Scottsdale City Council members talk triumphs and challenges
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press
The Arizona Digital Free Press reached out to members of Scottsdale City Council to understand what the elected leaders of the beloved Phoenix enclave are thinking, what they thought of this past calendar year, where they think they may have fell short and what they want to accomplish in the New Year.
This story focuses on the thoughts of two female leaders: Scottsdale Councilwoman Tammy Caputi and her colleague Councilwoman Betty Janik.
For Councilwoman Tammy Caputi her focus is on municipal finances, she says.
“My thoughts on 2023 are firmly grounded in our finances,” she said. “This may not be the flashiest topic, but it’s the most important one to our residents. I believe, first and foremost, in a balanced budget and low taxes.”
With local and national economic minds predicting some level of recession in the first fiscal quarters of the New Year, Councilwoman Caputi says she is paying attention.
“Financial experts are predicting continued high inflation, high interest rates, low unemployment with many jobs unfilled, and a ‘shallow’ recession going into 2023,” she told the Scottsdale Daily Beat.
“The city of Scottsdale is well aware of these predictions. Anticipating continuing economic uncertainty in the next few years, the council updated our comprehensive financial policies, which included increasing our General Fund cash reserves to 25%.”
A positive trend? Councilwoman Caputi is reporting higher-than-expected sales tax remits at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
“Sales tax revenues have been unusually high post-Covid, but we have been very conservative in our spending of this revenue, treating it as a one-time anomaly not as a reason to increase budgets long term,” she said. “We paid down our public safety pension liability, saving millions of dollars in debt funding, and maintained a strong bond rating, allowing us to keep our debt service costs low.”
Scottsdale Councilwoman Betty Janik agrees the time is now to be prepared for myriad issues the New Year could bring. Her mind is focused on water conservation, she says.
“We were the first city in the Valley to declare a Tier 1 water shortage,” she said. “We sent messages on water conservation far and wide. Scottsdale Water set up the WaterSmart Portal with ways to conserve water and monitor leaks. They established the very successful natural turf replacement program.”
Councilwoman Janik offers residents of Scottsdale and all of Arizona must adhere the best they can to water conservation tenets emerging as water access continues to be debated.
“I hope to spread the message on the importance of water conservation,” she said. “We live in a desert, act like it.”
Where did Ms. Janik say she fell short? Being more vocal, she says.
“I should have promoted water conservation more,” she said. “I did write on it, but more is better. Ditto for civil discourse. Not everything on social media is true.”
The work of Scottsdale City Council
Councilwoman Caputi points out the local governing body has made some savvy financial moves to prepare for what economists are calling a “shallow” recession.
“We sold 40 acres of land at Bell and 94th Street that was sitting empty,” she pointed out.
“The proceeds will be used to fund capital projects that directly benefit our residents’ quality of life. We increased our rates and fees on city services like water, sewer, and special events to better equalize costs. We also increased our water efficiency, which saves our residents money and conserves precious resources. We have many 2019 bond projects in the pipeline, but we are only issuing bonds for the projects we are ready to begin, which minimizes our borrowing costs. I’m a fiscal conservative, and I support this strategy.”
As Scottsdale “Super Season” is days away, Councilwoman Caputi sees the next few months as an opportunity to highlight the importance of tourism and how it keeps the municipality churning.
“One-time events like the Superbowl will inject huge cash infusions into our sales tax revenue, along with signature annual events like Barrett Jackson and the Waste Management Open. I will ensure we are conservative with these extra cash infusions,” she said. “Tourism has returned to solid levels post-pandemic and should remain strong, helping keep sales tax revenues healthy.”
Scottsdale is open for business, Councilwoman Caputi contends, but some on City Council don’t share the same sentiment, she says.
“Much of our city is funded through development, infrastructure improvements, fees, construction sales tax and increased economic activity,” she said. “I am concerned going forwards as my City Council colleagues have slowed building approvals just as we head into an economic downturn. With the downturn, many projects in our pipeline are canceling, delaying or losing funding.”
Those delays will have impacts for year to come, Councilwoman Caputi suggests.
“There is often a lag of several years between approval of construction projects and actual building,” she said. “We may end up not having much activity just as we most need it. Empty pipelines can take years to restart, while the financial damage is immediate.”
Uncertainty concerns Councilwoman Caputi, but she says she remains steadfast in conservative financial policies put into place by City Council to weather any financial storm that may be brewing in calendar year 2023.
“I feel comfortable with many of the conservative financial policies the council has put into place, but I am wary of the road ahead if the recession turns out to be longer or deeper than predicted,” she said. “Successful cities do not stagnate — we need to always be looking ahead.”