Misinformation and "scare tactics’’ are being used by opponents of a proposed sales-tax hike to fund expansion of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, supporters of the measure contend.

A claim that it will cost $2 billion for 19,000 acres needed to complete a planned 36,400-acre open-space system is only the most extreme of inaccuracies critics are leveling at the preserve effort and tax proposal, said members of Protect and Preserve, a group campaigning in favor of two sales-tax measures on the May 18 ballot for the preserve and public safety needs.

The issues flared Thursday at a public forum featuring the six City Council candidates (with Kevin Osterman’s wife, Karyn, standing in for him) and Protect and Preserve leaders. The event was presented by the District 8 Democrats.

Candidates Jim Lane, Ron McCullagh, Tony Nelssen and Osterman back a 0.15 of a percentage point sales-tax increase to buy more land for the preserve and 0.10 of a percentage point tax increase to pay for police and fire service improvements.

Voters also will be asked to approve a $500 million bond program to be repaid with the preserve tax revenue. Together the measures would add 25 cents in tax on every $100 in purchases.

Candidates Henry Becker and William Crawford said they support the preserve, but not the tax. They’ve joined others who argue a sales tax is unfair because the preserve benefits owners of nearby properties far more than other residents. They also maintain that the high cost of expanding the preserve threatens to drain funding for other critical city needs.

Becker and Crawford on Thursday repeated claims about the $2 billion cost. City officials and supporters of the tax counter that credible estimates place the potential cost at less than $1 billion.

"All we can surmise is that (opponents) don’t understand bond financing and they are doubling some numbers. But it’s just scare tactics, flat out,’’ said Carla (her full name), a co-chairwoman of Protect and Preserve and director of the McDowell Sonoran Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that aids the preserve program.

Supporters point also to critics’ assertions that residents have passed several taxes for the preserve and were told each tax would be the last funding necessary.

Until now, there has been only one tax sought for the preserve. The 0.20 of a percent sales tax was approved overwhelmingly in 1995. Later preserve measures passed by voters were for bond programs backed by revenue from existing taxes.

When voters in 1998 approved expanding the preserve, "it was clearly spelled out that future funding would be needed, and this (new tax proposal) is it,’’ Carla said.

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