The $515 million bond package is the first such ballot question in 14 years. The funding will go toward nearly 60 capital improvement projects the town and its ad hoc citizens transportation task force have prioritized as Gilbert heads toward build-out in the next decade.
Those include long-anticipated projects, such as the $66.52 million building of the Ocotillo Road Bridge, which will link that uncompleted street from Greenfield to Higley through Gilbert Regional Park, and $48.2 million for the reconstruction of the roads in Val Vista Lakes, one of the town’s older neighborhoods.
“These improvements will be needed to accommodate Gilbert’s growth and development over the next 10 years,” said Vice Mayor Yung Koprowski, whose day job is as a civil engineer specializing in transportation.
If the bond passes, Gilbert’s secondary property tax rate will remain flat at $0.99 per $100 in assessed valuation, although homeowners can expect their property tax bills to rise with their home values.
The ballot question originally was to go to voters in 2020, but council decided to delay it when the effects of the coronavirus were unknown. Now, however, officials said the town is working on the last $15 million of the $174 million 2007 bond, all of it committed to current projects.
The $515 million would fund what is now a list of 57 capital improvement projects. The projects fall in one of five categories: safety and congestion, transportation technology, road reconstruction, redevelopment plan implementation and multimodal investments.
A survey this spring for the town’s transportation master plan showed 67% of respondents said the town should improve roadway conditions. The projects are meant to address that concern as well as traffic congestion, officials said.
Safety and congestion receives the highest allotment at $214 million and includes intersection improvements such as additional turn lanes or traffic signals, Public Works Director Jessica Marlow said. Work with local schools on improving congestion and safety at drop-off and pickup points, at a town cost of $6.08 million, is one example.
Next highest is $106 million for road reconstruction to address growth and the traffic system’s decay, such as in Val Vista Lakes’ public roads.
Another $78 million is earmarked for the Heritage District redevelopment plan, including some roadways and parking specific to the town’s plan, Marlow said.
Transportation technology, receiving $68 million, is meant to build out the town’s fiber-optic network to connect signals as well as bring in more video detection equipment to improve traffic flow.
Assistant Town Engineer Susanna Struble pointed to the SanTan Village mall area as a congested area that could benefit from the technology.
“We’ve got quite a bit of challenges there where widening those intersections is not really an option any longer,” she said. “That technology will help us basically manage that.”
The last piece is $49 million for multimodal investments, such as signals for trail crossings at roads with heavy traffic, which Marlow said should improve safety and encourage more bike and pedestrian use of the trails.
The project list could change over time, Marlow said, but all projects are subject to council approval.
“We have a list—an overflowing list—of identified projects that are in our capital improvement plan that would more than use any proceeds from a bond if the voters approve it,” Assistant Town Manager Leah Hubbard Rhineheimer said. “But we also know that it’s important to our residents that we stay nimble and adapt to their changing needs.”
Costs to residents
Rhineheimer said it was important to put together a bond package that would not increase the town’s secondary property tax rate.
“That’s huge to have a bond initiative of this magnitude and accommodate it within our existing tax rate,” Rhineheimer said.
Even at that, by delaying the election one year, the size of the bond increased from $465 million to $515 million, which Struble said is largely due to the ongoing challenge of cost escalations in the construction market.
Budget Director Kelly Pfost said the town nonetheless will be able to keep the $0.99 rate as debt from older bonds is retired and more growth occurs.
One change from earlier bond questions is that the town held four smaller street bond elections during the 2000s—ranging from $33.82 million in 2001 to $174 million in 2007.
“What we’re trying to do is look at that big picture and make sure that we have the projects timed and coordinated together in the most efficient way,” Pfost said.
A no vote
By early September, as the election’s publicity pamphlet was being prepared, no organized opposition had emerged against the bond to present a statement urging a no vote for the ballot measure, according to the town clerk’s office. However, council members Aimee Yentes and Laurin Hendrix dissented on the June 1 decision to refer the question to voters.
But Yentes’ opposition was not so much to the projects or using bonds to fund them. Instead, she said she preferred the election not be held in an off-cycle year and that the question be parsed out over a few intermittent bond elections for transparency and strategic timing.
However, officials said funding for projects is nearly used up.
“[The measure failing] means our transportation system improvements stop,” Marlow said. “We don’t have the funds to make these improvements. If you look in our [projects] for this fiscal year, there’s maybe one or two projects that are getting started. But we don’t have the funds to make any of these improvements—simple as that.”