The Mesa Chamber of Commerce declared political war Wednesday on the Mesa City Council with a last-ditch threat to get a primary property tax on the May ballot.
The chamber voted to only fund and support a campaign that includes a primary property tax — not the council’s latest plan of just a sales tax increase.
"There’s not a single person involved in this thing that does not recognize a longterm fix includes a primary tax," chamber president Charlie Deaton said. "But there is not the political will to go out and fix it."
The chamber’s action has the blessing of the Mesa Police Association union — one of several city organizations pushing the council for a primary property tax election.
"This council has to find the courage to do what needs to be done," said Fabian Cota, vice president of the association, which represents sworn officers. "We’re waiting for the leadership to lead us through this, and that’s why we voted them into office, to be leaders."
Council members fired back, not appearing influenced by the chamber’s tactic.
"I am not here to be a collection agent for someone’s salary and not here to be a collection agent for the Chamber of Commerce," said Councilwoman Janie Thom.
Vice Mayor Claudia Walters said, "I’m disappointed with their unilateral approach, but they have to do what they think is right for them."
Mayor Keno Hawker did not return a phone call Wednesday, but said earlier in the week he does not support a property tax election.
At this time, Mike Whalen is the only council member who says he supports it.
The council is scheduled to discuss the election issue again today and on Monday decide what will be on the May 16 ballot.
The council is leaning toward asking voters for a sales tax increase to 1.8 percent, selling Pinal County land to pay back existing debt and attaching a secondary property tax to all future general obligation bond approvals.
If the voters do not approve a sales tax increase, Mesa expects to have to cut between $25 million and $30 million from next year’s budget.
Over the past couple of weeks, city groups such as the police and fire unions, the city’s Economic Development Advisory Board, arts groups and Mesa ACORN — an organization that represents lowand moderate-income families — have either lobbied or criticized council members.
The groups support the Mesa 2025: Financing the Future Committee, which, after 19 months of studying the city’s financial outlook, recommended the council seek a primary property tax and a sales tax increase.
Residents also have addressed the council at its numerous study sessions on the issue, including Monday when former Mesa planning director Frank Mizner told the council that Mesa is deteriorating, parks aren’t being maintained and employee morale is extremely low.
"Do what’s right for the long-term future of Mesa," Mizner said. "Show courage, and trust residents of Mesa will support you."
The council agreed with these groups in October when a majority of members — including Hawker — said the city needed to seek a property tax.
But that brought complaints from residents opposing the tax.
Then, a Chamber of Commerce poll showed less than 40 percsent of voters supported a property tax and the council’s direction shifted.
The chamber has been successful in rallying voters in the past. In 1998, its political action committee Mesa Citizens for Responsible Public Policy successfully campaigned to pass the "quality of life" sales tax that helped build the Mesa Arts Center.