Rhetoric in Gilbert's proposed sales tax hike is rising as those in favor get the word out by walking neighborhoods and attending Little League games while those opposed are planning a Town Hall rally Saturday.
"I think what we're going to see is a fairly frank discussion of what position the town could be in financially if this doesn't pass," said Chris Baker, a Scottsdale-based political consultant working for the pro-Proposition 406 group, Citizens for Public Safety.
But there seems to be little common ground between the two sides.
Kevin Ross, chairman of the Taxed Enough Already political committee, which is sponsoring Saturday's rally, said the tax increase projected to raise about $7 million and the $15 million shortfall it will help close is made necessary by the incompetence of town officials behind a bloated local government who are out to protect their self-interest.
"Their jobs are important. But the private sector jobs are just as important; the people who own the restaurants and the retail shops," Ross said.
The group's "Ground Zero" rally is billed as an attack on both Gilbert's proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase and the statewide 1-cent sales tax increase heading to voters the same day. It is being held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Gilbert Municipal Center, 50 E. Civic Center Drive. The center was the site last year of anti-tax tea parties which attracted thousands of people.
The Saturday event will include campaign signs and sign-making workshops and contests, along with free drinks and chips and other campaign materials such as T-shirts and buttons. There will be an open-mike session and other entertainment. Families are invited to bring their own blankets and other picnic supplies.
Early voting begins April 22.
Joe Bedgood, chairman of Citizens for Public Safety, said he considers the tax measure "apolitical, because with the drastic cuts to public safety they're talking about, I truly feel my family is in some jeopardy."
Gilbert's process to put together a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is just getting under way. So it's not yet clear exactly which cuts might be made if the tax increase isn't approved.
But town department heads submitted lists months ago of how they would implement a 15 percent budget cut in each department. The plans included eliminating 125 positions from the town's 1,200-member employee rolls, including 67 jobs from the police department and 29 from the fire department.
The Citizens for Public Safety group does not have any major events planned yet, Baker said. It is focusing more on supporters making face-to-face contact with voters at or near their homes.
"Basically a lot of the people are police and firefighters. They're out on the front lines, and they will see the effects if this does not pass," Bedgood said.
The group's Web site, www.citizensforpublicsafety.com, includes a "letter from the council" on its pages. It's a statement supporting the tax increase submitted for the official voter information pamphlet and signed by Vice Mayor Linda Abbott and councilmen Dave Crozier, Les Presmyk and John Sentz.
The use of that statement and the presence of links to town Web sites and e-mail addresses is drawing fire from some residents as a sign that public resources are being used to advocate for the election, a violation of state law. But Presmyk said that isn't the case, and the town can't have much control over who posts their information.
"My town e-mail address is a public address, and if someone chooses to post it on a Web site I have no control over, there's not a lot I can do about it," he said.
Ross contends the main push for the tax increase is from police and fire unions and not grass-roots residents of Gilbert. But he said taxpayers will tilt the scales more in his group's favor.
"There's going to be a new equilibrium established in Gilbert, and we were hopeful the Town Council would work with us in establishing that," Ross said, admonishing the council's decision to put the tax increase to voters.
The council twice voted on the quarter-cent sales tax increase, first adopting it outright last June, then rescinding it after a referendum petition drive started that would have likely forced a vote. In January, the council voted to put the question to voters in May.