Without the passage of Proposition 106, the grassroots effort to reform the State Land Department, Scottsdale residents could be asked to pass a third tax increase or end up losing more than 19,000 acres sought for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Despite a 12-year effort, and $193.6 million already collected in taxes, the city can’t afford to complete the planned 36,400-acre preserve under the current land department mandate to sell state trust land at auction to the highest bidder.
“It will be a real shame if Prop. 106 doesn’t pass,” Mayor Mary Manross said. “It will make it much harder for us to complete our preserve, if we’re able to at all.”
Prop. 106, the Conserving Arizona’s Future initiative, would permanently preserve 5,176 acres of state trust land within the boundaries of the planned preserve and give Scottsdale the option of buying an additional 9,347 acres for conservation.
“Everyone is working aggressively to see that 106 passes,” said Scottsdale preservation director Bob Cafarella. “It’s so consistent with what we are trying to do and provides the mechanism to allow the community to move forward with the preservation of state land.”
Currently, Scottsdale owns 16,460 acres, which was funded through four voterapproved bond sales and two tax increases.
In 2004, when the second tax increase was first proposed, city officials estimated the remaining preserve would cost about $500 million to complete.
But due to a fluctuating land market it is hard to estimate how much it would cost today, Cafarella said.
If there isn’t any reform in the land department, a third tax could be the only way to fund acquisition of the entire preserve, said City Councilman Bob Littlefield.
“It’s going to be tough enough to buy all that land any way,” Littlefield said. “If that proposition failed, that would certainly call in to question whether or not the current tax is going to generate enough money to buy the preserve land.”
And with the fast pace of development around the preserve, time is running out for the city to buy the land, said Carla (her legal name), executive director of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.
“Folks from the State Land Department have already referred to some of our areas as ‘low-hanging fruit,’ ” she said. “It has taken us nine years to get this on the ballot. In urban areas, we do not have the time to wait to put another initiative on the ballot.”
To many Scottsdale residents, the land is worth preserving.
A standing-room-only crowd of about 100 supporters came out Wednesday for the Yes on 106 Kickoff party at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess to find out more about the measure.
“It’s a peaceful, wonderful place,” said Kathy Howard, a 20-year resident of Scottsdale. “I’d like to see some of those natural places preserved and I’d like to have them available for my children and my grandchildren to enjoy.”
Besides the land in Scottsdale, Prop. 106 also would preserve 694,000 acres of state trust land around the state and require the land department to cooperate with communities when planning.
One of the biggest challenges Prop. 106 supporters have is the competing land reform referendum, Proposition 105, which is sponsored by 24 legislators and backed by the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.
The countermeasure would allow up to 400,000 acres of state trust land for permanent conservation, mostly in rural areas, but would have “very little” impact on Scottsdale’s preservation efforts, said Spencer Kamps, a lobbyist for Save our Trusts, the largest contributor to Prop. 105.
“Most of the state land is already taken care of in Scottsdale,” Kamps said. As for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve he said, “that’s going to be saved no matter what.”
Regardless, Prop. 105 is better for education because the revenue from land sales funds Arizona schools, Kamps said.
“You’re going to see value back to the education community with 105, you’re not going to see that with 106,” he said.
However, Prop. 106 supporters argue that Conserving Arizona’s Future initiative is better for education.
“With 106, the school funding altogether is going to be greatly improved, specifically the money going into the classroom site fund supporting teachers salaries and classroom-based programs,” John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, a contributor to Prop. 106.
“The Arizona Education Association represents 33,000 school employees. We wouldn’t be anywhere near an initiative that would put our compensation in any kind of risk.”
What it means
PROPOSITION 106: The Conserving Arizona’s Future initiative would reform the process for selling state trust land, setting aside up to 694,000 acres for preservation and require local communities to participate in planning of trust land development.
IF 106 PASSES: It would permanently preserve 5,176 acres of state trust land within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve planned boundaries and give the city the option of buying an additional 9,347 acres for conservation.
IF 106 FAILS: Scottsdale probably wouldn’t be able to afford all the land in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and an additional tax increase could be needed. More than 19,000 acres primarily north of Dynamite Boulevard would be open to development. Of those 19,000 acres, the city would have to compete at auction against developers for more than 3,500 acres deemed not suitable for conservation purposes.
Financial timeline of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve
May 1995: The first sales tax increase of 0.2 percent was approved by Scottsdale voters. Through July, that tax has generated $165.9 million.
September 1996: Voters approved the use of revenue bonds to acquire land using proceeds from the sales tax increase.
November 1998: The preserve boundary was expanded to 36,400 acres and the city charter was changed to ensure the land would be permanently protected.
September 1999: Voters approved the use of up to $200 million in bonds, to be paid off by the preserve tax.
May 2004: The use of up to $500 million in general obligation bonds was approved by voters.
May 2004: The second sales tax increase of 0.15 percent was passed. The tax has generated $27.7 million through July.