Mesa is taking its budget woes on the road. The city will host six town hall meetings throughout Mesa next month to explain the city’s financial situation and receive public comment, a move criticized by one of the expected leaders of a campaign against the property tax.
This is a new step for the city, which typically does not leave the council chambers when shaping the next year’s budget that’s adopted each June.
But in other years, the council was not facing a $37 million shortfall or asking residents to approve the first city property tax since 1945. Voters will decide May 16 whether to implement a city property tax and sales tax increase.
“This provides an opportunity for people to voice their opinion about the budget,” City Manager Chris Brady said.
One meeting will be held in each council district, although residents may attend any of the meetings. Brady said he will take the public comments, and council direction from an all-day budget session on Feb. 3, to develop his recommendations for next year’s budget.
Councilman Rex Griswold, who is working on an executive summary for the budget, floated the town hall idea last year. He said he supports the meetings, but said ideally they would not be happening the same year as the election.
“Whatever you say, one side or another will say you are taking a position,” Griswold said.
Brady, who started his job earlier this month, said he had similar meetings in San Antonio and pitched this idea during his job interview.
Mesa City Attorney Debbie Spinner said the city has the legal right to hold these meetings.
“The city can present facts in an objective, factual manner but not engage in any type of advocating,” Spinner said.
But David Molina, president of Valley Business Owners (And Concerned Citizens), an activist group that is likely to oppose the property tax, questioned the city’s motivation.
“It’s the game bureaucracies play — when they want something from voters, they go out and campaign even though it’s cast as educating the public,” Molina said.
Each open house will start at 6 p.m., followed at 6:30 p.m. by a budget presentation and public comment. For information, call (480) 644-3333 or visit www.cityofmesa.org.
Feb. 7 : Utilities Community Room, 640 N. Mesa Drive
Feb. 8: Augusta Ranch Elementary School, 9430 E. Neville Ave.
Feb. 9: Dobson Ranch Library, 2425 S. Dobson Road
Feb. 13: Bush Elementary School, 4925 E. Ingram
Feb. 15: Field Elementary School, 2325 E. Adobe St.
Feb. 16: Mesa Convention Center, 263 N. Center St.