shape and steer what an upcoming municipal bond package might be -- and approved spending $30,000 for city outreach efforts to engage citizen input.

Since that time public input sessions have been held, projects ranked and election questions crafted, city officials say.

“The final goal of this task force was to provide the city-driven bond proposal,” Derek Earl, city engineer, told council at the Feb. 12 work session. “This was literally dozens and dozens of employees working across department lines.”

Municipal debt is created from bonding measures -- both general obligation and revenue -- put to voters for promise of payment, which is then voted on in an open election.

Most bonds are taken into the open market, have some type of maturity of age spanning decades and are accompanied by interest rates ranging from 3 to 7 percent, typically.

When a general obligation bond is levied, homeowners pick up the tab known within civic hallways as debt-service oftentimes through a secondary-property tax.

“It is about investing in our community, Bill Heckman, chairman of the 2013 Scottsdale Bond Task Force, said at the work session. “I believe we have pared it down to essential projects that we need to move forward with.”

Mr. Heckman says the wish list is expansive for a reason.

“The longer we wait, the bigger the list is going to be,” he said in reference to the council’s decision last year to hold off on pursing a bond question last calendar year.

Since July, Scottsdale held 11 community presentations, issued four press releases and launched Speak Up Scottsdale, a moderated online discussion forum where the municipality hosted five topics mirroring the bond discussions, according to Erin Walsh, a spokeswoman for the city.

“We concentrated on the education process,” she said of the outreach efforts.

Once each proposed election question was briefly introduced by city officials, members of the task force touched on the thinking as to why it should appear on the municipal wish list.

“It protects the health and welfare of all residents,” Wayne Ecton, task force member, told council as a note to his perspective on decisions made. “That’s as crucial as if the roof were coming through.”

Mr. Ecton says all projects included are essential.

“All of these are great projects that affect many of our residents,” he said. “Our community will be served by these projects.”

Scottsdale Councilman Bob Littlefield agrees the greater good can be achieved through the proposal, but wants to know how much is too much.

“From a financial prudence point of view, how much borrowing is too much?” he asked of Scottsdale City Tresurer David Smith.

Of which Mr. Smith responded, “That is obviously a very subjective question to answer.”

Mr. Smith says long-term tax burden is taken into consideration when bond packages are devised.

“The way we looked at it is where was the property tax In 10 years? They (the residents) are back to where they are now,” he said.

The proposed bond package if sent to voters, would cost about $32 for every 100,000 in assessed valuation, according to Treasurer Smith.

Scottsdale Councilwoman Linda Millhaven says it’s not about how much is too much -- it’s about how much are residents willing to pony up.

“What kind of community do we want?” she said in response to Councilman Littlefield’s line of questions. “It’s not how much is too much. It’s how much do the residents want and how much are they willing to pay for it.”

City officials point out Scottsdale Unified School District is considering a bond measure of its own this coming November, according to Mr. Earl.

“We’re having discussions if we want to participate with them in gathering that type of data,” he said of a polling effort. “They are looking at what they are going to do ... being in the same sandbox as us, they reached out to us,” he said.

Members of council were not warm to the idea.

“For us to link with SUSD is to rekindle the confusion,” Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte said, referring to the last election cycle where Proposition 204 and local override measures appeared on local ballots.

Scottsdale Vice Mayor Suzanne Klapp says she does not want to enter into the political fray.

“I think it does politicize the process,” she said. “It certainly is not something that I felt the city should get involved in.”

Vice Mayor Klapp also says she is concerned about the size of the proposed bond package.

“I think we need to take that into consideration,” she said of reducing the size of the proposal.

News Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at 623-445-2774 via e-mail at tthornton@newszap.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/nvnewsman

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