Scottsdale is national leader in land set aside for parks, preserve

[Source: Peter Corbett, The Arizona Republic]

Scottsdale ranks among the nation’s leading cities for parks and preserve land.

The city is fourth in per capita parkland behind Anchorage, Alaska, New Orleans and Virginia Beach, Va., according to a Trust for Public Land report issued earlier this month.

“It’s a very impressive system,” said Peter Harnik, director of the trust’s Center for City Park Excellence, in reference to Scottsdale’s parks and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The non-profit trust, a San Francisco-based conservation group, lists Scottsdale as having 15,172 acres of park and preserve land for its 235,371 residents.

That amounts to 64.5 acres per 1,000 residents, more than triple the per capita median for other low-density cities.

About 13 percent of the land area of Scottsdale is set aside for parks and preserve. The national median for low-density cities is 5.8 percent.

Phoenix’s 1.5 million residents have 43,609 acres of parkland, or 27.8 acres per 1,000 residents, the report said.

Anchorage has a very large state park within its city limits, and New Orleans and Virginia Beach contain national wildlife refuges that skew their parkland totals, Harnik said.

City parkland well-funded

The trust’s annual report compiled statistics on park acreage, spending and staffing based on data from 2008.

“We won’t see the full effects of current budget cuts until next year’s report,” Harnik said.

This year’s report did show that Scottsdale is also among the cities with the best-funded parks systems.

The city’s operating and capital expenditures in fiscal year 2008 are listed at $50.4 million, or $214 per resident. That ranks Scottsdale third behind Washington, D.C., and Seattle.

Excluding capital expenses, Scottsdale’s operating costs of $23.7 million, or $101 per resident, rank it 16th nationally in the report.

Scottsdale ranks 13th in staffing, with 281 non-seasonal employees, or 11.9 per 10,000 residents, more than double the national median of 5.4.

Preserve to add open space

Scottsdale’s preserve accounts for roughly 94 percent of its parklands, and the preserve is expected to add more acreage next month.

City parks total 941 acres with just less half of that planted with grass, said Don Davis, Scottsdale parks and recreation manager.

The Arizona State Parks Board last week authorized up to $25 million in matching funds for Scottsdale to buy 2,000 acres of state trust land at auction on Oct. 15.

The board also approved $20 million in matching funds for Phoenix and $7 million to Coconino County for preserve lands.

The Scottsdale acreage is north of Dixileta Drive near Troon North.

Prop 301 pits reeling state budget against preserving open space

[Source: Arizona Capitol Times.  Article by Rebecca McClay, Cronkite News Service]

Sandy Bahr (Cronkite News Service Photo by Rebecca L. McClay)

Sandy Bahr envisions this expanse of land near the McDowell Mountains remaining just as it is: a picturesque scene of large saguaros and desert brush.

Thanks to $23 million from a fund Arizona voters created in 1998 to preserve open spaces, Scottsdale plans to add about 2,000 acres of state trust land here to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. To Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, it’s money well spent.

But it could be one of the last such purchases receiving money from the Growing Smarter fund if voters approve a ballot measure in November.

The Legislature referred Proposition 301, also called the Land Conservation Fund Transfer, to have voters decide whether $123.5 million in state funds will be kept for preservation projects or siphoned into the general fund to balance the budget.

Bahr is among those opposing the measure, saying money for buying state trust land should stay intact.

“By redirecting these dollars, they hurt the local communities that were trying to conserve the land and they hurt conservation all over the state,” Bahr said. “They should keep their hands off it.”

It’s one of two proposals on the Nov. 2 ballot in which voters will have a direct say in how to balance the state’s fiscal 2011 budget, which took effect July 1.

The budget passed based on the assumption that voters would approve both Proposition 301 and Proposition 302, which would eliminate the First Things First early childhood health and development program. State law requires voter approval because voters created both programs.

Bahr said other measures like closing tax loopholes or scaling back spending in other departments are her preferred alternatives to balancing the budget.

Proponents of eliminating the Land Conservation Fund say the consequences of not balancing the budget – including the state receiving a downgrade on its debt rating from Moody’s Investors Service – are too severe to ignore. The downgrade from a Aa2 to Aa3 in July makes it more expensive for the government to borrow money.

“We can’t afford it,” said Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, who called the founding of the fund “well intended.”
“We need the money many other places,” he said. “Buying open space is not high on the list of priorities.”

Rep. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, said Arizona faces an unprecedented budget crisis.

“It is irresponsible to cut true necessities like public safety or basic K-12 education while continuing to spend money on non-essentials, no matter how good or important they might be,” Murphy said in an e-mail interview.

The Land Conservation Fund is administered by the Arizona State Parks Board. The money is allocated to communities on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis to purchase state trust land.

Proposition 301 opponents argue that the money, the only state funding source for land preservation, is critical for preserving the environment in the face of growth. They argue that unlike Proposition 302, Proposition 301 doesn’t have a provision that would require money taken from the fund to be used for a similar purpose.

Scottsdale has already received $3.3 million from the fund to help purchase a 400-acre parcel of land in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, said Scottsdale Preserve Director Kroy Ekblaw, who didn’t take a position on the proposition.

“We have additional land we would like to acquire,” Ekblaw said. “If the revenue was available, we would certainly like to take advantage.”

Scottsdale could still purchase more land but not as much as if it had the matching funds, Ekblaw said.

Phoenix and Coconino County have also already applied to purchase state trust land parcels. According to a report from Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, the applications could come to a halt if the measure passes.

Facts about Proposition 301 vote:

  • Key Provision: Would transfer to the general fund $123.5 million from Land Conservation Fund voters created in 1998 to preserve open spaces.
  • Trend: Along with Proposition 302, dealing with the First Things First early childhood development program, it would reallocate funds to shore up the state budget.
  • The Fund: Matches municipalities’ land conservation efforts dollar-for-dollar to purchase state trust land.
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