The Tempe rulers want to steal more of our money!

Bond issue fires up council

Jahna Berry The Arizona Republic Jan. 21, 2006 12:00 AM

A mundane bond election issue ignited rare political fireworks at Thursday night's City Council meeting.

And after an icy, hour-long battle, council members persuaded the mayor to table until spring his push to cut property taxes.

City leaders also gave nods Thursday to two housing projects. They approved a key agreement with Centerpoint developers and cleared the way for a 120-home housing project near Warner Road and Hardy Drive, which faced criticism from county island neighbors.

But it was administrative action on city bonds that drew political heat early in the meeting. The City Council was supposed to approve the ballot language for five bond questions that will go before voters May 16.

If voters green-light the bonds -- essentially long-term city debt -- it would generate more than $210 million for city capital projects, including police and fire equipment and sewer upgrades.

The debate turned frosty when Councilman Ben Arredondo pressed for more city park funding. At the current pace, it would take more than two decades to upgrade them all, Arredondo said.

"I would like a commitment from council that this would be priority one," he said.

Mayor Hugh Hallman, argued that it was time for a tax cut. He said he would like to discuss next month lowering the secondary property tax rate from $1.40 to $1.35 per $100 of assessed valuation. The council hiked the tax to $1.40 last year when the city's finances appeared bleak. Now that times are better, the city should roll back taxes, as promised, Hallman said.

"If you want to use that (tax money) for other stuff, you can, but I don't think that's appropriate," the mayor said.

That enraged other council members such as Pam Goronkin and Vice Mayor Mark Mitchell, who argued that many city programs, like parks, the library and museum, could use the cash. Councilman Len Copple and Barbara Carter pressed that it would be better to discuss taxes during the spring budget process, not in February.

"There are many unfunded projects that went unfunded because we lowered the tax rate to $1.35" earlier, Goronkin said.

Tempe was caught off guard when the economy tanked after Sept. 11, Mitchell said, adding it would be irresponsible to tinker with the tax rate outside the budget process.

Goronkin had doubts about the tax cut pledge and promised to "look at the (council meeting) tapes."

After an hour-long debate, Hallman backed down. He vowed to resurrect the tax cut proposal later, arguing that the city use Rio East land sale money to fund other programs.

Hallman gave a parting shot: It would be "irresponsible to reopen" the bond funding with the May 16 election so close.

"No one was saying that," several council members said at once.

Later, the City Council approved the bond issue ballot language -- the administrative item that was on the agenda -- unanimously.

Later in the meeting, the council voted 6-1 in favor of an agreement with the developers of condo towers at Centerpoint. The developers will bring one 22-story and three 30-story towers to downtown Tempe. In exchange for approving the taller towers, the developer agreed to essentially "pay back" $2.7 million in past incentives and make other concessions, including:

Contributing $400,000 to address traffic concerns.

Giving $100,000 to the city's affordable housing fund.

Kicking in $70,000 to relocate communication equipment on "A" Mountain.

Providing 50 public parking spaces.

Pledging to share half of the money that it gets for leasing the top of one of its buildings for communication equipment.

The council also voted 6-1 for a zoning change for Tempe Village, a proposed development of 120 single-family homes. Nearby county island residents on Caroline Lane fear that the project will flood their neighborhood with traffic.

The approval was made with several caveats, including that the developer would make improvements to Caroline Lane, and widen Hardy Drive, said Development Services Manager Chris Anaradian.

Tempe bond issues

On May 16, voters will decide five bond questions that could generate more than $210 million for city services. The bonds would raise:

$172 million to increase capacity at several water treatment plants, improve sewerlines, boost sewer capacity and upgrade the storm drain system.

$14 million to modernize the Police Department's radio and computer systems and upgrade the police/courts complex.

$14 million to renovate parks, restore Kiwanis wave pool equipment, resurface the Kiwanis tennis court and improve the library and museum.

$8 million to improve roads, bike paths, street lighting and underground utility lines.

$2.5 million to improve fire stations and equipment, radio systems and acquire land for new fire facilities.

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