A competitive lap pool, expanding Thorpe Park and a new park on the west side of town are three of the projects that could possibly be funded by a proposed tax to acquire open space and develop parks and recreational areas.
Those three projects, estimated to cost $14.8 million in total, are the only three formally proposed to be funded by the tax, should the measure pass. However, a total of $43 million worth of projects have been discussed as other ideas to be funded.
A group of citizens has proposed asking the Flagstaff City Council to place a question on the 2018 ballot that would create a one-eighth-cent sales tax. The levy would be used to pay for capital projects to acquire and protect open space and to acquire, develop and maintain parks, recreation facilities, sports facilities and trail systems.
The law requires each project funded through the tax to be listed along with the cost for each item. So far, the most expensive project that has been discussed is a sports complex in the Lake Mary area, which is estimated to cost $13.5 million. The money collected through the tax would not be allowed to be spent on anything except the listed projects.
Charles Hammersley, one of the citizens proposing the tax and a professor of parks and recreation management at Northern Arizona University, said the tax is modeled off a similar measure that was passed countywide in 2002 and led to the funding of 11 projects throughout the county.
However, the projects included in the 2018 ballot question will be proposed by community members, instead of being proposed by county staff as in 2002, Hammersley said at a meeting with community members last week. Unlike the 2002 measure, the “Flagstaff Open Space, Parks and Recreation Campaign,” if successful, will only create a sales tax within city limits, not countywide.
“This seems to be a very good opportunity,” Hammersley said of the timing for the ballot measure. “We are seeing incredible growth in Flagstaff.”
Other projects that have been discussed but not formally proposed include the acquisition of three acres of city-owned land at Schultz Pass and Fort Valley roads for open space, a second phase for Cheshire Park, a park and event center in the Continental neighborhood and another pedestrian bridge on McMillan Mesa. Hammersley said the cost of maintenance for the projects for each project will be built into the final total that will appear on the ballot.
In his presentation at the third public meeting about the tax, Hammersley said Durango, Colorado, which has a much smaller population than Flagstaff, began a one-half-cent sales tax to fund open space and the development and maintenance of parks and trails in 2015 and will last until 2039.
Hammersley and Jack Welch, the other leader of the campaign, said project submissions are due by November 17. After all submissions are received, the steering committee will develop the final list of what will appear in the ballot question.
“If someone submits something, we want to find a way to get it funded,” Hammersley said when asked if some proposed projects would not make the cut, though some projects could be combined or modified.
Welch said the group does not have a cutoff number for the amount of money the tax could raise, and said the amount needed and the duration of the tax will depend on the projects the steering committee chooses for the final measure.
Hammersley and Welch will present the idea to the Flagstaff City Council in February to ask the council to place the measure on the November 2018 ballot.
According to Hammersley and Welch, the tax would cost the average Flagstaff household about $1.63 per month. Hammersley said financial analysis showed that if the tax had existed in 2016, it would have collected $2.5 million based on sales volume that year in Flagstaff. Hammersley said he expects the amount of revenue to increase over time because of the city’s and the university’s growing populations.
“All we are asking is for the council to give the community the chance to vote,” Welch said. “People deserve a chance to vote.”
So far, most councilmembers surveyed said they will not make up their mind on the issue until they receive all the information.
“Generally, I think if we have the opportunity to purchase open space, we should, but the devil is in the details,” Councilwoman Eva Putzova said.
Putzova said she usually does not prefer sales tax as a revenue stream because it impacts lower income people at a higher rate than those with higher income.
Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan said she would like to hear from the community before making a determination.
“The more information I get from the community, the better job I can do representing them,” she said.
Councilman Scott Overton said his first priority of the 2018 election cycle will be the renewal of the city’s transportation sales tax.
“I have significant concern about competing measures,” he said.
Councilwoman Celia Barotz said she has “a lot of questions” about what will finally be proposed in the ballot measure before she can make a determination of if she will vote to place it on the ballot.
The fourth public meeting for those interested in proposing a project and hearing about the proposed tax will be held October 25 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Flagstaff Aquaplex.