Do you want a bigger Phoenix Children’s Museum? Should the city upgrade its facilities to be more environmentally friendly? Repair the roads? How the renovation of some buildings in the city his affordable housing?
That’s what groups of people selected by the Phoenix City Council began deliberating on Friday. Their decisions on which projects to fund could eventually become part of a bond program that the city council is expected to ask voters to approve in 2023.
It would be the city’s first general bond application in 16 years.
Council-appointed groups will focus on different types of projects such as arts to environment. The meetings that will last until October will likely lead to some tough decisions, as the needs identified by the city far exceed the amount of funding the council plans to ask voters.
City staff created a list of potential projects exceeding $1 billion, with the goal that the various groups narrow that list down to $500 million.
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That’s the amount of general obligation bonds that city officials say the council could ask voters to approve without raising property taxes. City officials have organized the list based on most urgent and current needs versus future needs.
Committees can also present other ideas, though city leaders encourage them to focus on projects with one-time expenses, rather than those that would create ongoing funding needs.
The city is also asking residents to give their opinion by attend subcommittee meetings, which take place largely on Mondays and Fridays morning and afternoon. Meetings can be attended virtually or in person.
Residents can also submit their thoughts via the “GOPHX-TOOL” on the city’s website, or on social networks with the hashtag #GOPHX2023.
GO bonds allow the city to borrow money and pay it back with interest to finance certain things, usually physical infrastructure. The city pays off the debt with residents’ secondary property taxes, though it is technically backed by the city’s “full faith and credit”.
The potential 2023 bond under deliberation does not propose raising the tax rate, but voters would pay less if they reject the measure. The average Phoenix homeowner pays $97 in secondary property taxes to the city each year, according to city officials.
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Committee members are mostly community leaders, involved in nonprofit organizations related to the arts, housing, and sustainability. They are also union leaders, members of chambers of commerce and former elected officials. Some work for insurance companies.
The chairman of the 15-member executive committee, which is responsible for making the final proposal to the city council, is Sharon Harper of Plaza Companieswell-known promoter of the Valley.
Here are the eight subcommittees and the city-identified priority projects they are considering. A full list that includes future projects is on the the city’s website.
arts and culture
Cost of suggested projects for priority needs: $56 million (five projects)
- Build a Latin cultural center.
- Expand the Children’s Museum of Phoenix.
- Replace equipment and maintain city-owned facilities.
- Improve Symphony Hall.
- Build a new theater for the young people of the Valley.
Cost of suggested projects for future needs: $7 million (two projects)
Economic development and education:
Cost of suggested projects for priority needs: $23.5 million (one project)
- Acquire the land needed for economic development along the Rio Salado.
Cost of suggested projects for future needs: $19 million (four projects)
Environment and sustainability
Cost of suggested projects for priority needs: $25 million (three projects)
- Update technology in city facilities to be more energy and water efficient.
- Replace fuel infrastructure.
- Replace HVAC systems at municipal facilities to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Cost of suggested projects for future needs: $32 million (three projects)
Housing, social services and homelessness
Cost of suggested projects for priority needs: $62 million (four projects)
- Renovate and preserve up to 610 affordable homes across four properties.
- Design and build a 12,600 square foot Cesar Chavez senior center.
- Build 364 new modern mixed-income rental units as part of the Edison-Eastlake redevelopment project.
- Renovate the historic McDowell Senior Center.
Cost of suggested projects for future needs: $28 million (two projects)
Neighborhood and city services
Cost of suggested projects for priority needs: $52 million (11 projects)
- Improve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act at city facilities.
- Build two secondary libraries (one at Deer Valley Drive and Tatum Boulevard and one at 99th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road).
- Expand the Yucca library.
- Upgrade various town properties such as repairing roofs or electrical issues.
- Provide grants and assist in the rehabilitation of historic properties.
- Restore and preserve the Orpheum Theatre, especially the exterior architecture.
Cost of suggested projects for future needs: $14 million (four projects)
Parks and recreation
Cost of suggested projects for priority needs: $109 million (13 projects)
- Improve various community centers, parks and museums.
- Replace three “deteriorating pools in the Maryvale area” with a regional pool and install two wading pools at Marivue Park and Holiday Park.
- Replace four pools in South Phoenix with a regional pool in Harmon Park and three wading pools in Alkire, Grant and University parks.
- Renovating the Washington Activity Center.
Cost of projects suggested for future needs: $226 million (12 projects)
Cost of suggested projects for priority needs: $158 million (eight projects)
- Renovate various police stations.
- Renovation of various fire stations.
- Build a fire station on 51st Avenue and the 303 loop.
- Move a police station and a command center.
- Build an additional training track for police drivers and repair the existing one.
Cost of suggested projects for future needs: $86 million (seven projects)
Streets and storm drainage
Cost of suggested projects for priority needs: $161 million (seven projects)
- Design and construct improvements that would largely serve pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, with an emphasis on equity.
- Create and implement a “resident-centric process” to resolve traffic issues.
- Provide funding to the council-approved “Road Safety Action Plan” to mitigate fatal and serious crashes.
- Improve drainage in the Hohokam area south of Phoenix.
- Mitigating flooding in Laveen.
- Replace deteriorated storm sewers throughout the city.
- Maintain the roadway throughout the city.
Cost of suggested projects for future needs: $92 million (four projects)
First affair in 16 years. Why?
Phoenix voters last approved a bail request in 2006 for $880 million.
Going forward, the city plans to petition voters for smaller amounts but with greater frequency, which should be every five years.
The reason for the long delay in bond applications dates back to the Great Recession.
The city finished issuing most of its 2006 bonds in 2012. By then, property values were at an all-time low and “this was not the time to be thinking about a new GO bond,” said Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Gitkin told The Arizona Republic.
Then, changes to state laws reduced the property tax revenue the city could raise, Gitkin said, which in turn limited how much it could borrow.
One such state law, for example, prohibited the assessed values of homes from increasing more than 5% per year.
Today, the city still owes money for projects completed under the 2006 bond program: about $829 million to be exact, and that doesn’t include interest. Cities pay for projects over a period of years, much like a homeowner makes a mortgage payment.
The amount the city pays annually for these projects will drop massively between 2027 and 2028, from $126 million to $54 million.
That drop combined with rising home values now makes it a good time for Phoenix to take on new debt without raising the property tax rate, Gitkin said.
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