Town Streets, Wages Should Be Top Priority

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During last Thursday's budget meeting, Mayor Ken Murphy and Councilman Robert Henley asserted that funding for the street department is woefully inadequate.

Anyone who drives down North McLane Road, just one of several town streets in disrepair, can agree that our infrastructure is in dire need of more attention.

The Highway Users Revenue Fund (HURF) is the primary source of funding for the street department. Chief fiscal officer Glen Smith earlier told the council that the drop in HURF money was going to hurt. By the condition of our roads, we've been hurting for a while.

Another potential source of funding is the bond initiative on the ballot this September. The public works capital improvement project includes 12 street projects and will pump more than $4 million into the streets.

Yet Payson does not have a good record when it comes to passing bond initiatives, and if this one fails, there is very little cash in the budget this year to fund street projects.

Fixing the decaying infrastructure should be a budget priority rather than something that hinges on the fickle voting public.

There are economic implications when we neglect our roads. We cannot expect to attract business to a town with crumbling streets.

Not only does the street department lack the funding to fix roads, but to adequately staff and compensate its employees.

Street department employees who have worked for the town for five years still bring home something in the neighborhood of $1,400 a month -- 12 years, $1,600 a month. Try supporting a family on that. Sure they get a yearly merit raise but it is promptly nullified by an increase in health insurance costs.

According to the Director of Human Resources in the town of Prescott Valley, the starting salary for a street maintenance employee is $26,564.

Let's not forget the nature of street department employment -- it is hard labor, operating heavy machinery, working with hazardous chemicals, and often in the heat of the day.

It's no secret that earning a living in Payson is very difficult and a job with the town is a much sought-after commodity. This is why wages remain low. A consequence of this is that we are losing valuable, hardworking employees to other towns that pay enough to support a family.

If this town desires a decent infrastructure, then the street department, its employees, and the Pavement Preservation Program should be a funding priority. The town should not depend on a bond election to get money for street maintenance and improvements.

In addition, town employees should not be paid according to what the town can get away with, but in accordance with the cost of living in this community. Most haven't seen a market raise in years and are just scraping by.

We hope the council continues to press for more funding for the street department, which would include adequate compensation for its hardworking employees.

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