The two sides in the Alpine Heights street improvement battle sat down together at Town Hall for a vote recount Tuesday.
Town Manager Rich Underkofler, who arranged to bring the opposing factions to the table for the recount, moderated the session, along with Councilmember Hoby Herron.
"Frankly this whole thing came from me," Underkofler said at the beginning of the meeting, "and I feel bad that it has created disharmony and made people mad at each other."
The battle over whether to create a local improvement district in the eastern half of the community to re-pave streets, add curbs and correct longstanding drainage problems has inflamed emotions and split the subdivision in northeast Payson virtually down the middle.
Alpine Heights residents Robert Carr and Ted Scholz are leading the two factions in a contentious race for their neighbors' support, with both sides claiming to have the signatures of a majority of the 138 property owners in the portion of the 250-lot subdivision that is included in the proposed district's boundaries.
If property owners vote to establish a local improvement district, bonds will be issued to finance the street repairs. The homeowners will pay half the cost about $5,000 a lot and the town will pay the other half.
To complicate matters, Payson Mayor Ray Schum lives in Alpine Heights and has been actively involved in the campaign to get a majority of property owners to approve the district. While Carr, whose group is opposed to the district, thinks the mayor's involvement constitutes a conflict of interest, Town Attorney Sam Streichman ruled that it does not.
Another point of contention is the way the subdivision was split so that the western portion, where Carr said more people who are opposed to an improvement district live, was left out. He said he thinks the town did this to isolate opponents and "steal the election."
While Scholz said the split was made because it was the streets in the eastern portion that most needed repair, Underkofler admitted his motives were at least partly political. At the recount, he said he "gerrymandered" the district to "find a place where I can get support."
"I wanted to set a precedent for other places," he said. According to the town manager, Granite Dells Estates is the only other subdivision in Payson that is considering forming an improvement district.
With several observers keeping separate tallies, the recount proceeded slowly through each lot number. When it was over, the vote stood at 62 opposed, 58 in favor, 13 who voted both for and against, and 5 who were not contacted or chose not to vote.
With the outcome still hanging in the balance, the two sides agreed to meet again Dec. 27, when Underkofler said he will present an impartial fact sheet explaining the issue that could be mailed to property owners as part of a new, town-sponsored election. Each side will also bring a one-paragraph position statement that may be included with the fact sheet.
At that meeting, the wording will be fine-tuned to the satisfaction of both sides, and a decision will be made whether to poll the entire community or just those 18 property owners who either voted twice or have not yet voted.
After the recount, Carr said he still believes a majority of the community voted against the proposal, and that the matter could have been resolved by simply calling each of the 13 property owners who voted twice and asking them which side they were on. Carr also said he was not enthusiastic about resubmitting the matter to the community.
"We don't feel we're getting a fair shake from Underkofler or the city," he said. "We're going to fight on, and we're going to try and get the whole town involved, because they'll be next."
Scholz, speaking for the proponents, said that he was "reasonably pleased with the outcome. I'm glad Mr. Carr had the opportunity to present his side, but I'm disappointed there wasn't an easier resolution for those who changed their vote."
Scholz also said he did not see how the signature cards collected by the two sides could be used because each presented its case with bias. "The answer now is an election supervised by the town with all the facts fairly presented."
Whether the two sides will agree to do that Dec. 27 probably depends on whether they can agree on the wording of Underkofler's fact sheet and the procedure for conducting the election and counting the votes.