Tempe City Council Candidates Question of the Week

Background: In 2020, the 1/10th of 1% sales tax that was passed to fund the Tempe Center for the Arts will sunset. Since the TCA continues to loose money and appears to be unable to create a viable and sustainable plan for both fundraising and programming to at least achieve a breakeven budget, there is a discussion to launch another ballot initiative to extend the tax maybe indefinitely.

Question 9:

Since the Tempe City Council has in the past fulfilled its pledge to sunset temporary sales taxes, will you be in favor of a voter-approved extension of the TCA tax given the past and present ongoing losses being incurred by the Tempe Center for the Arts?

Stanley Nicpon

Matthew Papke
download (1)

It is about accountability. Take this excerpt from a recent article relating to a found $1.5MM. “It looks like Ken Jones and Andrew Ching set the council up to look like the fools they are.”Hotchy Kiene, chairman of the commission and arts commissioner David Kephart told the The Republic they were aware that the fund had a $1.5 million savings, but they said the city, not the commission, controls the fund’s budget.” Commissioner David Lucier was surprised to learn of the unused money. ”I certainly was not aware we have a million dollars in the (account)” he said.” (full article)

Clearly something is amiss here. Should the tax payers suffer the expenses to support an Art’s Center that is unable to reconcile it’s books properly?

In 2012 the expenses for the Art Center were $8.5MM the revenue generate was $782,000 from services. True there was a large principle payment made to the fund, but the operating costs far exceed revenues generated. $1.4MM was spent on interest on the debt and $2.5MM in community service costs aka (operating costs). (page 126)

I would vote no at this time to renewing a tax on a project that shows no promise at breaking even at this point. It is time to start treating the public’s money like we would our own. At this time the Arts Center seems like a very bad financial investment. At the very least there should be management shake ups and a restructuring, just like would take place in the real world.

There are those who will say I dislike art. They are wrong. Come to my house, you will find a variety of musical instruments and many pieces of art, additionally I study and practice traditional arts daily. What I do dislike is abuse of the public trust and tax base. If we are able to turn the TCA around I would be happy to be a part of that, but the sunset should be upheld and the TCA should stand on it’s own, via public usage or charitable contributions or any combination thereof.

Shana Ellis
shana ellis

If requested, I am in favor of putting an item on the ballot to ask the Tempe citizens if they would support extending the tax for the Tempe Center for Arts. The tax originally was voter approved. Any extension of that tax should be brought back to the voters. I would support putting that question on the ballot.

Dick Foreman

Dick Foreman

No, I am not in favor of a permanent tax increase.  There are several reasons.  First of all, boutique or “vanity” taxes applied to our sales tax or other revenue streams are very poor tax policy.  Every group has wonderful arguments about why they are special and should not have to compete in front of the public in open meeting for their needs to be met in the context of the entire budget.  But that’s precisely what should happen to ensure we have the most thoughtful discussion and make the touch choices in front of all Tempe.  No backroom deals.

For example, I could point out that there are absolutely critical needs in our senior and elderly community, and many programs for our youth would certainly fit this argument.  Sidebar revenue streams for job creation, parks, alley clean-up or additional neighborhood safety are all, equally valuable discussions, persuasive and valid for vanity taxes.  I would oppose each and every one of those.  In my lengthy experience with taxes, bad policy does not make up for scratching political itches.  It simply remains bad policy.

We need to get away from these “vanity” proposals in Tempe.  They simply reduce the General Fund Revenue stream and tie the hands of future councils whether that particular revenue stream is actually needed at the level it funds or not and in spite of all future exigencies that might arise.  I’ve seen this unfortunate phenomenon, in spite of the best of intentions, with state parks monies devoted to building a certain amount of new trails every year.  When the state went in to the great recession, building new hiking trails had a protected revenue stream even though most any policy maker would have rather not cut so deeply into education funding to balance the budget.  We could have done with a lot more funding for a real crisis, our children’s educational needs, before hacking away in the desert to build a new trail. The more vanity we bring in to our tax structure, the more limitations we have in the future to fairly assess and fund the needs in our community.

