Road rage flares at marathon council session | City News … –

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Updated: July 8, 2023 @ 9:18 am
During the June 13 Scottsdale City Council meeting, Mayor David Ortega prohibited public comment on “road diets” during discussion of land acquisitions for Thomas Road. Though the project specifically outlines trading a motorized lane for bike lanes, Ortega stressed the agenda item was not about that. (City of Scottsdale) 

During the June 13 Scottsdale City Council meeting, Mayor David Ortega prohibited public comment on “road diets” during discussion of land acquisitions for Thomas Road. Though the project specifically outlines trading a motorized lane for bike lanes, Ortega stressed the agenda item was not about that. (City of Scottsdale) 
Though it was hardly a “road diet riot,” some citizens were quite angry about another potential street thinning – and upset they were not allowed to express their views at the June 13 Scottsdale City Council meeting.
During an occasionally raucous, four-and-a-half hour meeting, City Council raised water and property tax rates and approved a record-shattering $2.53 billion budget.
But those items weren’t what many of the audience members came to talk about.
Many wanted to express their thoughts on so-called “road diets” – but were silenced by Mayor David Ortega, who insisted repeatedly the agenda item concerning Thomas Road was not about a road restructuring.
The last of 25 items on the agenda called for “certain real properties be acquired for the public purpose of constructing improvements along Thomas Road from 56th Street to Scottsdale Road.”
Ortega explained this involves the city purchasing – or taking via eminent domain, if need be – small amounts of private land along the road to construct wheelchair ramps and move light poles.
But many said this was just the first step of a road diet, with some pointing to a graphic in the agenda packet showing how one lane of car traffic would be turned into bike lanes.
Before the “road rage” portion of the meeting, Council approved a “primary property tax levy of $39.3 million … an increase of $2.88 million over the current year levy of $36.42 million.”
The current primary property tax rate of $0.497 per $100 of assessed valuation is projected to increase by $0.018 to $0.515, according to City Treasurer Sonia Andrews.
Scottsdale’s secondary property tax levy “is forecasted to increase $5.53 million from the fiscal year 2022-23 adopted budget of $30.06 million to $35.59 million,” Andrews said.
According to her report, the current secondary tax rate of $0.4101 is expected to increase by $0.0563 to $0.4664 per $100 of assessed valuation beginning July 1.
Andrews explained the median assessed home in Scottsdale two years ago was around $340,000; the median assessed value of a Scottsdale home is now $378,679.
A median home’s city property tax will increase by about $47.
Yvonne Cahill, who identified herself as a real estate agent, spoke against the increase, saying “the city thinks they have a blank check.”
Resident Paul Rowe called the increases “unnecessary and ill advised.”
Councilman Barry Graham spoke against asking for more from homeowners.
“This is probably not the time to be raising – hiking – residents’ property taxes,” he said.
He pointed to employee increases, overruns and “some controversial projects.”
Councilwoman Betty Janik asked what would happen if the tax rate stayed the same.
“We weren’t prepared for that question,” Andrews replied as she scrambled to do some math. She said the secondary tax was required by law to increase due to increasing bond payments. Not increasing the primary property tax would eliminate a $7 increase on a median home, she concluded.
Councilwoman Solange Whitehead said the increase includes adding and retaining police officers.
“I think our police are worth seven bucks a year,” she said.
“The way taxes work,” Whitehead stressed, “is we all pitch in a little – and we get a lot.”
Whitehead, Ortega and council members Tom Durham and Tammy Caputi voted for the property tax increase.
Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield, Janik and Graham voted against it.
Council then approved – 6-1, with Graham the lone vote against the utility increases – a 4.2% water rate increase effective Nov. 1 and 5.8% sewer rate increase effective July 13.
The city’s water and sewer services currently generate $162 million. The increases will bring in an extra $7.5 million, according to Brian Biesemeyer, the Scottsdale Water director.
He gave a shortened version of a presentation he gave Council in March, noting other Valley cities are increasing their utility rates.
After a brief public hearing, the $2.53 billion budget was approved.
Thomas Road
After three hours, several people in the audience who had been patiently waiting finally figured they would be able to speak about the Thomas “road diet.”
After Tima Moss said lane reductions on Thomas Road would be “disruptive,” Ortega stressed this was not a road diet project, but rather preliminary work – land acquisitions for ADA accommodations and light poles – for repaving the road.
“We’re confined to the issue on the agenda,” he said.
In a short presentation on the Thomas Road agenda item, City Engineer Alison Tymkiw noted, “These easements are needed whether we do the lane reduction or not.”
When resident Marilyn Atkinson said the city was using different terminology instead of “road diet to a name that nobody knows what it means,” Ortega interrupted her and several in the gallery called out their displeasure.
Graham challenged Ortega’s use of the rule guiding public comment on agenda items. “It feels like we’re being a little strict with that rule,” Graham said.
Janik then emotionally addressed the mayor:
“This is the first time you’ve enforced that rule,” she said. “I’m tired of this nonsense … I wish you would be consistent.”
Ortega then interrupted Merissa Hamilton, who stated, “This meeting belongs to we the people.”
The Thomas Road agenda item passed by a 4-3 vote (Graham, Janik, Caputi against). Whitehead stressed any lane change plan would have to be presented at a later date.
Bob Pejman, for one, was not satisfied with this explanation.
“The handling of the Thomas Road project vote was a low point for our city in terms of providing transparency to the public,” he said the day after the meeting.
The City Council Report linked to the June 13 Thomas Road agenda item contains 446 pages.The first page includes “background material” describing what might sound to some like a “road diet” in different words:
“The project will improve safety for all modes by adding bicycle lanes, right-turn lanes, replacing traffic signals, reducing persistent drainage problems, replacing noncompliant ADA pedestrian ramps and removing barriers to people with disabilities.”
At least one slide in the packet is titled “Thomas Road Complete Street” – “complete street” has been used by city staff members in place of “road diet.”
A slide in the packet also shows a before/after illustration of Thomas Road, showing one lane of motorized traffic being turned into bike lanes.
And, according to a description of “Thomas Road Complete Street” on the city’s website for construction projects, the project includes “removal of one east bound travel lane to make room for turn lanes, bike lanes.”
A slide showing a Thomas Road timeline states a federal application was approved in 2018, with construction scheduled for 2024.
The packet also included dozens of comments, such as “I ask that you do not proceed with road diets anywhere in Scottsdale!”
A public meeting was held on Thomas Road “improvements” earlier this year, with many speaking out against eliminating one lane of motorized travel.
In “road diet rage,” Scottsdale can be viewed as a trendsetter, as a bill aimed at extending Proposition 400 includes prohibitions against using gasoline tax funds for “projects that will reduce existing lane miles.”
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