Gilbert voters get their say on funding a public-safety training facility

Gilbert voters will decide Tuesday on a $65.35 million bond request that would provide the bulk of funding for a public-safety training facility.

A “yes” vote on Question 1 would allow construction to begin as early as next spring.

The facility’s full cost is estimated at nearly $85 million. Most of the rest of the money is expected to come from the sale of town land, which voters already approved.

Gilbert leaders say the center is needed to train police and firefighters. They estimate nearly 250 police and firefighters will be eligible to retire by 2025. Beyond replacing retirees, the town expects to add nearly 100 police officers to keep pace with growth in that time. 

Gilbert’s own training space

The proposed facility near Pecos and Power roads would have space to train new police and fire recruits and provide ongoing training.

Gilbert currently sends its police recruits through academies in Phoenix or Mesa. But the town’s ability to get recruits trained depends on those cities, Police Chief Michael Soelberg said.

That’s expected to become more challenging as police-officer hiring across metro Phoenix increases, he said.

The Fire Department has struggled to find academy space with neighboring departments, which can lead to job vacancies that sometimes stretch months to more than a year, Gilbert Fire Chief Jim Jobusch said. 

Covering the costs

Town Council members Jared Taylor and Victor Petersen have raised concerns about the cost.  

However, Mayor Jenn Daniels says construction rates in the Valley are only going up.

Voter approval of Question 1 would allow the town to borrow money and pay back the bonds over 20 years, with an annual payment at about $5 million, Gilbert Budget Director Kelly Pfost said. That adds up to an estimated $35 million in interest paid on the loan over the 20-year period, for a total of $100 million.

The bonds would be repaid from secondary property taxes. 

The project would not increase the tax rate, because the town has paid down old debts, Pfost said.

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