Mesa mulls sales tax increase

Mesa is considering a sales tax increase to hire additional officers, firefighters and civilian support staff.

The proposed 0.25 percent increase, from 1.75 percent to 2 percent, received unanimous support at a City Council study session last Thursday.

The council will vote May 7 on whether to put the issue before voters in the November election.

A 0.4 percent sales tax increase proposed by the city in 2016 that would have provided additional funds for public safety did not receive voter approval.

However, that increase also would have funded the construction of four buildings for Arizona State University in downtown Mesa — a fact many blamed for the measure’s failure.

The current collective sales tax in Mesa, including the 5.6 percent state tax and 0.7 percent county tax, is 8.05 percent.

Revenue from the additional sales tax would total approximately $25 million annually to give police 60 percent and fire-medical 40 percent.

Officials estimate the tax will yield roughly $15 million annually for police.

 Those funds would support hiring an estimated 65 officers and civilian patrol, and related costs, including police vehicles.

The Fire and Medical Department would receive an estimated $10 million to $10.5 million annually. Those funds would support the hiring of 45 firefighters and civilian technical staff.

The proposal pointed to an overall increase in calls for police and fire service – primarily for mental-health service, which can require more time.

There were no details on whether some funds would be used to resurrect Mesa Fire and Medical’s community-care program, which took an innovative approach by providing in-home services rather than resorting to costly emergency room visits.

The program treated 13,000 patients over three years but was suspended when a federal grant funding the program ran out, the Tribune reported in March.

Both departments are dealing with complications arising from Mesa’s growing population, as well.

“The east side and west side of the city have different types of issues that they are dealing with,” Mesa Budget Director Candace Cannistraro said.

 “On the east side, the population is growing, and we have geographic areas where there is a large expanse of area that someone needs to go to for response on a call, she continued.

She said the west side showed “multiple calls within the same area for the same unit, causing other units to have to come in and backfill for those calls.”

The departments would not add all positions at once. Rather, they would likely be phased in over a period of three to six years.

Because of that, there is a potential for the some of the funds to be used for other public safety expenses, including paying off the unfunded pension liability.

In addition to increased hiring, the additional revenue from the sales tax increase would fund several one-time expenses, including resurfacing the driving track, a computer-aided dispatch system replacement and heart monitor replacements.

Mayor John Giles noted that crime is down in Mesa, “but that’s not to say it is always going to be that way.”

 “We do have some unmet needs as a result of the growth,” he added. “To me, the need for this is very apparent, and I not only am in favor of it but plan on doing everything I can to assist the campaign to help tell the story to make this happen.”

Mesa’s current sales tax — 1.75 percent across the categories of retail, contracting and utilities, with no tax on food — is among the lowest in the Phoenix metro area.

Its retail rate ranks fourth lowest of the 17 largest municipalities in the Valley, behind Chandler, Gilbert and Scottsdale.

If raised to 2 percent, its ranking would be sixth lowest.  

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