Intelligence serious business woman looking up and thinking about money. Vintage toned portrait

"Fellow member James Wright said it will be a tough sell to get voters to approve a nearly half-billion-dollar bond when the last bond was $174 million."

A parking garage in the Heritage District, safety improvements for trail crossings and a bridge connecting Ocotillo Road over the regional park are some of the 43 projects that could be built as Gilbert contemplates going to voters with a $465 million bond issue this November.

The ad hoc Citizens Transportation Task Force is scheduled April 8 to adopt a resolution recommending the Council put the transportation and infrastructure bond on the Nov. 3 ballot. Council is scheduled to take that vote on June 16.

The town plans to allocate the proposed bond for projects to address safety and congestion at $221 million; reconstruction and maintenance projects at $91 million; multi-modal investment at $43 million; transportation technology at $61 million and redevelopment projects at $49 million.

Bond debt is generally paid off through an increase in the secondary property tax rate but officials say there wouldn’t be an increase because old bond debt is being paid off each year and the new debt would replace it.

“We know that keeping steady the tax rate is important for citizens,” Kelly Pfost, Management and Budget director, said at last week’s task force meeting. “Can we get the tax rate to 99 cents with the bond? Yes, we believe we can keep it to the 99 cents rate. It’s really good news.”

Task Force member Lawrence Paschich, a retiree, said his wife has widowed friends who are worried about a possible tax increase if the bond passes.  

“You did good,” he told Pfost.

So, for a typical $270,000 home in Gilbert with the current 99 cents per $100 of assessed value, the secondary property tax impact is $267. Business owners also are affected.

Although the tax rate was anticipated to stay the same, a person’s total property tax payment could change based on changes in assessed property value or tax rates from the county, local school district or over overlapping taxing jurisdictions.

The last bond election was in 2018 for $65.4 million to build a public safety training facility, which is currently under construction.

The last time Gilbert voters passed a transportation-related bond was in 2007 for $174 million for streets improvements, which has all been spent. 

Since that bond, the town has grown to over 250,000 residents from the 196,600 13 years ago. By 2030, the town’s population is expected to reach 330,000.

Many of the projects are not dealing with growth but addressing current challenges in town, accoRoading to Jessica Marlow, Public Works director.

The 43 projects are listed in the town’s 10-year capital improvement plan. 

Other projects include major reconstruction of deteriorated asphalt pavement on Cooper Road from Encinas to Baseline roads, north and south dual left-turn lanes on Gilbert Road, intersection improvements at McQueen and Elliot roads and removal and replacement of 28 old and obsolete bus shelters and pads.

If the bond passes, the town would phase the projects over the next eight to 10 years.

AccoRoading to the town, officials spent the past two years looking at other funding sources but there was still a gap that needed to be filled with a general obligation bond.

If voters reject the bond, residents would see an increase in congestion and longer commute times and an overall decline in transportation infrastructure.   

Wright asked for the scale of transportation bonds in other cities.  

Marlow said Mesa and Glendale were looking at bonds in the $200 million to $300 million range for the current election cycle and were lower  because they have a sales tax dedicated for transportation projects while Gilbert does not. 

She added Glendale has a half-cent sales tax that generates $30 million a year for transportation projects.

Town Manager Patrick Banger said implementing a transportation sales tax is a policy question for the Council and if the town were to do so, it would need a half-cent to 2 cents just to deal with the town’s transportation needs.

The task force last week also discussed how they will communicate the importance of the bond to voters.

Jessica Bautista, a digital journalist for the town, said outreach began in January with the mayor’s Digital State of the Town address. 

After the task force makes a presentation at the Council Financial Retreat April 16, the town will launch a webpage with educational videos about the bond, she said.

Outreach also will include social media, open houses and possibly information included in residents’ utility bills.

Task Force member Yung Koprowski suggested the town put signs at locations of the capital improvement projects, alerting the public what could be coming at that site with the bond package.

Fellow member James Wright said it will be a tough sell to get voters to approve a nearly half-billion-dollar bond when the last bond was $174 million.

“It’s going to take more than a $50,000 budget to get it passed,” he said.

Susanna Struble, assistant town engineer, said each Task Force member can go out and advocate for the bond. 

Councilman Scott Anderson, the Council liaison to the group, said his peers also will do the same although it would be difficult with expected vacancies.

The town is in the process of filling Eddie Cook’s vacant seat and potentially two others on the Council in the coming months.

The Council formed the nine-member task force in December, each representing a quadrant in the town. 

Members were tasked with reviewing and providing input on Gilbert’s overall transportation system and making a recommendation on the bond to the Council.