By Jason Stone, INDEPENDENT NEWSMEDIA
When Marley Park resident Mark McCall approached the Surprise City Council last week during consideration of its property tax rate hike, he had a question: Why do Marley Park residents pay more in property taxes to live in Surprise?
It was something several neighborhood residents asked the community’s developers at a community outreach meeting about the Marley Park Community Facilities District budget on May 26.
“We’re not opposed to paying for the community and paying back the bonds that we’re contractually obligated to,” McCall told the council a week later at the CFD budget meeting on June 4.
But what are those bonds for, he and others wanted to know, and what purpose does the Marley Park Community Facilities District serve in the first place?
They got their answers when the council voted to bump up their community’s property tax to $4.36 per $100 of assessed valuation.
That’s a little bit less than the $4.5722 the Finance Department first suggested and also less than the $4.5270 figure city officials were ready to suggest to the council.
The council also voted to adopt the community’s final budget of $10.4 million.
The reason Marley Park looks special is because it was meant to be that way.
The additional property tax that residents began paying in 2004 gave the community extra money that made it different than any community in Surprise.
In addition to unique homes, the community featured premium landscaping, its own city-used park, a brand-new elementary school that didn’t need bond money to construct it, a club house, a pool house and other amenities.
The city, however, is playing catchup trying to get the money paid back now that it’s 15 years down the line.
Surprise Finance Director Andrea Davis said of the original $40 million in bonds that were issued at the CFD’s formation, five bonds have been repaid at $25 million. That leaves about $15 million still to go. Those figures already include the $8.6 million in bond issuances for fiscal year 2020 that are already on the books.
Ms. Davis said the remainder of the bonds to be issued will depend on the speed and quantity of homes that are developed in the newer portion of Marley Park, which is east of Bullard Avenue. She said it looks like that would be about five years from now when “we hope” 500 homes are in that portion by then.
DMB Associates, Inc., the developers of the community, is eyeing a total of 3,041 homes when it’s at build out a few years down the road. It was originally entitled to 3,800 homes, but the grand plan was slowed a little bit when the great recession hit a decade ago.
That same recession is really the crux of the community’s bond repayment problem now. All of this extra property tax – the entire reason for the creation of the Marley Park CFD – was already supposed to be paid back by now
“We can take a slightly smaller number this year with the intent to go for the max next year,” Ms. Davis told the council during deliberations to set the area’s tax rate. “The intent at the beginning was to be at the max to get this paid off in a seven-, eight-year project. Because of the recessionary period that we did experience we had some fluctuations there.”
One councilmember asked Dave Nilsen, the land development director at DMB, if the company would be willing to wait a little longer on repayment.
“The polite answer to your question … is no,” Mr. Nilsen said. “The recession came and the recession stayed, and we committed to stay in the game and finish what we started. And we’ve already been waiting for reimbursement of what was supposed to happen over a seven-year business plan.”
Because of its vulnerability to the market, CFDs aren’t always the preferred way to create nicer neighborhoods. Opponents of them believe cities should demand developers deliver better products to their communities.
“I’m not a fan of CFDs and this is one of the reasons why,” said Vice Mayor Roland Winters, who serves north Surprise residents in District 1. “Sometimes the residents who buy in there won’t understand their property tax is going to be higher because of the amenities. I hope they realize it and sometimes they don’t.”
Part of the confusion about what Marley Park’s CFD serves came out of the outreach meeting that left residents leaving with more questions than answers.
“I knew what I was getting into when I purchased in Marley Park,” said resident Matthew Keating, who is also the chairperson for the Surprise Planning and Zoning Commission. “We want to understand exactly why are we paying more money, what is it going for? At that meeting, even I was confused. I didn’t understand it.”
Mr. Nilsen wasn’t in attendance and sent other representatives of the company who weren’t yet prepared to answer questions about the history of Marley Park’s CFD arrangement within the city.
“Historically it’s been pretty straight forward and easy,” Mr. Nilsen said about the annual updates to the Marley Park HOA. “I understand that wasn’t the case this time.”
Councilmembers told Mr. Nilsen they didn’t understand why there was confusion anyway.
“I guess my frustration is it felt like you didn’t take it serious enough to have somebody who would have the answers at that meeting,” District 6 Councilmember Chris Judd told Mr. Nilsen during the CFD budget presentation. “I mean that’s an important meeting for you guys, isn’t it? This is about reimbursing you for up to $40 million in infrastructure. So, I would expect to have somebody knowledgeable there to address these guys’ concerns.”
Mr. Nilsen responded, “Duly noted. We do take it seriously.”
Mayor Skip Hall took it a step further, questioning why Marley Park HOA board member Daniel Kelly couldn’t provide answers despite serving as a vice president with DMB.
“He’s always involved in the CFD,” Mr. Hall said. “I’m wondering why he is sitting on the HOA board, but he doesn’t have a communication line.”
Mr. Nilsen wanted to make it clear how the CFD is benefiting Marley Park residents.
He said the dedication of 25 acres for what would become Heritage Park as well as 15 acres for Marley Park Elementary School were just two examples only possible because of the CFD’s creation.
“Without the CFD we wouldn’t have been able to frankly develop that level of a park,” Mr. Nilsen said.
Additionally, the donation of 15 acres to the Dysart Unified School District allowed it to build the school without bond money as well.
Mr. Nilsen also pointed to 50 acres of neighborhood parks that have enhanced landscaping, as well as the grand Marley Park theme wall encircling the original section.
“The wall around Marley Park is the most beautiful wall in Surprise,” Mr. Hall said.
And it comes with a price. Mr. Hall said the cost of the wall — $120 per linear foot – is about 40% more expensive than any other wall in Surprise,
Of course, Marley Park is noted for its amenities as well as its unique home designs and landscaping.
Last year, DMB announced plans to open Willow Swim Park, the neighborhood’s second swimming facility, in the new section to the east.
The 2,000-square-foot shallow pool will include:
- gas barbecue grills
- covered ramada
- drinking fountain with water bottle fill station
- changes afoot
To help the community understand its finances a little bit better, Ms. Davis suggested some changes to future outreach meetings to make sure there isn’t confusion again.
She said those could include holding the meeting earlier in the budget process or possibly holding multiple meetings.
Mr. McCall recommended that the city council form a separate commission for Marley Park since nobody on the council lives in Marley Park.
But Mr. Judd suggested working directly with the community’s HOA board instead of using a separate commission in between.
Of course, Ms. Davis reminded the council that could be tricky if residents on the east side decide to create a separate HOA in the future, which she said is still a possibility.