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Milhaven: Scottsdale has a $250M decision to make as sales tax measure materializes at City Hall

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Linda Milhaven is a longtime community steward and former member of Scottsdale City Council, who is in pursuit of the mayor’s seat this November. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
Linda Milhaven | Point of View

The Scottsdale City Council needs to sharpen their pencils and consider other options before they decide to ask voters to replace an expiring tax.

Conservative estimates show there will be over $250 million left over from the existing McDowell Sonoran Preserve taxes after we have paid for all the Preserve land purchases and capital improvements.

What do they plan to do with that money?

City Council is considering asking voters to replace the tax expiring in 2024, with a new tax to fund parks and maintenance and operations of the Preserve, but we need greater transparency and accountability.

There are two Preserve taxes. The first .2% sales tax expires next year and the second .15% sales tax runs until 2034. As approved by voters, these taxes can only be used for Preserve land purchases and capital improvements, mostly trailheads. All of the trailheads have been built and the Preserve totals 30,580 acres.

Let me be clear. I wholly support the goal of maintaining our parks and the Preserve. They are part of what makes Scottsdale so special. During my time on City Council, we doubled the size of the Preserve and improved residents’ access by adding several trail heads. I championed projects to improve our parks and the Indian Bend Wash.

But I question the financial approach. One of the key reasons I’m running for Mayor of Scottsdale is to keep our city thriving economically. To do that we must control spending, keep taxes low AND provide high quality services. I spent more than 40 years in banking with over 12 years as the Community Bank president for Scottsdale, so I understand spreadsheets and P&L statements.

Before asking residents to replace the expiring tax, the Scottsdale City Council should provide an accounting of how the $250 million will be used.

In a recent survey of residents conducted by the City, 88% of the respondents rate the overall condition of our parks as excellent or good. We have been able to improve and maintain our parks paying as we go from our annual revenues and with bond money. This year the capital improvement plan includes new restrooms, equipment replacement, new pickleball courts, as well as many other projects.

We need an accounting of our historical pay-as-we-go investments in parks as well as what we can continue to support from our existing annual revenues. Then, we will have a better sense of what else is needed and can’t wait.

Another option to replacing the expiring tax is to consider asking residents to expand the use of the existing tax that expires in 2034 and free up the $250 million to help maintain our open spaces. Let the first tax expire in 2024 and then revisit the idea of a new tax if it is needed later.

If additional money is needed now, City Council should explain what their plans are for the unaccounted for $250 million from the current tax as well as what can be funded as we go from annual revenues before they ask us to replace the expiring tax.

Put simply, it reminds me of the famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire: “Show us the money.”

Editor’s Note: Linda Milhaven is a longtime community steward and former member of Scottsdale City Council, who is in pursuit of the mayor’s seat this November.

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