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Scottsdale mayoral candidates talk .15 sales tax proposal, expenditure limitation and top priorities if elected

photo of Scottsdale Mayoral Candidates
From left are Lisa Borowsky, Mayor David Ortega, and Linda Milhaven — all of whom are in pursuit of the mayor’s seat this election cycle. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)

Scottsdale mayoral candidates talk major political points of 2024

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Scottsdale voters will decide from a field of three candidates the next mayor of the community, meanwhile local residents will decide from a field of nine candidates to fill three seats atop the local dais at Scottsdale City Council at the upcoming July primary election.

The city of Scottsdale is hosting a primary election on Tuesday, July 30, to elect a mayor and three members of Scottsdale City Council whereas for a candidate to win outright in the July primary election they would have to receive the majority of ballots cast, election officials tell the Digital Free Press.

For races still in contention, a general election will be held to decide those races, election officials say.

In the race for mayor of Scottsdale, there are three candidates: Lisa Borowsky, David Ortega (incumbent) and Linda Milhaven.

The Digital Free Press reached out to each candidate for Scottsdale mayor to ask them what they think of the .15% sales tax measure headed to voters, along with the proposal to increase the expenditure limitation at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

Furthermore, Scottsdale mayoral candidates were asked what has inspired them to run for the top elected position at City Hall and if elected how they would deploy their top 3 priorities.

This is what they had to say:

Lisa Borowsky

Scottsdale mayoral candidate: Lisa Borowsky

*What has inspired you to run for mayor of Scottsdale?

Hardly a day has gone by over the past several years that didn’t include a fellow resident encouraging me to run for mayor in 2024. The lack of leadership and vision on display at City Hall summarizes the central theme underlying their frustration.

As a lifelong resident of Scottsdale, I am passionate about our community. Historically, a highly sought after destination for tourists and future residents alike, Scottsdale has long been the envy of the Southwest.

Our western charm and luxury feel is what made us great. But, since I left the City Council in 2013, our city seems to have lost its way. We’ve seen a flood of high density, lackluster projects replace Scottsdale landmarks and neighborhoods.

It seems no part of the city is safe from 1000s more units being approved. It is time to rein in the ‘anything goes’ development and demand quality projects which add value to our city.

*What will be your top three priorities if elected mayor of Scottsdale?

  1. Demand higher quality standards for projects coming before the city.
  2. Identify meaningful traffic solutions to relieve the all time high congestion on our city streets.
  3. Restore fiscal responsibility and responsible spending.

*Scottsdale City Council agreed to put two financial measures on the upcoming ballot. The first is a .15% sales tax measure to help shoulder costs of improving and maintaining public parks and the beloved swath of land coined, the “McDowell Sonoran Preserve.” What do you think of this sales tax measure now headed to voters later this year?

First, I appreciate all the work the Protect and Preserve Committee has invested in the process, evaluating and identifying prospective uses for the proposed sales tax increase that will be submitted to Scottsdale voters in November.

The committee identified needs and improvements we can all get behind. But, leadership at City Hall has set the stage for a sound defeat of the proposed $1.2 billion tax increase. First, the city has been plagued with projects coming in grossly over budget, which take far longer to complete than promised. This type of mismanagement should not be rewarded with a “blank check” as the proposal suggests.

Second, hundreds of millions of dollars are not specifically allocated in the current proposal so we have no idea what the monies will be used for if approved.

For these reasons, I do not support the proposed tax hike. City Hall needs to show they can be trusted with taxpayer dollars before voters are asked to approve an increase.

*The second item now set to be presented to voters is the pursuit of an increase in the permanent base adjustment of $22 million allowing the municipality to spend existing funds — going from $634.6 million to $884.4 — beyond the state-imposed expenditure limitation. Do you think the city of Scottsdale ought to be able to spend responsibly more money than it is allowed to today?

I am not necessarily opposed to raising the spending cap so long as we have responsible leadership overseeing the city’s budget, spending decisions and capital project management which has not been the case with the voting majority at City Hall.

*What do you think separates you from the pack?

First and foremost, I am an independent thinker who will not be swayed by lobbying efforts or ‘friends’ at City Hall. My leadership style will empower residents, neighborhoods and business owners, through meaningful participation in the process, in order to achieve community success. We need to get back to a resident-first city government.

Linda Milhaven

Scottsdale mayoral candidate: Linda Milhaven

*What has inspired you to run for mayor of Scottsdale?

We need a mayor that balances fiscal responsibility with investments in our quality of life. Over my 30 years of service to Scottsdale, as a City Councilmember, as a volunteer leader and as a community bank president, I have seen the importance of our business community. The strength of our local economy provides us with the resources to invest in our quality of life while keeping our tax rates low.

My business experience helps me to make sound financial decisions related to the city’s budget as well as decisions that balance the need for a strong economy and a high quality of life.

*What will be your top three priorities if elected mayor of Scottsdale

Protect tax payers and our economy: Eliminate wasteful spending, keep taxes low, ensure transparency and accountability and promote policies that support our local economy and provide high paying jobs.

