The Mesa City Council could implement a property tax without the vote of the people, despite the city charter requiring an election.
The legal opinion was presented Wednesday to a committee looking at ways to bring more revenue into the cashstrapped city.
According to the city’s legal opinion, voters have approved bonds. The ballot language for those bonds said a secondary tax could be implemented if necessary to pay off the bonds. Therefore, the required election has already taken place.
"The council has always had that capability," said Bryan Raines, Mesa’s financial services director.
The Mesa 2025: Financing the Future committee expects to vote on its recommendations to the City Council at its next meeting June 29.
Recommendations could include a call for a public vote for a primary property tax, council authorization of a secondary property tax or a public vote to extend or increase the "quality-of-life" sales tax.
Valley Business Owners (And Concerned Citizens) initiated a charter change approved by voters in 2000 that states "no tax shall be levied on real estate unless approved by a majority of the qualified electors voting thereon at a general or special election."
Jan Hibbard, secretary and treasurer of the residents group, said the charter change was intended to require a public vote unless the city is insolvent, or bankrupt and unable to pay its debts.
"The voter should have a say on it," Hibbard said. Authorizing a tax without a vote would be "very underhanded."
The city and Hibbard agree that state law requires a public vote to implement a primary property tax.
The next available date for a primary property tax election is May 2006.
A primary tax can be used to fund any city operations, while a secondary tax is limited. If the council authorized a secondary tax, however, it would free up General Fund money currently being used to pay down the bond debt.