Disclaimer: The comments in this blog are my personal opinion and may or may not reflect an adopted position of the city of Glendale and its city council.
In my last blog I said that I would tackle General Obligation (G.O.) Bonds and Development Impact Fees (DIF). Both are complicated issues and I will do my best to explain their origin, purpose and use.
General Obligation (G.O.) Bonds and Development Impact Fees (DIF). These and many other funding mechanisms cities use were created by and are still regulated by the state of Arizona.
The city uses G.O. bonds to fund many large scale capital projects, in other words, it is a major component of its Capital Improvement Plan. Every city must pay the principal and interest on these bonds through its secondary property tax.
However, the state constitution specifically limits the amount a city can borrow for G.O. bonds to 6% or 20% of a city’s total assessed valuation. In Glendale 6% bonds may be issued for economic development, cultural facilities, government facilities and libraries. However, the state constitution allows one exception, granting cities the ability to issue 20% bonds in these specific areas: flood control, open space/trails, public safety and streets/parking. Generally, these are extraordinarily big ticket items. Hence the exception.
Glendale’s total assessed valuation as of June 30, 2016 was $1,174,931,000. Multiply this figure by 6% and we have a figure of $70, 496,000. That $70 million figure is the total allowable capacity in Glendale for 6% debt. In other words, if Glendale had the ability through the collection of secondary property tax to cover the principal and interest on just the category of 6% debt, it could do so. Now multiply $1,174,931,000 by 20% and we have a figure of $234,986,000 as the maximum allowable in the 20% bond debt category.
OK, we have a maximum 6% debt capacity of $70+ million and a maximum 20% debt capacity of $234+ million. Then why doesn’t the city just issue bonds in these amounts and be done with it?
Because there are two other factors that govern how much debt a city can take on. One is the city’s ability to repay annual debt. State statute mandates the city must pay the principal and interest on G.O. bonds from the secondary property tax it collects. It is prudent for a city to be conservative and try to figure out how much it can pay on debt not just in good economic times but when the economy takes a nose dive as it did for 5 years during the Great Recession.
The other factor is based upon you, the voter. Just because a city has debt capacity that doesn’t mean it can use it. Every city must go to the voters in a bond authorization election and ask for your permission to issue debt in each category for a capped amount of money. The most recent city-wide bond elections were held in 1981, 1987, 1999, and 2007. I won’t go through the whole list and how much bond authorization was approved in each category in each of the listed bond elections. In the last election in 2007 voters approved the issuance of bonds for flood control for a cap of $20 million+); Parks and recreation for a cap of $16 million +; Public safety for a cap of $102 million +; and Streets and Parking for a cap of $79 million+.
Both of these factors determine how much debt a city could take on in a given year. Even if you, the voter, have approved a maximum amount of debt in a certain category, such as flood control, the city must then look at how much debt it can comfortably afford to repay in good years and in bad years.
Another component of the CIP is Development Impact Fees (DIF). For many, many years Arizona lived by the imperative that “growth pays for growth.” It meant that developers had to pay X amount per house and it went into a city’s DIF. It allowed Glendale and every other Arizona city to use DIF to fund new parks, libraries, streets, police, fire, sanitation, water and sewer. It was a good funding mechanism for cities. As new residential subdivisions came on board cities would get DIF funds from the developer that was used, for example, to expand or build a new park. Need a new fire station because of several new subdivisions? DIF was used to offset the cost.
But the developers were not a happy lot. For you see, DIF was added by them to the price of each new home. They complained that DIF was making their homes cost too much. They lobbied the state legislature and in 2011, SB 1525 was passed. Under this legislation some categories eligible for DIF were eliminated. Others were severely restricted and the formulas for the amount of DIF that could be collected were reduced to make them almost meaningless. This bill restricted every city’s ability to collect a reasonable DIF that followed the mandate of “growth paying for growth.” The state legislature at the behest of the development industry’s lobbyists literally passed on the cost of growth to the cities. And why would legislators do so? It’s understandable. Many members of the development community contribute serious money to their campaigns.
Suddenly cities found that in many cases, they simply did not have enough money to pay for infrastructure needed because of new growth in their communities. If I were to make an educated guess I would estimate that Glendale has lost somewhere between $5 and $10 million dollars in DIF annually. Oh by the way, did developers drop the price of their new homes because DIF was suddenly reduced considerably by their buddies down at the state legislature? The answer is ‘no’… but their profit margins did increase.
© Joyce Clark, 2017
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