Tempe's next challenge: finding $36M to pay for lake's new dam - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Tempe's next challenge: finding $36M to pay for lake's new dam

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Posted: Sunday, January 8, 2012 7:41 am | Updated: 1:28 pm, Mon Jan 9, 2012.

Tempe went through plenty of agony just to decide Town Lake's rubber dams will be replaced by metal gates -- but that's just the start of the grief.

The city now has to figure out how to pay for the $36 million project, and whether taxpayers will be on the hook for part or all of the cost.

Tempe has several options. It could lease or sell more than 100 acres it owns along the lake, which could generate substantial amounts of money.

It also could hold an election for voter-approved bonds, which are tied to property taxes.

Or, it could do some of both.

Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman said if an election is necessary, it could wait until November 2013.

"That way nobody is rushed and the financing options can be evaluated," he said.

But with construction scheduled to begin in October 2013, that would give the city little time to develop a Plan B if voters rejected the bonds.

Tempe's elected officials will begin evaluating how to pay for the metal gates now that they've informally settled on the metal gates on lake's west side. Tempe will make a formal decision Jan. 19.

Tempe hasn't determined how much it would cost to finance a bond or how that would impact taxpayers, said Ken Jones, the city's finance director. He said the city is still refining the cost estimates. The actual costs would only be known as construction draws closer, he said

Complicating the matter, Tempe may eventually need to spend $8 million to $10 million to replace the east-end rubber dams that date to 1999. But water has accumulated on the "dry" side of the dam for so long that Tempe will evaluate whether it's worth replacing them, City Manager Charlie Meyer said.

"We haven't needed an east dam for at least 5 years now," he said.

Tempe will share how it chose the metal gates at a Wednesday forum that includes a review of other options it considered.

The city had studied keeping the air-filled rubber bladders, but they were deemed the least reliable given one bladder burst in 2010. Also, the $40 million bladders would have to be replaced every 10 years, making it the most expensive long-term option. Another kind of metal dam was rejected because it was held in place with smaller rubber bladders.

The metal gates will improve the lake's appearance -- and size. They'll be built on new concrete piers 100 feet west of the existing structure that supports a pedestrian bridge. The metal gates are scheduled to be in place by December 2015.

Councilwoman Onnie Shekerjian said she thinks the public will like the metal gate option because the existing dams carry psychological baggage.

"What I hear in the community is people question the idea of rubber dams again, and that questioning is reasonable," she said.

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