Do you want a bigger Children’s Museum of Phoenix? Should the city upgrade its facilities to be more environmentally friendly? Fix roadways? How does renovating some of the city’s affordable housing sound?
That’s what groups of people selected by the Phoenix City Council began deliberating Friday. Their decisions on which projects should be funded could ultimately be part of a bond program the City Council is expected to ask voters to approve in 2023.
This would be the city’s first request for general obligation bonds in 16 years.
The council-appointed groups will focus on different types of projects such as the arts to the environment. The meetings that will last through October will likely lead to tough decisions as the city-identified needs far exceed the amount of funding the council plans to ask for from voters.
City staff created a list of potential projects that exceeds $1 billion, with the aim that the various groups would narrow that to $500 million.
Homeless encampment: Phoenix residents sue city claiming irreparable harm
That’s the amount of general obligation bonds that city officials say the council could ask voters to approve without increasing property taxes. City officials organized the list by the more pressing and current needs versus future needs.
The committees can pitch other ideas, too, although city leaders encourage them to focus on projects with one-time expenses, rather than ones that would create ongoing funding requirements.
The city is also asking residents to give input by attending the subcommittee meetings, which largely take place Mondays and Fridays in the morning and afternoon. Meetings can be attended virtually or in person.
Residents can also submit their thoughts through the “GOPHX TOOL” on the city website, or on social media with the hashtag #GOPHX2023.
GO bonds allow the city to borrow money and pay it back with interest to fund certain things, usually physical infrastructure. The city pays off the debt with residents’ secondary property taxes, though it’s technically backed by the “full faith and credit” of the city.
The potential 2023 bond being deliberated doesn’t propose increasing the tax rate, but voters would pay less if they rejected the measure. The average Phoenix homeowner pays $97 in secondary property taxes to the city each year, according to city officials.
Year later: DOJ investigation into Phoenix police continues, as does spending for it
The committee members are mostly leaders in the community, involved in nonprofit organizations related to arts, housing and sustainability. They’re also union leaders, chambers of commerce members and former elected officials. Some work for insurance companies.
The chair of the 15-member executive committee, which is tasked with making the final proposal to the City Council, is Sharon Harper of Plaza Companies, a well-known developer in the Valley.
Here are the eight subcommittees and the city-identified priority projects they’re considering. A full list that includes future projects is on the city’s website.
Arts and Culture
Cost of projects suggested for prioritized needs: $56 million (five projects)
- Build a Latino cultural center.
- Expand Children’s Museum of Phoenix.
- Replace equipment and maintain city-owned facilities.
- Improve Symphony Hall.
- Build a new Valley Youth Theatre.
Cost of projects suggested for future needs: $7 million (two projects)
Economic Development and Education:
Cost of projects suggested for prioritized needs: $23.5 million (one project)
- Acquire land needed for economic development along the Rio Salado.
Cost of projects suggested for future needs: $19 million (four projects)
Environment and Sustainability
Cost of projects suggested for prioritized needs: $25 million (three projects)
- Update technology at city facilities to be more energy and water efficient.
- Replace fuel infrastructure.
- Replace HVAC systems at city facilities to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Cost of projects suggested for future needs: $32 million (three projects)
Housing, Human Services and Homelessness
Cost of projects suggested for prioritized needs: $62 million (four projects)
- Renovate and preserve up to 610 affordable housing units at four properties.
- Design and construct a 12,600-square-foot Cesar Chavez senior center.
- Build 364 new, modern, mixed-income rental housing units at the Edison-Eastlake redevelopment project.
- Renovate the historic McDowell Senior Center.
Cost of projects suggested for future needs: $28 million (two projects)
Neighborhood and City Services
Cost of projects suggested for prioritized needs: $52 million (11 projects)
- Improve Americans With Disabilities Act compliance at city facilities.
- Build two branch libraries (one at Deer Valley Drive and Tatum Boulevard and one at 99th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road).
- Expand Yucca library.
- Improve various city properties such as repairing roofs or electrical issues.
- Provide grants and assist in the rehabilitation of historic properties.
- Restore and preserve the Orpheum Theatre, specifically the exterior architecture.
Cost of projects suggested for future needs: $14 million (four projects)
Parks and Recreation
Cost of projects suggested for prioritized needs: $109 million (13 projects)
- Improve various community centers, parks and museums.
- Replace three “deteriorating pools in the Maryvale area” with one regional pool and install two splash pads at Marivue Park and Holiday Park.
- Replace four pools in south Phoenix with a regional pool at Harmon Park, and three splash pads at Alkire, Grant and University parks.
- Renovate Washington Activity Center.
Cost of projectssuggested for future needs: $226 million (12 projects)
Cost of projects suggested for prioritized needs: $158 million (eight projects)
- Renovate various police precincts.
- Renovate various fire stations.
- Build a fire station at 51st Avenue and Loop 303.
- Relocate a police precinct and command center.
- Build additional police driver training track and repair existing one.
Cost of projects suggested for future needs: $86 million (seven projects)
Streets and Storm Drainage
Cost of projects suggested for prioritized needs: $161 million (seven projects)
- Design and build improvements that largely would serve pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, with a focus on equity.
- Create and implement a “resident-driven process” to address traffic issues.
- Provide funding to the council-approved “Road Safety Action Plan” to mitigate fatal and serious injury accidents.
- Improve drainage in the Hohokam area of south Phoenix.
- Mitigate flooding in Laveen.
- Replace deteriorating storm drains citywide.
- Maintain pavement throughout the city.
Cost of projects suggested for future needs: $92 million (four projects)
First bond in 16 years. Why?
Phoenix voters last approved a bond request in 2006 for $880 million.
Going forward, the city plans to make the request to voters for smaller amounts but with greater frequency, expected to be every five years.
The reason for the long delay in bond requests goes back to the Great Recession.
The city finished issuing most of its 2006 bonds in 2012. By that point, property values were at their lowest and “it wasn’t the time to be thinking about a new GO bond,” Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Gitkin told The Arizona Republic.
Then, changes in state laws reduced property tax revenue the city could collect, Gitkin said, which in turn limited how much it could borrow.
One of those state laws, for example, barred homes’ taxable values from going up by more than 5% annually.
Today, the city still owes money from the 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 on those projects will drop massively between 2027 and 2028, from $126 million to $54 million.
That drop-off combined with increasing home values makes now a good time for Phoenix to take on new debt without increasing the property tax rate, Gitkin said.
If this story mattered to you, please support our work. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.