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Flagstaff Council nixes parks tax; housing, road measures advance

Bow and Arrow Construction

A car drives along Zuni Drive through road construction.

Flagstaff voters may be asked to weigh in on higher taxes to support transportation needs and affordable housing, but a citizen-driven effort to increase the sales tax for parks and recreation has met its end.

At Tuesday night’s work session the majority of the Flagstaff City Council directed city staff to stop working with the Flagstaff Open Space, Parks and Recreation campaign, which sought to raise the sales tax to support the acquisition and creation of new parks and recreation facilities.

Charles Hammersley, the organizer of the group, has said the group does not plan to pursue an initiative for the measure, and said in an email to the group’s supporters that the attempt to place it on the ballot was “defeated by city council.”

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

A majority of the council supported moving forward on creating a bond question to pay for new affordable housing, rehabilitation of existing affordable units and homebuyer assistance.

Management Services Director Rick Tadder presented the council with a series of options that included bond authorization of $25 million, $30 million and $35 million. If the bond for $30 million were to pass, the average residential impact for the secondary property tax would be $60 per year, or $1,200 in total for the 20-year period until the bond was paid off.

If a bond for $30 million was passed, and 80 percent of the money was used for creation and rehabilitation of affordable units and 20 percent was used for homebuyer assistance, Housing Director Sarah Darr said a total of between 1,000 and 1,040 units could be impacted by the bond. Approximately 800 units could be created or rehabilitated, and between 200 and 240 homebuyers could be given assistance with down payment or closing costs.

Darr also proposed creating a committee that would be in charge of bond oversight for the money, and could make decisions about allocating the money if the housing market or other factors were to change over the life of the funding.

At the meeting, seven members of the public spoke about the issue, including six people speaking in support of the council creating a bond for affordable housing. One person opposed the bond, and said higher secondary property taxes make it harder for people who already own homes in Flagstaff to stay in their homes, and increases the overall cost of living.

Ross Altenbaugh, the director of Flagstaff Shelter Services, spoke in favor of the bond, and said she estimates many of the people who use the shelter have the means to get into some kind of housing, there are just not enough options available in their price range for them to sign a lease somewhere.

“In our community, if social workers, teachers and nurses can’t afford housing, in my opinion it is very bleak for those with significant housing barriers,” she said.

The measure narrowly reached a majority of the council in favor -- Mayor Coral Evans, Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan and councilwomen Eva Putzova and Celia Barotz voiced their support. Councilman Jim McCarthy said his support would depend on what the final measure is, Councilman Scott Overton said he was in favor of advancing the discussion but not in favor of the bond, and Councilman Charlie Odegaard said he opposed the bond.

TRANSPORTATION TAX

City staff will come back to the council with voter survey results about the options for the transportation tax ballot question at the end of next month.

The Citizens Transportation Tax Commission, which was created this year to formulate ballot questions for the city’s transportation sales tax, decided to recommend options that include a separate question for the Lone Tree Bridge over the railroad tracks, and one option that lumps the bridge in with a bundle of “congestion improvements.”

In total, both options, which would fund the same projects if all questions were to pass, would raise about $300 million over the 20-year life of the tax.

At a meeting two weeks ago, members of the Sustainability Commission took issue with the recommendations because the Transportation Tax Commission was not given adequate background information about the effects of climate change, members of the commission said to the council.

The council asked the Sustainability Commission if they could come up with suggestions for changes before the issue came back to the council for discussion.

However, at Tuesday night’s meeting, Dara Marks-Marino, a member of the commission, said her fellow commissioners opted not to make direct recommendations on changes to the questions, which she called “flawed.”

Members of the Transportation Tax Commission also addressed the council, and said their recommendations do add substantially to the city’s multimodal system, by adding bicycle and pedestrian projects, as well as requiring any new streets to be “complete streets” which include sidewalk and bike lanes.

The reporter can be reached at cvanek@azdailysun.com or 556-2249.

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City Government and Development Reporter

Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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