Payson's Population Tops 13,600

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Traffic has increased, stores are busier and the morning mail is now delivered in the afternoon.

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau finally put a number to those signs of growth 13,620. That's the number of people who were living in Payson during the year 2000, a 62-percent increase over Payson's 1990 population of 8,377.

Payson's schools have felt the population pinch.

"When Frontier Elementary School opened in 1997, we thought it would be at least five years before we reached our capacity, which was anywhere from 450 to 475 students," Principal Sue Myers said. "Now, we have 470 students, and we have classrooms in every possible space imaginable."

The school's faster-than expected student population growth is a reflection of the community's housing trends, Myers said. More and more families, she said, are moving to Star Valley and other communities east of Payson.

"A lot of our children are coming from Star Valley and Christopher Creek," she said. "We're going to be meeting with county officials soon to see if they have some idea of where new subdivisions will be going in, if they'll be affordable housing, so we can try to guess how many more children might be coming to our school."

The school's site counsel is searching for solutions to Frontier's classroom crowding problem, but parents can help, too, Myers said, by taking advantage of the district's open enrollment policy.

"The other elementary schools haven't had the growth we've had here," she said. "We are encouraging parents to look at enrolling their children at (Julia Randall or Payson Elementary). It's hard to know what kind of growth we can expect, so for now, we're just keeping our fingers crossed."

Population pinch

The census figures came as no surprise to town officials, who had estimated Payson's population at 13,600.

"Between our estimates and the state's, we had a pretty good handle on what our population was already," Glenn Smith, Payson's chief financial officer, said.

"The result is that we won't see any major impact financially from the census figures," he said. "We were already using that 13,600 figure as our estimate for state-shared revenues the money we get from the state.

"What may impact us a little is that other communities within the county decreased slightly in population, which could result in a little more money for us, but not much."

Overall, state revenues rose just slightly, Smith said. State shared sales-tax revenue is up 4.2 percent, state income tax revenue is up 5.9 percent and Highway User Revenue Funds are up 3.5 percent over last year.

"We're not looking at a financial windfall," Smith said.

Other towns in the county, however, are facing financial losses.

"We know there were significant population gains in the northern part of the county," Gila County Administrator Steve Besich said. "Overall, the county is up 27.6 percent. We've also had some stagnant areas. Three of our smaller areas lost some people."

During the past decade, Hayden's population dropped 1.9 percent, Miami's population dropped 4.1 percent and Winkleman's population dropped 34.5 percent.

"I haven't talked to the mayors or managers there yet," Besich said, "but I do know they'll have substantial fiscal impacts."

According to the census figures, Payson, which grew nearly 40 percent faster than Globe, is now nearly twice Globe's size, which now has a population of 7,486.

That shift in population requires the county to redraw the district boundaries for the county's three supervisors.

Currently, District One encompasses all of northern Gila County. District Two runs north and south from Tonto Basin to Gisela. District Three includes Globe and the southern part of the county, north to Young.

Gila County Elections Director Dixie Mundy is in charge of redistricting a process that has been mired in changing legislation.

"We're required to redistrict," she said, "and according to state statute, we have to divide the county districts evenly to within 5 percent of each other."

That can be a lengthy process, she said. Under previous deadlines, counties had until 2004 to complete the redistricting. The last redistricting was done in 1993.

A recent legislative change, however, requires the county to redraw the district boundaries by June 2001. Before those changes can be made, Mundy has to get proposals from the three county supervisors, and hold public hearings in each district.

"It's going to be a real challenge," she said.

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