City seeks voter OK for an array of projects - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

City seeks voter OK for an array of projects

September 26th, 2021 development
City seeks voter OK for an array of projects

By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

The City of Chandler for the first time is asking voters to authorize bonds to improve its facilities.

With ballots set to go out around Oct. 6 for the all-mail election, some may wonder: why ask for about $33.5 million to upgrade facilities now?

“It happens because, believe it or not, we are now an older city,” said former Mayor Boyd Dunn, who chaired the group of citizen committees that made recommendations on projects to be funded by selling bonds.

“When I moved to Chandler in the 1980s there were 35,000 people,” Dunn said. “A lot of the things that we do have now are 20 years or older. We can always build new, but we want to maintain what exists so we don’t have to go back and rebuilt it.”

The money raised from selling bonds for municipal facilities will be used to construct, improve, renovate, replace and remodel buildings across the city.

High on the list is the Chandler Center for the Arts, which is still using the same HVAC system that was installed when the building opened in 1989.

Other buildings on the list include recreation centers, libraries and senior centers.

Many of the items planned are not sexy, most residents may not see a difference. But any homeowner will tell you they are important; They include HVAC, roofing, plumbing, electrical systems, generators and technology.

“All these systems are at the end of their useful life,” said Mike Hollingsworth, the city’s facilities and fleet manager. “It’s kind of a common theme throughout the whole city, in that we have aging facilities with building systems at the end of their useful life.”

As is the case with the other four city bond proposals, no one wrote a statement for the voter guide opposing bonds for these projects. Backers of the bond authorization say it will not increase property taxes. They can do that because the city has had 14 years to pay off previous bonds so the tax rate will remain the same.

In addition to the request for $33.5 million for facilities, the city is asking voters to authorize selling bonds for these four areas:

Nearly $73 million to purchase land for new parks and recreation facilities and improving existing parks and facilities.

More than $25 million to construct, improve and renovate stations and other fire-related facilities. Some money would also go to purchasing fire and other public safety vehicles.

•More than $55 million to build the city’s own crime lab, remodel police stations and purchase large emergency-response vehicles

•The biggest request, $85.8 million, would cover improving existing roads and landscaping, adding bike lanes, installing underground utility lines and upgrading traffic signal systems.

The city will probably not be picking up the entire bill for improving the Chandler Center for the Arts, which is co-owned by the city and Chandler Unified.

Michelle MacLennan, the center’s general manager, considers it kind of remarkable how well the building is holding up, considering the use it gets.

“The use of this facility, and all facilities, has just grown exponentially,” she said. “Generally, there’s six or seven events in here a day. The use for the school district has grown, just like the district has grown. It’s always in use.”

MacLennan said talks between the city and school district are underway on how to pay for the needed projects. No firm commitments have been made, but she said the district has paid for about half of the costs of past improvements.

Mayor Kevin Hartke and Council appointed a large group of 49 citizens to seven different committees to make recommendations for the bond election. Nina Mullins was asked to chair the facilities committee.

“They were looking for someone with a little infrastructure experience,” said Mullins, who has that experience as part of her job at Salt River Project. “The staff did a phenomenal job. They hired a consultant and made it very easy for us to see where the needs were.”

Boyd said he was part of three bond authorization proposals during his 16 years on Council and he’s never seen so many citizens involved in the process before.

“They did a great job,” Boyd said. “We ended up with a master list in five categories, I think some 60-some projects, and it took seven months to do. From a citizen’s standpoint, I don’t think we could have done a better job from getting input.”

Boyd says he expects all five bond proposals to pass because the city has a proven history of managing its finances well. He said the only bond election he has been part of that was close involved the airport.

He said the citizens committees this time decided to leave the airport alone to allow time for more industrial projects to be built near it.

Chandler voters have never considered authorizing bonds for facilities before.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Hollingsworth said. “I know there are other cities in the area that have done ballot facilities for bond here recently, and Chandler is overdue. We’ve got aging facilities, aging infrastructure … it’s the sheer numbers that’s working not for us, but against us.”