Payson 2020 Focuses Community Vision

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They came from the retirement community and the business sector, from the high school and from the work force.

Some 80 residents of Payson, representing all walks of life, came together at Eastern Arizona College-Payson Friday to talk about the future of their community as participants in the Payson 2020 Town Hall.

Despite the diversity of opinions, ideas and attitudes represented by those in attendance, virtually all agreed that it was a positive, and, in many cases, an eye-opening experience.

"When we first started today, we had folks in our group who were from every end of the spectrum on water issues and growth issues," participant Blair Meggitt said Friday. "But communication is everything and the more time you spend communicating the more you discover that you have common needs and wants and common approaches to solutions."

While the final report has not yet been compiled, several key issues emerged as important to the majority of participants. Finding new sources of water and street improvements like widening and adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes were mentioned most often when each of the four groups that participants were divided into gave their final summations to the assemblage.

As Meggitt, who served as spokesperson for the red group, put it, "In everybody's mind, water was the No. 1 issue. In order to grow, we need to be aggressive in finding new sources of water."

While the green group expressed satisfaction with the town's continuing search for new water sources, the subject still landed at the top of its list of priorities for updating Payson's capital improvement plan. "Our biggest one was water," said green spokesperson Robert Ware. "Water, water and water."

The yellow team also ranked new water sources No. 1, but some of its other high priorities, such as swimming pool improvements and Green Valley and Main Street redevelopment, slipped when the group considered which priorities are worth borrowing money to complete.

"When we got down to what we would accept debt for, our priorities changed considerably," yellow spokesperson T.G. Neely said.

While the blue group also had new water sources at the top of its list, the need for economic development projects that eventually lead to more good jobs for the community ranked second ahead of street improvements.

Participant perspectives

The Roundup asked two participants who represent different ends of the political spectrum to provide overviews of the day's proceedings. Lou Adams, owner of Adams Business Dimensions, is an insurance agent and certified financial planner. He said he was impressed with the demographics in his yellow group.

"We had 20 people total," he said, "nine retirees, three business people, four high school students, one teacher and three employees. Considering that the town is about 50 percent retirees, that's a pretty good mix of what the town actually looks like."

Despite the diversity, Adams was impressed with the way his group came together.

As a member of the noon Rotary Club, Adams knew a lot of the participants, and polled them for their reaction. "I talked to quite a few Rotary people and chamber people and they all felt it was a very positive session," he said. "As a business person, I was very happy with the way it went. It was as fair as it could be, and the facilitators did a great job keeping us on track."

Ruby Finney, retiree, political activist, and member of the Citizens Awareness Committee, a local watchdog group, took exception to some of Adam's observations. She did not, for example, think her green group was as balanced demographically as Adams' yellow group.

"I was surprised that the groups had already been determined when we got there," she said. "In our group of 20, we had 12 people who represented business and development."

As a result, she thinks the outcome was pretty much what "they" felt it should be.

While Finney said she thinks the results were tilted in favor of the developers, she thinks part of the problem was a communication gap.

"The facilitators had easels and recorders, but the feelings and passions of the people didn't come through when what was said got translated into the final reports," she said. "Their job is to reduce things down to the lowest common denominator, to take a point and make a consensus in maybe five or six words. Some things just didn't come out the way I remembered them."

That's why she was happy to see Mayor Ray Schum and Vice Mayor Dick Wolfe spend a lot of time observing the green group.

"On the whole, it was well done," she said. "They did the best they could with the small number who applied to participate."

She and Adams even found some common ground. Adams' yellow group emphasized the need for the community to take a new approach to its many retirees.

Finney said she couldn't agree more.

"I was beginning to feel pretty worthless because the participants didn't seem very favorable toward seniors," she said. "They want our money but they don't want to give us much say.

"We bring big bucks into this community," she said. "We buy homes. We have a decent income. But we don't demand much in return. We are a good, clean, low-cost industry."

Both Finney and Adams praised the high school students who participated in Payson 2020. And both said they thought the forum gave them the opportunity to say what was on their minds.

"I made my points," Finney said.

In the end, the significance of the event lies in how much of the message is translated into action back at Town Hall.

Neely, the spokesperson for Adams' yellow group and a retiree, said, "We had a great day, and I think we all got quite a bit from this whole experience, and we hope that the feedback to the town council is meaningful and we get some positive results from it."

Payson 2020 will be shown on TV7, at 6 p.m. Oct. 25.

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