Queen Creek’s rising debt merits residents’ concern

East Valley Tribune
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Tribune Editorial

Queen Creek has put a lot of time and effort into preserving its small-town feel amid the waves of development washing east from Gilbert and north from Pinal County.

But pushing back against such a tide can require a lot of money, even beyond the expected expenses of dealing with growth within its own borders.

The town has nearly completed the Ellsworth Loop Road to relieve congestion largely created by pass-through traffic, built new administration buildings and is building its first stand-alone library, as well as an equestrian center intended to preserve the town’s agrarian feel.

These and other projects have pushed Queen Creek to the highest per-capita municipal debt load in Arizona, according to an Arizona Tax Research Association report based on data from the state Department of Revenue’s Debt Oversight Commission (which we didn’t know existed, but now that we do is one state agency we don’t mind having around).

Tribune reporter Sarah J. Boggan wrote for Tuesday’s paper that the town’s $143 million debt load divides out to $7,671 for each person in Queen Creek’s surprisingly small population of 23,000.

Now, the town is adding $40 million to that with the purchase of the Queen Creek Water Co., and slower growth and revenue is forcing the Town Council to consider $5 million in cuts, as Boggan also reported Tuesday.

Residents struggling with their own credit crunches are not going to take kindly to paying off mountains of town debt on top of that, no matter how worthy each of these projects might seem to be on their own. And the investors cities and towns count on to buy municipal bonds and other debt instruments do look at the per-capita figure while deciding whether to buy into a town’s future.

So Queen Creek must take a critical look at its spending. This town will continue to grow in spite of itself, and so will the demands on its infrastructure and employees. Taxpayers won’t be happy if their money can’t be used to defray these costs because it’s still paying off a long-completed park or road.