Mesa's hopes for improvements rest on vote - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa's hopes for improvements rest on vote

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Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2008 11:11 pm | Updated: 8:41 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

It's the last place you'd want to be stuck if running late.

With quarter-mile vehicle back-ups not uncommon and more than 65,000 cars passing through daily, Southern Avenue and Mesa Drive is one of Mesa's busiest intersections.

Slideshow: Mesa counts on bonds for fixes

It is one of 13 street improvement projects up for a vote as a $110.9 million ballot question on Nov. 4.

A second question puts forth 11 police and fire capital projects worth $58.3 million, such as a new police station to replace the nearly 28-year-old substation in the Dobson Ranch area, whose evidence processing area is more of a corridor than a room, with Christmas decorations hanging atop cabinets, chairs stacked in a corner and barely enough room for two people to walk by at the same time. Detectives investigating burglaries and murders are crammed for space in another room, with papers spilling over tightly spaced desks.

"We've clearly outgrown this place," said Lee Rankin, operations lieutenant.

Officials hope a new $15 million, 24/7 facility would better serve the public, with at least an entrance lobby.

Two new fire stations are part of the public safety package, one in the west and one in the east.

Mike Dunn, deputy fire chief, says citywide response times to emergencies have increased by 37 seconds in the last three years. "The population is increasing, and there's just no way we can keep up without the additional infrastructure," Dunn said.

Approving these projects would mean the first time in decades that Mesa residents would shell out a property tax, albeit a secondary tax, which is tied to specific projects paid for by bond money. In 2006, voters rejected a primary property tax, leaving Mesa the biggest city nationwide without one.

Mayor Scott Smith doesn't support a primary property tax, which pays for operational expenses. He believes a secondary tax, however, is "fair and appropriate." It's also needed to pay for capital improvements, what with other revenue sources, especially sales tax returns, on a downward spiral, he and other officials say.

"It fits in with our tradition of investing money on things that build a better community and bring a return to the community, which is why I think any Mesa resident is willing to look at it," Smith said.

The amount translates to $19 annually for a house valued at $100,000 or $47.50 for a house valued at $250,000. Mesa's bond debt stands at $275 million to be paid out through 2027-28, largely from sales tax revenue.

The economic downturn had prompted the newly elected City Council in June to trim a $408.8 million bond package approved by the previous council, by about $240 million to where it stands now at nearly $170 million.

Groups such as the Mesa Grande Community Alliance and the Mesa Chamber of Commerce back the package. A political committee called "Yes on Question 1 and 2," which is pushing for its passage, netted more than $160,000 through contributions.

Still, there are some detractors, like David Molina of Valley Business Owners, a local nonprofit group; former council candidate Bob Hisserich; and former Councilwoman Janie Thom, all of whom have written opinion pieces against the bond issue.

"In this time of economic turbulence, why are they (the council) asking for a new tax?" Molina asked.

A property tax has not been considered by past councils to pay off such debt, a move Hisserich said is generally considered "political suicide."

Hisserich termed some projects worthy, questioned the need for a few and echoed Molina in saying the timing is bad.

He also said the city would have the money for basic programs "if it would get out of the business of social programs and after-school programs and economic development."

Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh disagreed. "Citizens have to periodically invest in city infrastructure for its future; they're not frills," he said.

Traditionally, Smith said, not having a property tax has been a point of pride for Mesans.

"There's been a feeling of 'Look at us, we can get by without property tax,' " Smith said. "To many people it's a symbol of what government should not be doing - they believe the city has not been careful with the money and giving more money would be reward for that behavior. But we need to look at where we stand now and where a property tax fits in and we need to decide based on that consideration, not on what happened years ago and in a different scenario."

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