Dust Not Settled On Town's Dirt Roads

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Eight-and-a-half miles of dirt roads in town that need at least minimal maintenance have town officials scrambling for answers.

The Payson Town Council will consider a request Thursday to find an alternative solution to a 3-2 decision made March 11 to accept the town's dirt roads for maintenance. Town Manager Rich Underkofler said he has some serious concerns about the hasty decision -- that it's not the answer.

Underkofler said today (Tuesday) that his first concern is that the council vote failed to meet the standards of the Arizona Open Meetings Law and that public notice on accepting dirt roads was not given.

In a memo to the council, Underkofler said that if a new motion is passed, he will direct staff to look at alternatives for low-cost maintenance for the dirt roads that may include paying a private contractor for the work.

He and Town Attorney Sam Streichman said after the March 11 council meeting that the level of liability that goes along with accepting the dirt roads as they are would create costs that the town could not afford without jeopardizing other projects. Underkofler called the decision "horrendous."

Town Council member Jack Monschein's motion to accept the dirt roads got support from Council members Ken Murphy and Barbara Brewer, while Mayor Vern Stiffler and Council member Hoby Herron cast the dissenting votes. Two members of the council, Jim Spencer and Ray Schum, were not present at the March 11 meeting.

Stiffler said that the agenda item was about how much should be budgeted in the coming year for the dirt roads, not whether to accept them or not.

The original agenda item was a request for the council to consider allocating $200,000 to assess properties and start the process of the improvement districts.

Murphy said such an expense would be a waste of money because the property owners were against forming the improvement districts.

Monschein motioned to direct staff to include $50,000 in next year's budget to be used for improving existing dirt roads and also to accept all dirt roads 'as is'.

The only other alternative offered by staff was to completely discontinue maintenance on the roads.

By state law, the town has to accept the roads in order to continue using taxpayers' money to maintain them, but town staff had recommended that people in the areas involved be given the opportunity to form improvement districts to pay for the cost of bringing them up to standards.

Once the roads are up to standard, they can be accepted by the town for maintenance. It's a process that is used for all new subdivisions, according to Underkofler.

"The people who live on these dirt roads would be getting a free lunch at the expense of other community needs," he said. "For example, the fire chief is requesting in next year's budget three new firefighters to staff the new fire station. I can't do that and other projects that have been requested if we're going to open up our check book for these dirt roads.

"It's all a matter of choices and priorities that need to be established by the council."

On Thursday, Underkofler will ask the council to consider a motion to direct staff to continue providing minimal maintenance on the roads, as it has in the past, and to look for low-cost alternatives for maintenance.

The motion does not include "and also to accept all roads 'as is'."

The council will also have a second reading and public hearing on an amendment to the Unified Development Code pertaining to hillside development.

In other business, the council will consider a request to adopt the Airport Management, Operation and Maintenance Plan.

The Town Council meets at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Town Hall Council Chambers.

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