Scottsdale will be forced to tap into its rainy-day fund or reduce city services unless it can get new revenue sources for a recently unveiled roster of public safety needs, city budget officials said this week.
They are counting on voters this spring to approve a 0.10 percentage point sales-tax hike for police and fire services that include a laundry list of needs, from creating a new fire department to replacing the citywide police radio system.
"This is like having a house with structural problems," said City Councilman David Ortega. "Our house doesn't have a fire department. We have police needs. That is a fact."
The council Wednesday night voted 6-1 to place the sales-tax hike on a May 18 ballot. The public-safety tax would be an increase of 10 cents per $100 spent.
The public safety tax will be on the same ballot as a proposed 0.15 percentage point tax increase for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The preserve tax also was approved for the ballot Wednesday.
While the preserve tax gained vocal support from politically savvy preservationists who crowded City Hall, only a handful of residents, most of whom live in south Scottsdale, spoke about the need for enhancements to public safety.
A likely reason: The city didn't make the list of police and fire needs public until a few days before Wednesday's meeting. Even the City Council didn't have much time to scrutinize the list. Council members received it late last week.
City Councilman Ned O'Hearn was the sole dissenter for the proposed public safety tax.
It would be prudent to wait for the results of a police "workload" study — expected this summer — and have final cost estimates for a municipal fire department before going to the voters, he said.
"This is the first time any of us have really looked at it," O'Hearn said. “I’m really not in favor of going to the public and saying, ‘Just trust us and we'll figure this out. All you have to do is approve the money right now.’ "
Budget officials said the city is faced with about $59 million in future public safety needs. About $48 million of those needs do not have a secure funding source, according to the city's funding-options report.
The sales-tax hike would contribute an estimated $8 million annually for the city to use. That money could be used to help offset the estimated $10.7 million in annual operating costs for police and fire, or for other big-ticket improvements over the next several years, city spokesman Pat Dodds said Thursday.
A chunk of the public safety costs will be from forming and operating a municipal fire department. The private Rural/Metro Corp. recently announced it would sever its fire-protection contract with the city in mid-2005.
Some residents argued that Scottsdale should be spending more on public safety, and less on preserve purchases.
"Were going to spend 15 to 20 times more for the preserve than we are for public safety," Lyle Wurtz, a City Hall activist, told the City Council on Wednesday.