Mesa voters to decide on sales tax hike

The core of downtown Mesa could change, soon, if Mesa voters approve an increase in the sales tax rate in the Nov. 8 general election.

If the tax hike is approved, it will pay for the construction of four multi-story buildings in the block around the Mesa City Plaza which would house Arizona State University classrooms, students and instructors.

It’s not all about ASU, though. Much of the new money would be directed specifically to the city’s fire and police departments, Mayor John Giles said.

And, the city won’t forget about its other partners in higher education. Money is earmarked for expansion projects to help Benedictine University and Wilkes University, both of which already operate in downtown Mesa.

The ballot question asks voters to approve a 0.4 of a percent increase in the city’s sales tax rate. The current tax rate of 1.75 percent would increase by four-tenths of 1 percent to 2.15 percent. That means on a $100 purchase, the buyer would pay $2.15 in city sales taxes. It has no effect on sales taxes charged by the state and county. Giles reminds voters that the city doesn’t tax groceries.

City officials expect the tax to generate an additional $38.4 million a year. Of that $23 million would be earmarked for public safety — fire and police. Another $15 million would go to higher education.

If voters approve the hike, the increase would go into effect March 1, 2017.

Much of the buzz about the tax increase seems to be associated with ASU, Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said.

But, “public safety really became the drive behind this,” he said.

Budget meetings about the needs of the fire and police departments showed fire stations are pretty far away from new housing developments, he said.

“The tremendous housing growth in the southeast and northeast parts of the city puts pressure on response times for the fire and police departments,” Brady said. “We know we need to build more fire stations.”

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