An equally important part of your question is the “deal” made with voters.  When we tell voters that a tax will be “temporary” we must not go back on our word.  How can any policy maker then, in the future, especially if dealing with a true crisis in budget management, assures that a “temporary” tax is all we need and the voter says, “yeah, sure, just like the last time.”

Trust is so important, especially in taxation.  Say what you mean, mean what you say, never misrepresent, no matter how popular the cause.  That is not the issue.  So, for example, I don’t need a public opinion survey that says Tempeans support the Tempe Center for the Arts and might consider extending the temporary tax.  My deal is, we told Tempe we wouldn’t do that.  Indeed, politics is not always convenient.  But trust, to me, is not negotiable.  Politics is not always doing what most people want in a snapshot of time.  Leadership is knowing the difference.

And finally, as far as being absolutely committed and a supporter of the TCA Foundation and it’s future endeavors, I’m “all in.”  But this needs to be an effort in harmony with our city budget, our city staff and our community supporters and volunteers, not an admission that we have failed to manage the revenue stream already so generously provided by our taxpayers with the result being, “well, we failed to secure our future with what we received, let’s do this again!”

Robin Arredondo-Savage

The Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA) is a modern art center by Tempe Town Lake with a varied performing arts schedule, gallery, art education and a beautiful special events venue. It is one of my favorite places in Tempe. Our Community Services Department is in the process of creating an Arts Master Plan that will include the TCA. This will be helpful in guiding future operations, programming, marketing and funding to help ensure a healthy and vibrant community arts center.

Our voters passed the initial arts tax, so I support referring a question to the ballot to ask our residents if they want to continue it. However, I believe that both City Council and Staff have a responsibility to first analyze the existing programming, identify new, creative funding streams and look for ways to streamline operations. The Arts can many times be similar to Transportation: they are both usually subsidized to some extent if they are to remain truly viable. In this new day in age though, we have to focus on being more creative when it comes to sources of revenue. Just simply looking to our general fund or asking for new taxes should not be the primary option. Grants and public-private partnerships must be explored to assist with funding. Overall, a true, innovative strategic Arts plan can ensure that the TCA remains a crown jewel for all Tempe residents and visitors for decades to come.

Lauren Kuby

download (2)
It’s interesting to note that the City does not make a profit on our parks and recreation, yet budgetary support for the parks is unquestioned. We should also note that Chandler and Mesa have similar sized centers for the arts, and It is uncommon for such centers to be self-sustaining.

Businesses looking to locate in a given city examine at a host of factors, including schools, parks, neighborhoods, and, yes, cultural amenities. Although we need to continually evaluate and improve costs of operation, the net gain and value to our community is worth the cost of supporting TCA’s wide and varied programming.

The number and variety of performances and events at TCA are growing from year to year. In fiscal Year 2014 alone, TCA hosted 919 events attended by over 184K visitors and brought in over $695K in revenue. Here are the metrics:

• 535 performance events (including 129 school matinees)
• 292 business events
• 56 social events
• 36 gallery events
• 100 concerts

A 2012 survey conducted by the Behavior Research Center confirmed the value of TCA’s role in the community and found that most Tempe residents support making permanent the sales tax that funds the TCA. So yes, I would favor a voter-approved extension of the TCA tax if need be.

There is a current RFP out to craft a Master Plan for TCA; it will help our residents to decide upon concrete plans for the generating additional revenue and supporting the arts. With an improving economy and sustainable solutions to consider such as selling the naming rights to create revenue and expanding and enhancing the programming, we may not need to extend the tax. One thing is clear: the arts are essential to Tempe and our growing status as world-class city.

If you have a question please email it to: editor@tempethoughts.com

Print Friendly

Speak Your Mind