How bond and override elections work in Maricopa County

By Ben Giles
Published: Friday, October 13, 2023 - 1:16pm
Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023 - 2:40pm

Voting has begun across Maricopa County on various bonds and overrides, funding mechanisms for everything from school renovations and teacher salaries to city parks and public safety infrastructure.

In each case, local officials — either in cities or school district governing boards — have determined they don’t have enough funds from traditional revenue sources. So they go to voters asking for the authority to spend more, and in some cases, increase local property taxes to afford it.

Important election dates for 2023

What’s an override?

Let’s start with the 23 school districts in Maricopa County with votes on bonds or overrides, or in some districts, both.

Generally, overrides are a limited source of property tax-based funding. They allow a school district to increase property taxes for a seven-year term. 

There’s a limit, however, to how much property taxes can be raised. An override can’t exceed 15 percent of a school’s state-approved funding formula – that’s the per pupil formula set by the state, which dictates how much funding the district gets in local and state revenues.

The most common type of overrides, for maintenance and operations, are most often used by school districts to pay salaries and benefits for teachers. 

Of note — many of the override elections in school districts won’t create new expenses. Instead, they’ll renew previous overrides, allowing schools to continue paying for expenses voters approved in the past.

Sky Schaudt/KJZZ

Districts with votes on bonds and/or overrides in November 2023

What’s a bond?

Bonds are sold by school districts or municipalities to investors. The profit from those sales isn’t limited like overrides. But there are restrictions on how those profits can be spent – funding can only be used on projects that have a useful life longer than five years. 

That means bonds are most often used to buy land for schools, to build new school buildings, or to remodel older school buildings. Some bonds are also used to purchase transportation vehicles, like school buses.

Bonds are paid off over time, much like a home mortgage, using residents’ and business’ property taxes — that means that the higher the property values in your district, the greater your debt service limit.

Five cities in Maricopa County — El Mirage, Glendale, Goodyear, Phoenix and Surprise — are also hosting their own bond elections. Like school districts, cities earmark bonds for specific needs. For example, Phoenix residents can vote on four separate bonds totaling $500 million that each fund unique projects, from libraries and parks to affordable housing and senior centers.

Signs for and against the bond and override election
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
Signs for and against the bond and override election in front of Deer Valley Unified School District's office on Oct. 12, 2023.

How to vote

Each individual school district and city is conducting this election by mail.

That means all registered voters in each district and city will have a ballot mailed to them — regardless of whether a voter is registered with the state’s Active Early Voter List. Ballots were mailed to voters on Oct. 11.

One way to cast your vote is to mail your ballot back. If that’s your preferred method, you must mail your ballot by Oct. 31.

Voters also have the option to return ballots at a ballot drop box or vote a replacement ballot in person. Ballot drop boxes are already set up throughout Maricopa County. Those who want to vote in person will have to wait until Oct. 30, when the county will open several voting centers.

Where to drop off ballots or vote in person

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