Mesa voters could have an opportunity to fund a multitude of city-related street, public safety and historical projects if the city council moves forward on what could be a $147.9 million bond election in November.
A majority of the projects the council could present to voters this fall — the city’s governing body can alter the proposed bond package before approving it at the Monday, July 8 meeting — are tied to infrastructure improvements, for example the addition of bike lanes along Mesa Drive between 8th Avenue and Main Street and the addition of more street lights. Also included in that package, totaling $79.1 million, are infrastructure projects related to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport’s eastside terminal and the Fiesta Mall.
The other large chunk of the proposed funding comes from upgrades to the city’s public safety department totaling $51.7 million, for example a replacement to the Mesa Police Department’s helicopter that would cost a little more than $3.1 million and the construction of an approximately $16 million communications center for the fire department.
At a council study session on July 1, Mesa fire chief Harry Beck said the second communications center would operate alongside the one the department already operates, making the transition to the second unit “seamless” in case of a problem arises with the main center. Beck added the public safety departments, which he said would each use a center, have “really had to use Band-aids” to compensate for issues that have already arisen.
Councilmember Scott Somers said the second communications center would also allow the city to remain in step with future technological innovations.
“The nature of communication and public safety will change immeasurably over the next decade,” he said. “This isn’t what might happen; this is what’s going to happen.”
During a call to the public session during the regular meeting, Mesa resident, Phoenix firefighter and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 2960 president Frank Piccioli advocated for the center as a means of better protecting residents. The heart of his argument came in a comparison with the Phoenix department’s center, which he said is “state of the art” with backup computer systems and secondary facilities in place for the moments when the main system fails.
“Currently, your city, my city, is not prepared,” he said.
The final project voters could approve is the Arizona Spring Training Experience, Museum and Community Center —a $17 million facility that would display 4,000 pieces of baseball memorabilia and double as a community center for the city. Mesa Historical Museum CEO Lisa Anderson said the project would more than a traditional museum, and councilmember Dave Richins compared the proposal to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum in Ohio.
City manager Chris Brady said the project was known as the Cactus League Experience, but Anderson said the organization opted to change the name to attract a broader audience
“People know they’re here for spring training, but they don’t know they’re here for Cactus League,” she said.
Mayor Scott Smith said the way the historical museum is trying to get funding for the project is unique, as he said it’s uncommon for non-city organizations to request bond funding. Despite its distinctiveness, as well as concerns from council members about specific operational details about the project, Smith said the museum is “important enough to give people a chance to say ‘yea or nay’ on.”
“I’m willing to let you have your swing,” he said.
At the regular session call to the public, Mesa resident Thomas Schuelke disagreed was wary about the project and asked why the city is asking for general obligation bonds in lieu of revenue bonds.
He compared the Spring Training Experience to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, which is run by a nonprofit organization unrelated to Major League Baseball, and said the latter has lost money in eight of the last 10 years.
“Please make sure this is a viable enterprise before authorizing a vote,” he said.
If the bonds are approved, the funds would be distributed to the projects beginning midway through the 2013-14 fiscal year and ending during the 2016-17 fiscal year.
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