The Mesa City Council will have its last chance next week to decide whether or not to ask voters this November to approve a $260 million utility bond measure.
The council will vote on whether to put the measure on the ballot at its Wednesday meeting — the last one before it takes a summer break. The deadline to get the question on the ballot this fall is July 10.
Council members said waiting to do the projects would lead to higher costs as the prices of construction materials continue to rise. City officials also emphasized that the 100-plus utility projects that would be funded by the bond sale need to get under way as soon as possible to keep pace with population growth.
“At the end of the day council, we know we have to do these projects,” City Manager Christopher Brady said.
If approved, the $260 million would pay for utility projects that range from replacing fire hydrants to improving the water and wastewater systems at Arizona State University Polytechnic. That amount, along with $39 million in previously approved bonds, would be spent over a five-year period.
This figure does not even pay for all the projects the council had hoped to finance. The city underestimated how much it would have to spend on the projects because the cost of building materials has gone up since the estimates were made in early 2005.
The amount needed to pay for the entire wish list of projects would be more like $310 million.
The city has only planned for $251 million in new utility bonds in its financial forecast — meaning it would have to come up with a new funding source to cover its future debt payments if voters approve the bonds.
But the bond measure might face resistance from community groups that successfully opposed the city’s recent property tax measure.
Jan Hibbard, member of Valley Business Owners (and Concerned Citizens), said the city is constantly making bad financial projections and points to the Mesa Arts Center as an example.
“In 1998, they were projecting $33 million dollars. Then it went up to $60 million. When it was all said and done, it’s cost in excess of $100 million,” she said.
Hibbard said she also takes issue with how the city spends its utility revenue. Each year, millions of dollars are transferred to the General Fund to pay for operating costs when it should be going into capital, she said.
“It’s like if you pay cash to build a house and then turn around and finance your food and clothing,” she said.