Rate Hike Dead In The Water

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What seemed a sure thing last month a 15-percent water rate increase for all users of 5,000 gallons or more per month may be dead in the water.

When Public Works Director Buzz Walker proposed scaling back the proposed increase to just one class of users, he met with little more than silence from the town council at a special meeting preceding the regular council meeting Thursday evening.

"I think I need to get a little more direction," Walker said after the meeting. "I kind of sensed that they don't want to do anything for a while."

The across-the-board increase was originally proposed by former Town Manager Rich Underkofler to provide more incentive to conserve water, and was based on recommendations contained in the Water Department's "Groundwater Management Status Report" and the Payson Strategic Plan for the current fiscal year. Noting recent increases in water usage, both documents call for consumption-related increases to encourage year-round conservation.

"What we have come back with now that Rich is gone is something quite different," Walker told the council. "Because we cannot manipulate the data in the water department billing system to answer the questions the council wants (answered), we propose more of a measured response. We would like to change one category by lowering the threshold of those impacted (by conservation rate increases) from 10,000 to 5,000 gallons. Then we'd be talking about a 15-percent rate increase that would affect about 30 percent of our customers. In the off-peak season, it would increase rates by about 85 cents per month; in the peak season, by about $5.35 per month."

Walker said customers using 10,000 and 20,000 gallons per month respectively were recently hit by conservation rate increases.

GREEN VALLEY LAND ACQUISITIONS

The council voted 5-1 to execute purchase agreements for two parcels in the Green Valley Redevelopment District off Main Street, referred to as the Garcia and Payson Humane Society properties.

Community Development Director Bob Gould told the council the parcels can be used for housing development, commercial office development, open space, public parking areas, and even a possible hotel.

"When we adopted that Green Valley Redevelopment area plan, there were several issues we knew we had to address the issues of poor infrastructure, crime rates, the conditions of existing buildings, and we had to find some way to enhance the historic values in that area," Gould said.

Gould reminded the council that Tetratech, the company retained to master plan the American Gulch area within which the two properties reside, was able to reduce the floodplain from 34 to 14 acres. By adding 20 acres of developable land, it will become "an attractive area where we can have trees and walkways and do a lot of different things similar to the Indian Bend Wash concept down in the Valley."

Gould also emphasized that the Garcia property contains two structures of significant historical value the Pieper Mansion and the only remaining mudhouse in the state of Arizona.

GROUNDWATER RECHARGE STUDY

The town council also voted unanimously to authorize an expenditure of $15,737 from the Water Enterprise Fund for a feasibility study of the Rumsey Groundwater Recharge Project.

"This is the town's effort to look at exactly what it would take as far as terms, permits, financing and capital construction to do a recharge project that would take water from Green Valley Lake, pump it to the west end of Rumsey Park where the temporary baseball practice fields are, run it through a very sophisticated water treatment plant, and inject the water underground for storage in the aquifer for recovery and re-use later in the year," Walker told the council.

OTHER COUNCIL DECISIONS

To save an annual expenditure of $17,000 for storage space rental, the council authorized Walker to obtain bids for the construction of a municipal storage building at 204 W. Aero Drive. Walker told the council the proposed 3,000-square-foot building could accommodate current storage requirements.

The council accepted a grant from the Arizona State Parks Board to add a new restroom facility, picnic ramada and information kiosk on the south side of Green Valley Park adjacent to the Parks Department offices. The grant is for $125,000 with the town chipping in $25,000.

The council awarded a contract not to exceed $20,000 to Mercer Group, Inc., to assist in locating and selecting a new town manager. Schum told the council it will take the politics out of the selection process.

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