Gilbert Town Council approved on Sept. 21 a $7.9 million agreement with the Arizona Department of Transportation to help fund the town’s planned Ocotillo Bridge project.
Council unanimously approved the agreement—with Council Member Aimee Yentes absent—despite objections from Council Member Laurin Hendrix about how the funding fits in with the town’s $515 million bond question on the November mail-in ballot.
The $66.52 million project will complete Ocotillo Road from where it ends just east of Greenfield Road to Higley Road. It includes crossings over the Queen Creek Wash, East Maricopa Floodway, Roosevelt Water Conservation District Canal and Chandler Heights Basin.
The ADOT money was not part of the town’s planned funding for the project, according to the town’s capital improvement plan, but Mayor Brigette Peterson and Intergovernmental Relations Director Rob Bohr lobbied the Arizona Legislature this spring for money to help fund the project.
Senate Bill 1820 later was passed and appropriated the funding from the state general fund for highway projects to ADOT.
As a result, the budgeting for the Ocotillo Bridge project will be adjusted in response to the agreement with ADOT, according to town documents.
That adjustment was the source of concerns for Hendrix, who likened the $515 million from bond sales to a slush fund from which town officials could spend in any manner.
Hendrix also said bringing ADOT money into the bond funding would mean that residents are being double-taxed to pay for the project.
“We’re already lobbying the taxpayers at the state level to take taxes to fund us, and there’s also an effort being made to pursue Gilbert taxpayers to see if we can tax them again,” Hendrix said. “I guess we just look for taxes wherever we can get them, and if we get it in more than one place, we just find something else that we can spend it on. That causes me concern.”
In response to questions from Hendrix, Public Works Director Jessica Marlow said the money freed up from the bond by the grant could help cover escalating construction costs of projects, and that if money were unspent as a result, the town would just not sell that portion of the bonds.
Despite his stated objections, Hendrix voted to approve the agreement.
Under the current capital improvement plan, the town has budgeted $12.75 million to be spent date on the project, but town officials said $508,000 has been spent to date with another $2.8 million in encumbered contracts while the remainder is not yet assigned. The budget for that funding to date comes from bonds approved in 2007, a CIP outside sources revolving fund and system development fees. The remainder in future expenditures was to come from the planned bonds of $50.7 million and more system development fees of $3.07 million.