A water rate increase and the fate of the June Bug Blues Festival were two of the issues that lay in the hands of the town council Thursday night.
Buzz Walker briefed the council on the town's water supply and discussed the challenge the town is facing after years of drought.
"We can't just pump our way out of this," Walker said. "We need to start looking at conserving water and by raising rates, people will take action to reduce their water use."
The issue of contention over the water rate increase is whether the increase unfairly penalizes business owners. While the move would result in an increase of roughly between 5 to 35 percent for the average household, the increase for those using 200,000 gallons a month exceeds 100 percent.
Doug Brackin, owner of the Majestic Mountain Inn, described how the rate increase would affect him.
"My business used 200,000 gallons last month and that's with no landscape use," Brackin said. "My new water rate will go up 119 percent. The smaller businesses can't pass the rate on to their customers because we do not have a vibrant business economy at the current time."
"Raising the water rate on the high water users is not going to kill anybody in the community," Walker said.
After briefly debating the possibility of altering the rate schedule, the council voted 5-1 to pass the rate increase. Councilor Robert Henley was not present at the meeting. Mayor Ken Murphy was the dissenting vote.
June Bug is on
Earlier in the meeting, what began as a request to approve a special event liquor license for Santa's List turned into a debate over the return of the June Bug Blues Festival to Rumsey Park.
The festival, now in its 10th year, suffered a decline in patronage and performers when it relocated to the Payson Event Center. The issue, according to organizer Joe Harless and others in attendance, was the lack of shade and dusty conditions at the center. Harless lobbied Parks and Recreation to return the festival to the grass of Rumsey.
Initially turned down by the Parks and Recreation advisory board, Schwind suggested Green Valley Park at a meeting with Mayor Ken Murphy and Harless. However, issues such as fencing were financially prohibitive for Harless and pressure Schwind received over the use of Green Valley resulted in a proposed return to Rumsey.
Initially councilors appeared irritated because Murphy said the scope of discussion could only be limited to the liquor license despite the implications of their decision.
"I regret that we can't talk about the festival," councilor Dick Wolfe said. "Since we're not allowed to, I'm going to vote against this."
Councilor Judy Buettner asked Schwind about serving alcohol at Rumsey Park. Schwind confirmed that the festival has been at Rumsey most of its nine-year history.
"I would like to be able to speak to the event, but since we are prohibited from that I'm not going to vote for this either," Buettner said.
"I support the festival. I care about the location because of what I've read concerning objections to amplified music," Councilor Dick Reese said. "I will vote against this.
One by one, members of the public came to the podium to speak in favor of the festival's return to Rumsey Park.
"I think (the festival is) a great resource for the town. Blues is one of the great heritages in this country and Joe has done very good things for this community," Don Crowley said. "I think the town should try to take more of a ‘can do' approach to it rather than a ‘cannot do' approach. It has the potential to bring a lot of business to this town. I just hope that if it doesn't pass this time around that there be a more concerted effort to get the town behind it going forward."
Doug Brackin, owner of the Majestic Mountain Inn and a past sponsor of the blues festival, spoke about the vacancies at his inn when last year's festival was held at the event center.
"If you continue to have festivals in a haphazard multi-event center, you might as well not have them," Brackin said. "I would urge you to have what few events we do have in the nicest spot in town, which is Green Valley or Rumsey Park.
Chamber of Commerce Director Bob Ware also requested the council reconsider.
"I can see (the festival) going to Heber -- somewhere where it's cool and green," Ware said. "The benefit is that if people have a good time, they'll come back. In the past its been a hot time and that is not a good time."
After asking Harless some questions, one by one, the council members changed their votes.
"I feel so bad about the many festivals we've lost and I'd hate to lose another one. I am going to change my mind and vote for this," Wolfe said.
The special events liquor license was unanimously approved, effectively permitting the return of the Blues festival to Rumsey Park.