Council Approves Proposed Rate Hike

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By the time the proposed water rate increase was reached on the agenda of a long and tedious meeting Thursday in Town Hall, the Payson Town Council and those few remaining in attendance seemed to have little energy left to debate its merits.

As a result, the notice of intention to increase the minimum monthly charge for water service by $5, from $13.65 to $18.65 per month, was passed by a 6-1 margin with almost no discussion. As he did at a special meeting held Sept. 5, Councilmember Hoby Herron cast the lone dissenting vote.

In presenting the rate increase request, Town Manager Rich Underkofler reminded the council that because the need for additional revenues is not consumption related the council "seemed to favor" this option over six others presented by Public Works Director Buzz Walker at that special meeting.

Walker told the council the increase was needed to help the town "recover from an operating deficit..." due to "...inflation, water conservation programs, and unfunded state and federal government mandates for employee safety and measures such as water disinfection and treatment, sampling and reports."

While Walker said the increase "will allow for at least two years before we need to adjust the rates again," Underkofler reminded the council that it had indicated at the special meeting that a consumption-related increase should be considered in the interim. Trying to move the meeting along, Mayor Ray Schum responded, "That's a separate issue. We have all winter to think about that."

A public hearing on the rate increase is tentatively scheduled for the council's regular meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26.

Park policies

The council got bogged down earlier over the first reading of proposed amendments and changes to the town code regarding the use of parks in general and the gazebo at Green Valley Park in particular. Proposed changes include striking all references to "religious ceremonies," "religious services," and "political purposes," which would essentially allow use of the gazebo by any group or organization.

Deputy Town Attorney Jeff Blilie explained that all "content-based restrictions" had been removed, making the gazebo "pretty much open to everybody" who secures a permit. He emphasized, however, that those seeking to use the gazebo would be limited to two permits per year.

A contingent of residents who live in the vicinity of Green Valley Park expressed a need for stronger wording in the code regarding noise abatement at that facility. Blilie explained that the revised wording included a ban on amplification equipment after 9 p.m.

Residents pointed out that unlike Rumsey Park, which was open before surrounding housing developments were built, Green Valley was developed in an area of established neighborhoods.

"At least the homeowners around Rumsey knew what they were buying into," one resident said.

Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner, who lives in the Green Valley area, explained that noise from the Saturday night concerts in the park is not an issue with most residents. "Area residents enjoy those events as much as everybody else," Gartner said.

While acknowledging the difficulty in enforcing noise abatement restrictions, the council directed Blilie to add wording to that effect before the second reading of the proposed changes.

Horse of another color

Mary Little of the Payson Horseman's Association said her organization was concerned about not having access to the main arena at the Payson Event Center. While the town provides facilities for groups like tennis enthusiasts and softball players, it has "forgotten the horse community," Little said.

Parks Director Bill Schwind countered that the practice arena at the event center is currently being upgraded to allow dawn-to-dusk use by riders.

"When it's completed," he said, "it will be a diamond-shaped arena 200 feet long and 130 feet at its widest part."

After the meeting Little said Schwind's practice arena solution "was kind of satisfactory, if it's done like he says and if it's done quickly." However, she expressed concerns about using granite in a horse arena. "That's like having pavement," she added.

In other action the council voted 6-1 to approve construction plans and specifications and to authorize competitive bids for the new library to be built at Rumsey Park, subject to review and approval by town attorneys. The building should be ready for occupancy by July 1, 2001.

In a related matter, the council reluctantly authorized the mayor to enter into a service agreement with the Gila County Library District for fiscal year 2000-2001. Mayor Schum explained that the county has reduced its support of the Payson Public Library from $145,000 a year to $112,000.

"You can thank your county supervisors for this," Councilmember Ken Murphy said. "It's a travesty."

Town Attorney Sam Streichman responded, "Authorize it, and I'll sue them next week."

"I'd love to," Murphy said, who cast the dissenting vote against the resolution.

Earlier, Arizona Senator Jack Brown updated the council on his efforts to line up support for rural communities in a legislative body where 23 of 30 senators represent Maricopa and Pinal counties.

Sen. Brown also warned the council about the area's water problems. "Water will catch up with you," he said. "You need to look hard at purchasing water rights wherever you can find them."

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