Fueled by a coming wave of growth in southeast Mesa, City Council plans to ask voters this fall to authorize a $100 million bond issue for street and road improvements.
Mesa Mayor John Giles initially was reluctant to put the bond issue on the ballot, saying he thought voters would have little appetite for a secondary property tax increase during a recession.
But Giles eventually relented, agreeing with southeast Mesa Councilman Kevin Thompson that the city could not afford to fall behind the growth curve in the hot development area east of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
“I think I have come around to it,’’ Giles said. “I think there is a cycle. We’ll get through it. I think a year or two from now, we’ll be grateful we are not overly tentative.’’
He noted that a vote authorizing the bonds doesn’t mean the council has to sell them immediately. He said Council could delay a sale if the economy worsened or there is a slower rebound than some experts forecast.
A delay in selling the bonds also would spare voters temporarily from a $28 annual increase in the secondary property tax – which generally supports school districts and pays for city capital improvements.
Council recently approved the tax levy for the 2020-21 fiscal year with no increase in taxes.
City Manager Chris Brady noted that the last street bond package, in 2013, was for $79.1 million and cost voters $26.40 a year.
Thompson argued forcefully for the bond issue, which includes several projects in his southeast Mesa district. He noted that there is a high degree of development activity there despite the recession.
“I think waiting another four, five six years is way too long,’’ Thompson said, referring to how long it would take to complete the projects if they were delayed until a 2022 bond issue vote, as Brady suggested.
“Our needs are so great; I can’t fathom us putting this off for five or six years. I think it’s our obligation to let our citizens make this decision,’’ Thompson said.
At one point, Thompson offered to draw up a laundry list of his own, prioritizing the projects in southeast Mesa, and suggested that each council member do the same thing.
“We don’t do it that way,’’ Brady said, adding that in all bond issues, he tries to include a variety of projects across the city to meet various local needs and appeal to voters.
“A lot of this work is in southeast Mesa, but that’s where we are growing,’’ Vice Mayor Mark Freeman said. “Then again, we have a lot of street repairs.’’
Brady and R. J. Zeder, Mesa’s transportation director, outlined four different options, including an interim $62.7 million plan over the next two years that would have used bonds from 2013 and other available funds without requiring a bond issue.
The other three were bond issues ranging in cost, and the number of projects, from the $100 million package supported by Giles to $150 million and $200 million packages.
Although the council voted unanimously to support the $100 million bond package, it will take a formal vote scheduled for June 15 to place it on the Nov. 3 General Election ballot.
The bond issue has an unmistakable southeast Mesa flavor, with improvements to Signal Butte Road between Williams Field Road and Pecos Road ($9.5 million), and Signal Butte between Pecos and Germann ($6.8 million) ranked as the top priorities.
Destination Gateway, a major mixed-use development offering a blend of residential and commercial development, is planned at Williams Field and Signal Butte roads near Arizona Route 24, a freeway scheduled to begin construction later this year.
Other improvements in the same region would include a connection between Ray and Ellsworth roads ($6.8 million) and work on Ellsworth between the city limits and Arizona 24 ($6.2 million).
Zeder said at least three projects in the package are directly related to the construction of Arizona 24, with the Signal Butte projects creating a north-south arterial near the new freeway.
He said Signal Butte is only a dirt road in some areas.
“Southeast Mesa is the fastest growing part of the city and there are gaps in the highway system,’’ Zeder said. “Most of that doesn’t exist today. We want to coordinate that with State Route 24.”
Arizona 24 will run diagonally in a southeast direction to the east of Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport, providing a critical link to highway-starved Queen Creek at Ironwood Drive.
Construction on an interim, five-mile long roadway is expected to begin this fall and take about two years to complete.
Mesa already has funded the first leg of Arizona 24, also known as the Gateway Freeway – a $14 million bridge over Ellsworth Road that continues a ramp off the Loop 202. All but $2.5 million is refundable from state and county revenues.
Projects in other parts of Mesa include improvements on Val Vista Drive between Pueblo and the U.S. 60 ($12.3 million) and the reconstruction of two busy central Mesa intersections at Southern Avenue and Country Club Drive ($8.5 million) and at Stapley Road and University drives ($11.3 million).
Zeder said that nearly 50 percent of the $100 million price tag is reimbursable from Proposition 400, a sales tax increase authorized by Maricopa County voters that expires in 2025.
“The list is not wasteful,’’ Zeder said, referring to the $100 million package. “That puts us in a good place to get a sizable reimbursement and to get some needed projects going.’’
He said the reimbursements in Proposition 400 funds may eventually help Mesa complete additional projects that were included in the more expensive bond packages.
Thompson said growth in southeast Mesa has not been significantly interrupted by the recession.
“There is a slight pump of the brakes, but overall, construction hasn’t stopped. Builders are still building. Homes are still being sold,’’ he said. “It’s almost a weird economy,’’ with traditional brick and mortar businesses suffering the most during the pandemic.
Zeder noted that in the larger bond issues under consideration, the amount of reimbursement from Proposition 400 would drop.
The $150 million plan would have cost taxpayers $42 per year, with a $63 million reimbursement, and the $200 million plan would have cost $56 per year, with a reimbursement of $68 million.
Among the bypassed projects that had been in the larger bond issues were: improving Elliot Road between Ellsworth and Sossaman for $18.1 million and improving Southern Avenue between Gilbert Road and Val Vista for $9.7 million.