Does Gilbert Really Need a $500 million Bond?

In a few short weeks, Gilbert voters will be asked to approve authorization to add upwards of $500 million in debt to the books. With little specific information, future tax increases, and a track record of wasteful spending, Gilbert voters should vote “No” on this question. Here’s why.

First, the Town of Gilbert has proven to be unwise stewards of hard-working taxpayers’ money.

The “University Building” located in downtown Gilbert was bonded many years ago on a weak business plan to bring St. Xavier University. After only 9 months, St. Xavier failed and left Gilbert taxpayers with an annual loss of $2 million.

Second, advocates of this bond will tell you that your taxes won’t go up because of this massive increase in debt. This is the same lie told about the $64 million bond to fund the gold-plated Public Safety Training Facility pushed in 2018. Don’t fall for it.

As of 2021, Gilbert residents’ property taxes have gone up three times.

Third, what voters are actually being asked to approve is authorization to spend up to $500 million in new bonds over the next 10 years.  Think of it as a line of credit. The Council will still need to approve each new bond that comes forward.  The last 20 years of Gilbert Town Councils have categorically approved each bond request from Town staff with little meaningful discussion or debate.

Fourth, the stated purpose for this bond is transportation and infrastructure. These are needed and appropriate uses for bonding. However, it’s not completely clear what infrastructure projects are being funded. Yes, these details will come forward when specific bonds are being considered by the Council, but the wording is so vague that many wasteful projects will surely sneak in and be rubber stamped by future Councils.

Fifth, this Council still includes mostly politicians who shut down businesses, public parks, and required mask mandates and then tried to pass the blame to the County and State. Do you trust Mayor Peterson and the Council with this type of spending? I don’t.

Sixth, $500 million is too much. Yes, inflation is running wild and construction costs are soaring, but not to this level.

The last large authorization was approximately $74 million about 20 years ago. It took over 10 years to find enough projects to burn through that much money. During that time many major road projects like Val Vista Road in South Gilbert and Higley and Baseline were funded with less than 15% of the funding being proposed in this latest bond. Even with inflation, $100 million is more than sufficient to fund the projects we need for the next 10 years.

Though it is important to fund public infrastructure–and debt can be an appropriate source of funding—this massive bond is so vague it will surely provide an ongoing slush fund for wrong-headed and wasteful ideas like the University building and the Public Safety Training Facility.

The ballots for the bond will be coming out by mail. This is an off-cycle election and mail-in only. It will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to conduct an off-cycle election, rather than waiting until the regular cycle in 2022. More waste.

Off-site elections are old political tricks used to sneak bad ideas past citizens. Most voters miss or ignore these ballots. Mostly those with vested interests tend to turnout. Elections on regular cycles involve a broader base of taxpayers. It allows a more honest and fair opportunity to weigh in on the merits of the ballot question.

GilbertWatch recommends voters turn down this bond and request the Town Council to return with $100 million authorization request in 2022.