Mesa voters say no to sales tax increase

Tuesday’s decision by Mesa voters to not approve a sales tax to pay for new fire stations and more fire and police services and employees means city leaders will have to find creative ways to do those things.

Interim Fire Chief Mary Cameli said she and the department’s employees “will always respect what the voters decide.”

Department leaders now must “work on ways to overcome” the issues that the sales tax would have paid for, Cameli said.  

Because the city’s population has grown quickly, the city has gotten behind in expanding fire and medical services, which results in longer response times in some areas. Some fire stations respond to about 4,000 calls a year, Cameli said. That means sometimes a unit from another station farther away from the caller has to respond to a new call.

But the city must, and will, maintain top-notch public service departments and will identify options to raise revenue, she and Mayor John Giles said.

One option, Cameli said, involves continued attention to developing a cost-recovery method for the city’s community medicine program, which is currently funded by a federal grant. She and other city leaders want to continue that program and believe once details are hammered out with hospitals and insurance companies, it could pay for itself.

She also plans to focus on infill, meaning finding more backup units to help the staff as it responds to a growing number of calls.

Giles said city officials need to determine Plan B for funding the departments. With three new City Council members just elected, he expects those discussions to begin in January.

Giles recognizes that voters on Tuesday said they are concerned about the economy and don’t want to pay more taxes.

“Mesa is a conservative city,” Giles said. Taxes are low in Mesa “and we’re proud of that.”

The defeat of the measure also means four planned buildings to house an Arizona State University campus in the heart of downtown Mesa won’t be constructed.

ASU officials declined to comment on any downtown project, but issued a statement that they look forward to “serving the citizens of Mesa through our Polytechnic campus. Working together we will further enhance opportunities for students in the fields of engineering and technology through distinctive course offerings and industry partnerships.”

Mayor Giles isn’t throwing in the towel on more higher-education options in Mesa.

“ASU in downtown Mesa is too good an idea to set aside,” he said. Giles is a supporter of increased educational attainment for Mesa residents to make the city more attractive to employers.

Likewise, the city will find a way to fund expansions for Benedictine University and Wilkes University, he said. Those two smaller projects would have been funded by the sales tax.

Voters were asked to approve a 0.4 percent increase in the city’s sales tax rate to fund the public safety and higher education projects. But, the unofficial final vote showed most voters didn’t want to pay more.

A total of 61,218 voters said “no,” representing 53.42 percent of the ballots cast. An additional 53,376 voters, or 46.58 percent, supported the plan. Those numbers reflect 100 percent of the ballots cast in all 75 Mesa precincts. Officials in the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office said vote totals won’t be finalized until later in the week.

City officials had said the tax would generate an additional $38.4 million a year after collections began in March. Of that, $23 million was to be earmarked for public safety—fire and police. Another $15 million was for higher education.

The tax money would have paid for a new fire station in southeast Mesa; 27 additional fire department employees; 58 police officers and four civilian police employees, plus equipment for both departments.

 

Article Source: http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/arizona/article_34263f36-aa9d-11e6-9793-372fd3968d04.html