I had just finished writing this blog when I received 2 robo calls. The first one was from the Arizona Free Enterprise Club announcing it was seeking petition signatures to put the city council’s affirmative decision to eliminate the sunset provision of the temporary sales tax increase on the ballot. In the call they announced that they would be at the Foothills Recreation Center and the Glendale Main Library this weekend from 9 AM to 5 PM both days gathering signatures to get it on the ballot. I wish them success. I will make a special point of going to the Main Library this weekend to sign their petition.
The second robo call was several hours later and it was from the Glendale Fire Union urging people not to sign the petition and promising dire consequences if the sales tax increase is sunset in 2017. Everyone acknowledges that Glendale’s debt burden is unsustainable. Perhaps it would be more productive if the Fire Union got behind an effort to urge reduction of the city’s debt by selling some of its assets. It would make the entire sales tax sunset issue a moot point.
The battle lines are drawn. Voters will be fed misinformation and exaggeration from both sides. They will have to wade through the claims and counter claims made until their eyes are crossed. Will voters decide to send a strong message of austerity to the city council or will they decide Glendale cannot continue to exist without a permanent sales tax increase? It looks like the voters of Glendale will be given the opportunity to ultimately decide the issue. Which side will be more successful in activating their voter base? It’s fair to say that the Sales Tax Sunset Elimination War is officially declared. Now…on to the rest of this blog.
The June 24, 2016 city council meeting had two major items not yet reviewed in my blog. One was the passage of Ordinance 2897 removing the sunset provision from the sales tax increase. The other was Ordinance 2899 eliminating city permitted events from the requirements of the city’s noise ordinance.
The elimination of noise provisions for city permitted events is a city-wide ordinance. If there is a city permitted event in Sahuaro Ranch Park, it applies. If there is a city permitted event at Arrowhead Mall, it applies. It does not affect just the residents adjacent to Westgate. It was approved unanimously by city council. Councilmember Chavira, representing west Glendale and the area of Westgate, had no qualms about throwing his residents under the Glendale bus. Perhaps it is time for the voters of his district to question his representation of them, their concerns and their interests.
Sam Allen, Code Compliance Director, also neatly side-stepped a question about the number of previous noise complaints in the Westgate area by saying he did not have that figure as noise complaints are handled by the police department. There were allusions by staff that neighborhoods would remain protected but no specifics as to how that would be accomplished. Another question asked was how many events declined to locate in Glendale as a result of the city’s noise ordinance? That, too, was deftly ignored.
Ken Sturgis, a citizen commentator, said that he lived .8 of a mile away from Westgate and often heard Westgate event noise within his home. His neighbors heard it as well but felt that the city would do nothing about it. I live a mile away from Westgate and heard noise but not at the same level of intrusion that neighbors living closer to Westgate would have heard. So, in the name of flexibility and competiveness, all neighborhoods throughout Glendale have lost all protection from city permitted event noise. They will experience sound and fury…signifying nothing.
The other ordinance, passed on a 4 to 3 vote (with our usual 4, Knaack, Martinez, Sherwood and Chavira in the affirmative), was the elimination of the sunset provision of the sales tax increase. I was the councilmember who originally insisted it be a provision of the sales tax increase. I did not offer that stipulation on a whim. It was the only way I could support the increase. I trusted and relied upon my fellow councilmembers to keep their word. Little did I know that their acceptance of the sunset provision was done with fingers crossed behind their backs.
Barrel district council candidate Randy Miller spoke to the issue and said the two options, making the sales tax increase permanent or utilizing draconian cuts, were not the only options available. Mayor Weiers agreed and that was the basis of his “no” vote. Mr. Miller said there is always an Option 3 and crafting it should be the goal.
At the time of the passage of sales tax increase with the sunset provision senior staff offered a plan to gradually absorb the $25 million in the temporary sales tax increase by making incremental cuts of $5 million a year over a 5 year period. The first signal that council would not have the fortitude to make the necessary cuts over 5 years was when they could not even accept privatization of custodial maintenance of city buildings. That decision sent a message, loud and clear, to senior staff that making the necessary spending cuts over 5 years was a council non-starter.
