Water Rate Increase On Hold

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Payson water customers got a reprieve Thursday night as the Payson Town Council tabled a proposed rate increase for further study.

Public Works Director Buzz Walker, who recommended the increase from $13.65 to $18.65 for users of less than 10,000 gallons per month, was instructed to prepare additional options, including imposing a larger portion of the increase on high use customers. After the meeting Walker said it is unlikely that he will be able to complete the process by the next council meeting, Aug. 24.

"It's more likely the matter will slide to the first meeting in September," he said. "Items for the next meeting have to be in by next Wednesday, and that would only give me four days to put together a lot of information."

During discussion of the increase, several council members agreed with Mayor Ray Schum that imposing such a large increase on all users might create a financial hardship. "We have to remember that the people who use the least are the least able to pay," Schum observed.

According to Walker, the additional revenues are needed to offset a five-year decrease in the water department's spending reserves. "The bottom line," he told the council, "is that we need to raise money for an aging water system."

Chief Fiscal Officer Glenn Smith concurred. "We've been digging into our reserves at the rate of $125,000 a year for the past three years. We have to replace the money we use," Smith said.

Because the water system in south Payson is 50 years old, many water lines need to be replaced as soon as possible.

"If one of those lines goes out, we probably don't have the money to fix it at this point," Smith observed.

Walker said the council's decision to table the matter for further discussion was not unexpected. "I just need to come back and present the same information three different ways," he said.

Once the council passes a notice of intention, a public hearing must be scheduled no sooner than 90 days before an increase can be implemented.

In other action, the council narrowly approved a request to establish a $1-per-head users' fee for ticketed events at the Payson Event Center to pay for operation and maintenance expenses and public safety expenditures. The motion, approved by a 4-3 margin, exempts the August rodeo until an economic impact study is completed by Northern Arizona University.

Also exempted was the State Championship Old Time Fiddlers Contest, reflecting a concern expressed by councilmember Brian Siverson that events co-sponsored by the town should not be assessed.

Councilmember Ken Murphy, who voted with the minority, spoke forcefully against the fee. "Now we want to nickel and dime everybody who wants to raise money for scholarships," he said.

In a related matter, the council scaled back a request for $8,000 to finance the economic impact study of programs staged at the event center, unanimously approving a motion by Vice Mayor Dick Wolfe to initially fund a survey of rodeo attendees at a cost of $4,000. The study, to be conducted by NAU's College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, is designed to determine whether events generate sufficient sales and bed tax revenues to offset town expenditures.

Acting on another agenda item, the council awarded a contract for $653,245.44 to C.J. Excavating for the reconstruction of Airport Road from McLane Road to west of Falconcrest Drive, and another contract to Rural Electric for $284,348 to upgrade runway lighting at Payson Airport.

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