Mayor David Coss spent most of his Oct. 19 State of the City address pushing a $30 million bond proposal slated to go before voters in March's city elections. Coss bills it as the "Opportunity and Quality of Life Bond," which encompasses 10 city projects including broadband infrastructure, solar energy investment and public park improvements.
"Now is the time to prepare and plan for the infrastructure that we need for a strong economy in the 21st century," Coss told a standing-room crowd during the speech at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.
Proponents of the bond say the city isn't getting the investment it needs from state or federal government. City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, who chairs the Public Works Committee, has taken the lead in helping Coss flesh out the details of the general obligation bond.
"Santa Fe is a special place," Dominguez tells SFR. "Part of the reason it's special is because we've invested in it for many, many years."
But the proposal—which, if approved, would raise property taxes by approximately $70 annually for owners of $300,000 homes—is controversial.
Rick Martinez, vice president of the Santa Fe Neighborhood Network, is vocal about his doubts.
"There's not one full-time job in this packet here," Martinez tells SFR, pointing to a hard copy of the bond proposal. "There's a lot of things in there that we don't really need right now."
One item "not even worth discussing," Martinez says, is the significant amount of money ($5 million, until the city Public Works Committee voted Oct. 24 to reduce it to $3 million) allocated for a "multimodal transit center" in the Railyard.
"The whole Railyard master plan they came up with a few years ago doesn't even represent what it turned out to be," Martinez says. "Now they want us to stick another $5 million in there."
Martinez is also concerned about the projects' broad nature, and says the $3 million earmarked for public park improvements might overlap with projects originally funded by a $30 million bond approved in 2008.
Dominguez says he's working on figuring out "how many more construction jobs would be created" by the proposal, which he says doesn't overlap with the 2008 bond. He's trying to come up with a process to make sure the projects will only be awarded to local contractors.
Coss says the bond items will improve the city's quality of life. He says $2 million in broadband investment would create three central nodes—at the Railyard, near Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and near the Santa Fe Business Incubator on Airport Road—to help small businesses afford better connections [news, June 22: "Wire-less"].
Still, some criticize the process by which the bond projects were selected.
Former City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer, who's active in the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County, says the mayor's office didn't post a detailed list of the projects online until a month after Coss began promoting it.
"How much public discussion has taken place about these things?" Heldmeyer wonders. "That's something the mayor and supporters of the bill need to explain."
Coss says the projects derive from his experience "in the last six years of working with the community."
"It's not like I made these things up," he says.
Heldmeyer also says the city often moves money around. She remembers years ago when voters improved a gross receipts tax increase for public transportation. The city council ended up diverting some of the money to summer youth and senior programs.
"In order to get the public to vote on something, [politicians] often overstate what it's going to be used for," Heldmeyer says.
City Councilor Matthew Ortiz, who chairs the Finance Committee, says his group has since asked the mayor's staff for a breakdown of the dollar figures attached to each project.
And while Santa Fe is home to some of the lowest property taxes in the state [Indicators, July 6: "Private Property"], some say raising them will hurt the city's middle- and low-income property owners.
City Councilor Miguel Chavez, who opposed a push to increase property taxes to balance the city budget earlier this year, says the proposed increases would have far-reaching effects.
"We're going to straddle citizens on this for 20 years and hope this is going to work," Chavez tells SFR.
Breakdown of the city bond proposal: