DALLAS — Glendale, Ariz., officials have until July 24 to validate 4,100 signatures on a petition seeking to reverse a tax increase expected to produce $23 million annually.
Voters’ rejection of the 0.7% tax increase could have credit implications for the struggling Phoenix suburb and could endanger its plan to subsidize the sale of the National Hockey League’s Phoenix Coyotes.
Glendale, which built the Jobing.com arena with $180 million of tax-backed revenue bonds, wants to keep the Coyotes playing at the arena built specifically for the team. City officials say that without the team, the arena would not be financially viable.
The City Council approved the tax increase to help close a projected $35 million budget gap and to avoid cutting city services.
A group of business leaders calling themselves “Save Glendale Now” collected 4,100 signatures, more than twice what was needed to submit the initiative to voters on Nov. 6.
The organization says that Arizona’s shattered economy is too fragile to endure a tax increase, and focuses its opposition on the hockey deal, which hinges on the city’s agreement to pay the team’s prospective new owner an average of $16 million annually for 20 years to manage the arena.
“Glendale has already sunk over $230 million into the Coyotes. The NHL is now requesting we cough up an additional $400 million, including arena subsidies and parking rights,” the group said in its petition drive. “At the end of the day, this agreement will cost us dearly, including our libraries, police and fire service funding, parks and recreation funding, among other service cuts.”
Glendale has already paid $50 million to the NHL to reimburse the league for its losses for keeping the Coyotes in Glendale for two seasons. The team, which filed for bankruptcy in 2009, was expected to be sold to a Canadian investor who intended to take the team to Hamilton, Ontario.
To keep the team playing in Glendale, the NHL bought the team out of bankruptcy, with the city covering its losses. But the NHL is seeking to unload the team to an owner who will keep the team playing in the arena.
Glendale officials say the cost of losing the team would be higher than paying a future owner $400 million to manage the arena and adjoining parking lot. The city is also trying to preserve the Westgate City Center shopping and entertainment development around the arena. Westgate’s lenders last year foreclosed on the project.
In January, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s downgraded Glendale’s general obligation bond ratings, while maintaining a negative outlook. Moody’s lowered the city’s unlimited-tax GOs to Aa3 from Aa2. Standard & Poor’s lowered its long-term GO rating to A-plus.