Many Mesa residents dream of a city with personality and pizazz — one with museums, a thriving arts center, sidewalk cafes, unique shops, beautiful parks and high-rise condos.
They believe certain amenities are essential to the wellbeing of a community, such as aquatic programs, recreation centers and festivals.
Others are not necessarily opposed to these things, but many of them don’t see it as crucial to making Mesa a great place to live. They believe these “extras” should be privately funded.
They want the city to provide excellent police and fire protection, maintain roadways and utility infrastructure. They are happy with their suburban lifestyle and do not believe Mesa must become a “big city” in order to be a nice place to live.
The outcome of Tuesday’s property tax and sales tax increase election has the potential to shape the shortterm — and potentially longterm — future of Mesa. If both taxes fail, the city has said it would face an ongoing $25 million budget shortfall that could impact quality-oflife issues and halt progress toward a more glamorous Mesa.
Generally speaking, those favoring the property tax want to make Mesa look, feel and act more like the 40th largest city in America — Mesa is larger than Atlanta, Miami, Fla., Minneapolis or St. Louis — and believe the downtown Mesa Arts Center is the perfect start.
They support the city’s efforts to use taxpayer money to attract new businesses, either by spending millions on downtown redevelopment or giving incentives to bring a P.F. Chang’s to town.
And in a speech at Friday’s groundbreaking of Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World at Mesa Riverview — which received $84 million in incentives — Vice Mayor Claudia Walters said the store was good for the community’s image.
Tammie Pursley, a member of Mesa ACORN, a group supporting the tax, said: “Mesa needs to define its sense of place and work toward that goal.”
Mesa resident Kristin Hansen supports both taxes because “you get what you pay for,” she said. “It’s silly for a city of this size not to have a property tax.”
Critics of the property tax haven’t rushed to change Mesa’s image and would prefer to keep taxes low and government small. In fact, they like living in a bedroom community, want the city to take care of the basics and otherwise leave them alone.
“If I wanted all the industry, I’d move to Phoenix and Tucson,” said Don Vasenko, who opposes a property tax. “They think we need to have something big that’s going to move Mesa out of the bushes. Well, I wonder why Paradise Valley doesn’t have a lot of stuff? They have milliondollar homes, and like it how it is.”
If approved, the property tax would raise $30 million the first year.
If the sales tax is increased to 1.75 percent, the city would bring in about $40 million next year, with 60 percent dedicated to street improvements.
If the property tax fails, the Mesa City Council says it will eliminate cultural art grants and funding for arts classes, eliminate special events such as the Merry Main Street Festival, reduce museum hours and park rangers — items a successful city should not do without, supporters say.
Former Mesa councilman and property tax supporter Pat Gilbert said he sees city government as being a positive partner with its residents.
“The community’s likeminded concerns, celebrations and events create a vibrant and vital city attracting businesses and families who see Mesa as a desirable place to live and raise a family and make investments,” he said.
Councilman Tom Rawles, who opposes the tax, says he didn’t move to Mesa because of its downtown or because it’s the 40th largest city in America — and he bets most Mesans didn’t either.
“The social and economic elite want everyone else to pay for their vision, and my vision is people are free do what they want with their own money to build the community, and if that includes the Southwest Shakespeare Co. and the museums, that’s great,” Rawles said.