Mesa is hopping mad over a lawsuit attacking a fee it collects for arts and cultural programs.
"This doesn't go well toward open communication and dialogue," City Manager Chris Brady said after the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix conservative think tank, announced it was suing Mesa over its cultural impact fees.
The fees are assessed to builders, and passed on to homebuyers, to pay for museums and other cultural amenities. Just this month, Mesa imposed a dramatic increase across the board in its various impact fees, but cultural impact fees actually decreased from $237 to $218 for a single-family home.
The Goldwater Institute asserts that cultural fees are illegal because Arizona law says impact fees can be assessed only "for necessary public services related to new development." The group believes museums and arts centers do not qualify under that definition.
Clint Bolick, a Goldwater Institute official, was quoted in a press release as saying, "We hope this legal challenge sends a message to cities across Arizona that the thirst for government revenue does not override the law."
The lawsuit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on behalf of the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.
Brady said the group had numerous opportunities to voice its concerns as the city went through a months-long review of its impact fees earlier this year.
"We worked really hard with them to explain everything," Brady said. "If it was that serious for them, why didn't they say something when it was before the council?"
Further, Brady said, there's nothing new about the fees. Mesa has been imposing them for years and believes they comply with state law.
Brady said the money eventually will be needed, for example, to fund improvements to the city-run Mesa Southwest Museum, which becomes the Arizona Museum of Natural History next month. "We will have proposals for those types of dollars in the future," Brady said.
Mesa considered abolishing the cultural fee this year and folding it into the parks and recreation category. But the city's arts community objected, fearing that museums and the like would get short shrift in favor of park facilities.
Terry Williams, Mesa's building safety director, who oversees the impact fees, told members of various cultural groups in March that merging the fees might fend off future litigation.
Whether cultural fees are justified, Williams said then, "is a very serious legal question that we may get challenged on at some time."
The lawsuit asks the court to order Mesa to stop collecting the cultural fee and to reimburse the plaintiffs for legal fees and other costs. It does not seek a refund of fees previously collected.
Brady said the city's legal staff will consider how to respond.