Council consensus sets Surprise bond decision for June 6

An artist’s rendering of the proposed public works operations facility included in the failed 2016 $63 million Surprise bond proposal. This project returns in the potential 2017 bond. This $11.8 million project includes $7.2 million in impact fee funding that must be used by Jan. 1, 2020. [File artwork]
Richard Smith
Independent Newsmedia

In its first formal discussion of a potential 2017 bond vote, the Surprise City Council gave unanimous praise to this year’s leaner, more focused proposal with three options for residents.

By consensus reached during the May 16 work session, the council will formally decide whether to call for a bond election at its June 6 meeting.

If the council passes the resolution, the bond would have three separate ballot questions for voters on Nov. 7. The questions are: A $34 million public safety bond proposal, a $15.5 million street bond proposal and a $10 million street pavement preservation bond proposal – for a total of $59.5 million bond if voters approved all three.

“This is not a retread of last year. We worked very hard to learn from all the feedback that we got from people, dozens and dozens of meetings. We listened to our bond committee,” City Manager Bob Wingenroth said. “We’re proposing a focus on safety. Those projects are more than we had last time and one of the reasons they are more is because we heard that from our stakeholders.”

Surprise also took resident feedback to heart in the month between publicizing this new bond proposal and presenting it to the council. Following the April 19 meeting of the bond exploratory committee, the staff floated the idea of a total $81.9 million proposal with three questions.

Most comments in the interim were against a total bond proposal greater than the $63 million bond which went down to defeat in 2016, even if residents had more flexibility in their choices. So before any council discussion, staff cut that proposal to the current $59.5 million by whittling away from pavement preservation and roads projects.

Mayor Sharon Wolcott said this bond proposal is more narrowly focused on quality of life and public safety.

“I’m going to speak to my friends that I live with in a retirement community. We take the most expensive service. We take more than our share, per capita of services,” Mayor Wolcott said. “I can tell you that because I live right next to one of the rec centers. And there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t hear a siren coming down Clearview or Mountain View that’s responding to one of my neighbors.”

And public safety takes up considerably more than half the bond’s total. The $34 million would pay for a public safety evidence & readiness center; renovations to an existing site for a police training facility, acquisition of land for future fire station/police substation and park; building a new fire station at Cactus and Litchfield roads and a new Fire Station along 163rd Avenue, south of Happy Valley Road, to replace the current temporary station; and building a Public Works Operations Facility to centralize operations.

Councilman Jim Hayden’s focus was on response times for firefighters.

“This is such an important part of what city services is all about,” Councilman Hayden said.

A conceptual rendering of Surprise fire station 308 from the city’s 2016 bond proposal. The project returns in a smaller potential bond project this year and would be built at Cactus and Litchfield roads [Courtesy City of Surprise]
Most of the projects are holdovers from 2016 though the police readiness facility is new and would provide a secure centralized location for unique police and fire vehicles.

“Our SWAT Bearcat vehicle is generally stored in a parking area exposed to the elements, which significantly limits the lifespan of the vehicle,” Police Chief Terry Young said.

The road work is at $15.5 million after briefly ballooning to $22.9 million. City staff shelved work on Cactus Road to cut more than $7 million.

Improvements on Greenway Road from Sarival Avenue to Cotton Lane and Litchfield Road from Waddell Road to Peoria Avenue are nearly identical to 2016 bond projects.

Residents also were the driving force behind the new road project, three lanes in each direction, plus landscaped medians on Waddell Road from Loop 303 to Reems Road. Though a smaller stretch of road, this is the priciest lane addition at $7 million because of the need to relocate infrastructure and acquire rights of way from the Maricopa Water District.

“That was added because of public outcry. We have more than 15,000 cars a day traveling east-west on Waddell and stopping at a four-way stop sign,” Surprise Public Works director Mike Gent said. “At peak periods traffic backs up all the way to the 303 every day, causing what we consider a level of service failure on that road.”

Councilman John Williams praised the Waddell addition, calling that stretch a county road trying to handle heavy suburban traffic.

Mr. Gent said the new central public works facility proposal remains intact. If the bond passed, public works would move out at 134th Avenue and Foxfire Drive and the police would move in with a 17,000-suare-foot for property and evidence building combined with 12,00 more feet of equipment storage.

Pavement preservation, the newest bond category, took the steepest cut in the past month, from $22 million to $10 million.

Still, Mr. Gent said that $10 million in pavement preservation funding — over and above what is in the annual budget — would help the city catch up from the years earlier in this decade when Surprise was going through a financial crisis and did not fund it.

One trouble area this money would allow Surprise to catch up on is Bell Road between the new Grand Avenue bridge and the city’s eastern edge.

“While the projects from this $10 million won’t be in every neighborhood, the impact will be felt in virtually every neighborhood,” Mr. Gent said.

Councilman Skip Hall could not make it but sent a statement declaring the projects are not “luxury items.”

Councilman Roland Winters liked the proposal but said the way it was introduced in a special bond committee meeting with little publicity, lacked transparency. He was glad to see the cut to $59.5 million

“I’ve been trying to get a hold of some minutes and haven’t been able to. I don’t feel one meeting educated those people enough as far as what was happening this year. Right now that’s neither hear nor there. But I think the projects are very commendable and I think they’re needed,” Councilman Winters said.

Like the previous proposal, this bond would be supported by the institution of a secondary property tax. If all three bond questions were approved, the tax would equate to $92 per year on a home with an assessed limited property value of $200,000.

Vice Mayor Todd Tande asked how much time it would take to pay for these projects through a primary property tax. Finance director Linsdey Duncan said the bond pays out over 20 years while using primary property taxes would take about 40 years.

Councilman Ken Remley said for the good of the city and its residents, the bond is needed even though he is typically against taxes on principle. He looked up his own house to use as an example of how a secondary property tax is less severe because a home’s limited property value is significantly less than its sale price or assessed value.

He said his own taxes would go up $46 a year.

“The area between where the roads are developed and where we need them to be developed, there’s no houses going in there. Prasada hasn’t been developed but we need that road. Without that road of access, people and businesses can’t get here,” Councilman Remley said. “I recognize the need and I also recognize that I hate taxes. And I regard bonds as taxes.”

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.