Water Rate Hike Ok'd, Practice Arena Tabled

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A $5 across-the-board water rate increase that raised the base monthly fee to $18.65 gained Town Council approval Thursday night with nary a whimper, but a long-discussed proposal to change town codes relating to parks stirred plenty of new debate.

The hangup is no longer who can use the gazebo at Green Valley Park, but whether the practice arena at the Payson Event Center should be open to the public.

"This matter kind of got away from us," Town Attorney Sam Streichman told the council. "We started by trying to rectify religious discrimination, but everybody added a bangle to the Christmas tree. We now have too many bangles."

The matter was tabled last month so that town staff could clarify the town's insurance coverage for the arena. In the meantime, Administrative Services Director Kelly Udall toured the Event Center grounds with the town's insurer, and, he said, he was not encouraged by what he was told.

"Their feeling is we would have some pretty dangerous situations unless properly supervised," Udall said.

Streichman agreed. "In my estimation, we do not have coverage," the attorney said.

Speaking for the 265-member Payson Horseman's Association, president Mary Little urged the council to find a way to open the arena to the public.

"That facility was built with $600,000 worth of volunteer labor," she said.

Councilmember Bryan Siverson concurred. "I've had dozens of calls and letters asking us to open the arena," Siverson said. "If we can provide facilities for football and baseball, I think we should do it for horse people. That's an important part of our heritage and I think we need to support it."

Councilmember Ken Murphy noted that part of the problem is that "we are trying to treat the Event Center like a park, and it is not a park."

In the end, the council unanimously tabled the matter and instructed Udall to look into options for keeping the arena open, including finding an insurer willing to provide coverage.

Business finance

Another issue that turned what promised to be a short council meeting into a marathon was a request by Town Manager Rich Underkofler to reduce the interest rate from prime plus 2 percent to prime for commercial developers who pay water development fees to the town over time.

When Underkofler explained that he was making the request on behalf of a commercial developer, Public Works Director Buzz Walker protested the "politicizing of fees."

"If you do that, you're going to have every developer in here asking for a deal, and then the buck doesn't stop anywhere."

After a long debate over whether the town should take on the functions of a bank, a frustrated Underkofler said, "If you table this again, there's a deal pending that you're going to screw up."

At that point the council voted to go into executive session for legal advice. When they returned some 20 minutes later the matter was dropped.

Underkofler later told the Roundup today (Friday) the deal is dead.

"It was a relatively risky business in terms of its potential for success, so financing is more difficult to get." he said. I was asked to make the request so I ran it up the flagpole."

Of the council's protracted discussion, including what went on during the executive session, Underkofler said, "The final product doesn't look too bad, but making sausage is pretty ugly."

In other action, the council voted unanimously to authorize Streichman to enter into negotiations with the towns of Globe, Miami, Hayden and Winkelman to recover $192,450 in vehicle license taxes mistakenly paid to those municipalities by Gila County.

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