The most recent poll of Mesa residents shows that voters are likely to reject the city’s first property tax in more than 60 years, while the same residents overwhelmingly support a higher sales tax.
The city hopes to raise as much as $30 million next year from its first property tax since 1945, but the measure appears to be headed for failure unless it gains significant momentum in the next two weeks leading up to the May 16 election.
But that’s not the case with the sales tax, which appears to be headed for approval.
The results of a Tribune poll conducted late last week show 46 percent opposing the property tax, 34 percent in support and 20 percent undecided. For the proposed half-cent sales tax increase, 59 percent said they would support it, while 30 percent were opposed and 11 percent were undecided.
Another local media poll released this week, which was conducted several weeks earlier, showed a similar breakdown of support and opposition. The Tribune’s survey, conducted last Thursday and Friday reflects a more recent breakdown of support, including distinctions between those who intend to vote and those who already have cast an early ballot.
“The property tax is in trouble,” said Jim Haynes, president and chief executive of the Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center, which conducted the poll for the Tribune. “The people out in support of this need to get out to the people on the margins, because it’s going to come down to voter turnout.”
The center polled 401 registered Mesa voters, with the results indicating they are split on the two tax measures on the ballot. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent.
Jackson Fisher, who responded to the poll, said he’s opposed to the property tax because he feels the city is asking residents to cover for past financial mistakes. He favors the sales tax, however, because it will help with roads and some city services.
“A tax on discretionary income and spending is far superior to levying a tax on something someone already owns but may not have the income to pay,” Fisher said.
A general dislike of taxes or tax increases was the most common reason given by likely voters for opposing the property tax. The next most common response was a belief that the city wastes money.
Others told the Tribune on Wednesday they do not believe a property tax is fair, and said it puts the burden on property owners while a sales tax is paid by city residents, winter residents and residents of neighboring communities.
Some, like Betty Freestone, are opposed to any new taxes.
“I have to live on a budget, and (the city) can live on a budget,” she said. “And my budget isn’t as generous as theirs, either.”
But supporters say the taxes will be crucial to maintaining the quality of life expected in Mesa, and to keep up the current level of city services. It also makes the city more appealing to businesses looking to relocate.
“If this is going to be a city worth living in, we need to pay for things that make it a city worth living in,” said Alan Sapakie, who supports both taxes. “We’re a huge city and we can’t afford to just sit out here and rot.”
Supporter Sarah Goode said, “I want to live in a community that has parks and pools and libraries and museums.”
The first question on the ballot will ask Mesa voters to increase the city sales tax to 1.75 percent and the overall sales tax rate to 8.05 percent, which would generate roughly $40 million per year with 60 percent dedicated to streets. Today, the city sales tax rate is 1.5 percent.
The second question will ask voters to approve a primary property tax for general operations. The average Mesa homeowner, with a limited property value of $150,000, would pay $150 per year.
Spokesmen for campaigns supporting and opposing the property tax said their internal data shows results similar to the Tribune poll, yet both remain confident they will be on the winning side.
“I continually get questions from people saying, ‘Why doesn’t the city be honest with us? Why do they have to try and intimidate us and scare us?’ ” said Bob Hisserich, cochairman of the committee opposing the property tax. “The city has a credibility problem.”
Haynes said the upside for property tax backers is that 20 percent remain undecided. Also, the property tax was ahead among the 68 voters who’ve cast early ballots.
Chuck Coughlin, president of the political consulting firm Highground, which is running the Yes for Mesa campaign, said the turnout on Election Day will make the difference for his side.
“What we continue to see is when people are informed about the arguments and are aware of the challenges the city faces . . . they are more and more supportive of both the property tax and sales tax,” he said.
The Tribune’s poll results were similar to a Mesa Chamber of Commerce poll taken in October to gauge early support for the property tax and the sales tax increase. At the time, 39 percent of voters supported the property tax, while 63 percent said they would back a sales tax increase.
The Tribune has commissioned polls on two other Mesa issues during the past four years.
Last year, a poll conducted by the Behavior Research Center showed Mesa Riverview — previously known as Riverview at Dobson — with a 48 percent to 37 percent lead, with 15 percent undecided. Two weeks later, Mesa voters approved the 250-acre Riverview project and its estimated $84 million incentive package by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.
In 2002, a Tribune poll showed the Arizona Cardinals stadium had 49 percent voter support compared with 41 percent opposed. The poll was conducted three months before the vote, and the stadium was eventually defeated as support declined leading up to Election Day.
The Tribune presents the results of its poll in a three-part series that continues Friday and Saturday. The series explores why Mesa residents support or oppose the tax measures, and whether they feel the city has been prudent in its spending over the past few years or whether it has spent too much on nonessential city services.