Protect our quality of life: Promote water policies that conserve water including requiring that new projects use water saving technologies and provide adequate infrastructure. Support road projects that insure safe and efficient flow of traffic and improve signal timing to improve traffic flow. Invest in community amenities that enhance our quality of life.

Protect neighborhoods: Maintain the highest quality police and fire services. Continue to update Short Term Rental ordinances to insist that STRs are good neighbors while continuing to lobby the legislature for return of local control. Ensure that new projects do not intrude on single family neighborhoods.

*What do you think of this sales tax measure now headed to voters later this year?

Residents deserve more transparency about the proposed tax. There were two preserve taxes. The first expires next year and the proposed tax would replace that tax. The second tax runs for another 10 years. The voters limited the use of this tax to land acquisition and building trailheads.

After building all the trailheads and paying for all the land, there will be $250 million dollars left over from the second tax. We have not gotten a good accounting for how this money will be spent.
In addition, the ballot language is vague when it refers to recreational facilities. It should be clear that the first 25% of the tax would be allocated to WestWorld improvements. The remainder would be used for maintenance and operations of the preserve and parks throughout the city.

Rather than propose a new tax, we should allow the current tax to expire and ask residents to allow the city to expand the use of the second Preserve tax to use the excess $250 million to maintain the preserve and parks throughout the city.

*Do you think the city of Scottsdale ought to be able to spend responsibly more money than it is allowed to today through an increase to its state-imposed expenditure limitation?

Our expenditure limit increases with increases in population and with inflation. We need a better explanation about why, in recent years, our expenses increased faster than our expenditure limit.

Despite this concern, I hear from leaders in our police and fire departments that failing to increase this limit will have catastrophic consequences. Failing to raise the limit may impede the city’s ability to fund critical services like police and fire. However, raising the expenditure limit should not be considered an open checkbook. We must be disciplined and insure that we are prudent and accountable in how we spend taxpayers’ money.

*What do you think separates you from the pack?

I bring extensive business experience and strong financial expertise combined with an appreciation for the need to continue to invest in our quality of life. I also bring a long and deep history of service to the community where I have demonstrated my ability to collaborate and cooperate with people who have competing priorities to find common ground and common sense solutions.

Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega

Scottsdale Mayoral Candidate: David Ortega

Mayor Ortega did not respond to questions directly but did offer to the Digital Free Press his pro argument for the .15 sales tax measure and the proposed increase to the state-imposed spending limit at City Hall.

This is Mayor Ortega’s opinion on the sales tax measure:

I am proud to support the Protect and Preserve ballot measure which was prepared by Task Force members representing every corner of Scottsdale. Vote yes! Support our Scottsdale quality of life!

It is our duty to protect our treasured public open spaces and secure our financial prosperity. We take great pride in our parks, Greenbelt and Preserve, which underpin our high residential and commercial property values.

It took over 15 months, with the support of all city departments to assess the condition of 44 city parks, aging Indian Bend Wash, worn multiuse trails, and to evaluate McDowell Sonoran Preserve vulnerabilities, and to put a figure on enhancing public safety, at every site.

Mayor and council reviewed the detailed report which documents citywide unfunded deficiencies, prioritized oldest needs to be fixed first, and shows how to fund repairs and operations for the next 30 years.

How are costs covered?

Scottsdale has the second lowest sales tax in the Valley, and we have a 0.20% tax rate set to expire in 2025. Replacing and reducing the tax rate to 0.15% will generate enough revenue to cover pay-as-you -go expenses, as confirmed by the city financial office.

We can lower the sales tax rate and increase services such as Park Ranger Police, on-site Fire Department rescue, enhance maintenance of our aging parks, and protect the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

This fiscally conservative approach assures that real-time repair and replacements and public safety personnel are funded on pay-as-you-go basis with dedicated funding for the next 30 years. Strong oversight of expenditures is provided by two citizen commissions, monitored and budgeted by the financial office, and ultimately approved by City Council.

Time is of the essence to restore Scottsdale parks and preserve to expectations of residents and visitors alike. As mayor, I am proud to say we can reduce our sales tax rate and enhance our property values!

Please vote yes! Yes, to reduce taxes and support our Scottsdale lifestyle. Thank you!

*This is Mayor Ortega’s opinion on the sales tax measure:

I strongly support and ask all voters to vote yes! Yes, to update, the state-mandated expenditure limit so that the city of Scottsdale can pay for the outstanding facilities and excellent services we demand in Scottsdale.

For cities, like Scottsdale, the State of Arizona set a Permanent Base spending limit based on 1980 dollars! The state-imposed formula is based on Scottsdale in 1980, plus some spending increases, which have not kept up with new programs and inflation in 2024.

Scottsdale has not adjusted the spending capacity for 18 years! The state formula allows Scottsdale to reset the 2024 Permanent Base, subject to voter approval.

The City Treasurer calculated the new base increase of $22 million using the Arizona Auditor formula, and council unanimously agreed to bring this adjustment to voters.

This proposition is not a tax increase. We are at the spending limit now and must increase it to operate services and buildings which were not anticipated in 1980. New fire stations, new police technology, and core services enhancements necessary in 2024 and beyond.

Please join me and vote yes! Yes, to align our spending with the expectations of our residents and visitors alike. Thank you!

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