Panel recommends $272M Chandler bond election - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Panel recommends $272M Chandler bond election

March 12th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Panel recommends $272M Chandler bond election

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

A citizens committee has recommended that Chandler slate a bond election for $272 million in capital improvements across the city.
After a seven-month process evaluating the city’s needs, the committee of seven residents released a list of 52 infrastructure projects it thinks could be funded by asking voters for new bond money.
The committee is recommending $73 million for recreational projects, $80 million for public safety needs, $33 million for maintaining public facilities and $85 million for street improvements.
Authorizing this amount of spending would not result in Chandler having to raise primary or secondary property taxes, according to the committee’s calculations.
Chandler has not sought a bond authorization since 2007 and officials say it may be time to hold an election to gain enough financing for future capital expenses.
Former Mayor Boyd Dunn, who chaired the bond committee, said the city’s prior bond initiatives were passed at times when Chandler experienced enormous economic growth and needed to quickly expand its facilities for a growing population.
Tempe and Mesa voters approved bond requests last November, which is giving Chandler some hope that residents could still be in favor of authorizing more general obligation bonds.
Dunn noted how prior bond authorizations were granted to generally create new amenities for the city. The focus this time around, he said, will be on preserving and maintaining existing infrastructure.
“(Prior bonds) were important items to deal with for what we felt were the needs to provide facilities for our citizens,” he said. “Now we’re looking at, not only dealing with new facilities for build-up, but we’re also looking at improving the existing facilities.”
The committee evaluated 80 projects that would have cost the city about $851 million and gradually narrowed down its list to 52 expenditures valued at $403 million.
Because Chandler still has unused bond financing that could be applied to the committee’s list of projects, the city might only need voters to approve up to $272 million in new bond authorization.
Some expensive items on the committee’s list include a $38-million forensic lab for Chandler Police, $11 million for reconstructing the Ray and Dobson roads intersection, a $40-million renovation of Mesquite Groves Park and $15 million for rebuilding two fire stations.
Police Chief Sean Duggan has said his agency would greatly benefit from having a stand-alone crime lab that could analyze more evidence and process cases more efficiently.
Chandler currently depends on the Arizona Department of Public Safety to test forensic evidence for high-level crimes and is sometimes left waiting for results that could have been obtained faster if the city had an in-house facility to conduct its own testing, Duggan said.
“We are 100 percent relying on (the state’s) timeline and where we are in the queue because they also provide that service to a number of agencies around the state,” Duggan said earlier this year.
Chandler Police are eyeing some land near its evidence storage facility on Pecos Road for a new crime lab if the city obtains more bond authorization.
The bond committee further concluded that a stand-alone crime lab would open up more space at the police department’s main station and allow for other departments to expand their services.
One item notably left off the committee’s list is a $15-million detention facility that would have housed Chandler’s accused criminals. The city currently has a partnership with Gilbert that allows Chandler Police to detain its defendants in the town’s jail.
Dunn said the city would have to hire a significant number of new employees to manage a detention center, which is why the committee did not include the project on its list.
Other projects recommended by the committee include a $16-million renovation of Folley Park, $4.5 million for new fire emergency vehicles, $2 million for improving Price Road and a $12-million revamp of A.J. Chandler Park.
The committee specifically wanted to prioritize A.J. Chandler Park over other recreational facilities, Dunn said, because the downtown park is centrally located and sees a higher amount of foot traffic.
Projects related to the Chandler Municipal Airport were notably not included in the committee’s recommendations even though the facility has a number of infrastructure needs.
Further analysis is needed on the airport’s facilities and its economic impact before a bond request should be put on the ballot, Dunn explained.
The committee reviewed about $2.5 million worth of airport projects – including a runway extension and a heliport reconstruction – but said that a bond might not be the best method for funding these expenditures.
“All these items – still very important items – to be done to the airport are going to be made through grants and cash,” Dunn said.
The committee had to make strategic decisions about which projects to remove from its list of recommendations, Dunn added, since members wanted to find the right combination of expenditures that could avoid a tax increase.
“I think there was certainly an attitude of wanting to do everything,” the former mayor said. “But to be able to avoid any type of tax impact, we had to make choices.”
The committee declined to recommend projects that would have improved transit services in north and central Chandler because they would have generated extra operational costs for the city.
Raising the city’s operational expenses too high would have resulted in Chandler needing to raise property taxes in order to bring in more revenue.
City Council appeared pleased with the committee’s recommendations and will spend the next few weeks deciding whether any changes should be made before moving ahead with officially authorizing the bond election.
Mayor Kevin Hartke said he’s confident Chandler’s voters will support the initiative and emphasized the fact that the council is not bound by the committee’s recommendations.
“We are certainly not hamstrung by any means to come forth with another bond if there’s changes in our finances,” Hartke said.
Councilman Matt Orlando echoed the mayor’s sentiments and commended the committee’s meticulous work on a review process that he hopes will convince the voters that Chandler has thoughtfully evaluated the bond questions before calling an election.
“This sends a very trustful, positive message to the community that we’ve done our homework,” Orlando said.
If the city decides to proceed with holding a bond election this November, Chandler will likely be submitting the initiative’s ballot language to Maricopa County by the end of June for an all-mail ballot.