I marvel at the city’s propensity and adroitness in propagandizing the issue. Knowing that the Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) is currently circulating a petition to get the council’s vote for elimination of the sunset provision on the ballot, senior staff slipped in a new concept. The sales tax increase will be reviewed during the budget process each year. Be careful what you wish for. It would be ironic indeed if, at the next budget discussions in the spring of 2015, council decided to raise the sales tax increase. After all, Councilmember Sherwood publicly stated that he believed it would be necessary.
The offer of sales tax increase review every year was strategically offered to mitigate the anger of Glendale voters should the AFEC be successful in getting the question on this fall’s ballot. The city will be holding out the hope that the increase has a chance of being reduced or going away in the future. Maybe after we’re all dead.
The city assertion flies in the face of the fact that the bond rating agencies are taking a close look and relying upon the elimination of the sunset provision to satisfy them. The bond rating agencies will again be very concerned about Glendale’s financial stability when they realize that now the sales tax increase stands an annual possibility of reduction or elimination. By adding this provision of annual review the stability that the bond rating agencies rely upon has been removed.
Another mitigation strategy that the city is already employing is on its website under Frequently Asked Questions about the elimination of the sunset provision. Here is the link:http://www.glendaleaz.com/documents/FAQEliminationofSunsetforTempTax062514.pdf .
The city’s message is that dire consequences will occur should the tax sunset in 2017. They used the same strategy years ago when a group of us nearly got the elimination of food sales tax on the ballot. The city prepared a slick pamphlet asking Glendale citizens to choose what cuts they would be willing to make. All choices were dire and it scared the voters. It worked that time and sadly, it may work this time.
If the Arizona Free Enterprise Club is successful in acquiring the requisite number of signatures to get the question on the fall ballot, don’t buy into scare tactics this time. It’s time for Glendale voters to send a direct message to council and senior management staff. That message is, live within your means. Don’t spend more than the city receives in revenue. If 22% of the budget is devoted to the debt burden, tell them it is their job to reduce the debt.
Which brings up the question, can Camelback Ranch, the Media Center, the Parking Garages, the Convention Center, the Civic Center or Jobing.com arena be sold? I’m not an attorney but I would say “yes.” Many years ago as a small business owner, my landlord sold the building in which I was a tenant. The new landlord and I could not come to mutually agreed terms. When my lease expired I did not renew. I left that location.
Glendale owns these buildings and has the right as landlord to sell them. Tenants in any of these sites would then have to negotiate new lease terms with the new landlord. Glendale may lose some money by selling at present market value but it would remove the debt and/or the O&M costs associated with the asset. Glendale must get its debt burden under control. Right now it is over 22%. It should be under 10%. If Glendale cannot afford these assets, selling them seems to be a prudent course of action.
There are those who will immediately say, we can’t do that. Instead, council direction should be given to the city attorney to make it happen. The city simply cannot continue down this unsustainable debt burden path forever.
There are those who will say, what’re you… nuts? The city can’t do that! It reminds me of something Councilmember Hugh said at this council meeting. He said, paraphrased, that the current council is fractured because its members do not share the same strategy for curing Glendale’s financial situation. Each side believes it has the better path and the right path to solve Glendale’s fiscal crisis.
I have no doubt that the councilmembers love this city. They demonstrate it daily by their service. Unfortunately, a majority believe the only solution is to tax the city out of its financial crisis. The minority believes that there are other choices, painful, yes… but other choices.
It has been my honor and a great privilege to have served as a Glendale councilmember for 16 years. I have lived in Glendale for nearly 50 years. I love this city. You love this city. It is our home. Placing a greater and greater tax burden on those who live in this home, is not prudent…and it sure isn’t the best way to grow Glendale.
© Joyce Clark, 2014
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