Local Notables Weigh In On 2004

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Don't ever let anyone ever tell you Payson is a plain and simple town of cowboys and retirees. We're growing, we're progressing and on Tuesday, Jan. 4, when the annual Year in Review hits the newsstands, Rim country residents will be reminded just how dynamic this community is. In the meantime, we asked a handful of community leaders to reflect on this past year that ends when the ball drops at midnight Friday, and to give some insight on the coming year.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the responses of those who participated:

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The Willow Fire that burned 119,500 acres this summer dominated newscasts across the country. Until firefighters subdued the inferno, dense fog and heavy smoke caused respiratory problems and obscured the town's view.

Barbara Brewer, Payson Mayor

As Payson's Mayor Barbara Brewer settled into office, the Willow Fire blazed out control. The generosity and support of her constituents inspired the beginning of her term.

"As the new mayor and town council were seated, we were faced with the most watchful time in our history," Brewer said. "As the fire grew, our community grew closer together -- assisting neighbors in keeping informed and even rehearsing evacuation in the Country Club Vista area.

"The next major event was Congress passing and President Bush signing the bill to move closer to securing our water allotment from Blue Ridge Reservoir.

"Next year will be even better as we move forward in our Corporate Strategic Plan. Thanks to all of our professional town staff and the citizens of Payson for a great 2004."

Fred Carpenter, Payson Town Manager

Four events stood out in 2004, according to Carpenter:

  • Passage of federal legislation that should eventually lead to Payson and northern Gila County receiving a share of water from Blue Ridge Reservoir.
  • Successful completion of Local Government 101, the first citizen's leadership academy.
  • Internet video streaming of town meetings and TV productions.
  • Successful completion of the first all-mail ballot town council election.

"In the coming year, we should complete the Diamond Rim water exploration environmental assessment and get the environmental assessment going on bringing Blue Ridge Reservoir water to Payson," Carpenter said. "The town should also make a decision on whether to start a public transit system in Payson."

Ron Christensen, Outgoing Gila County Supervisor

"As an election year, 2004 was unusually dramatic -- nationally and locally," Christensen began. "In politics, as well as in life, good sportsmanship should prevail."

Christensen pointed to the consolidation of road districts in 2004 as a major accomplishment.

"I am very proud of the professionalism and dedication (of those involved) for formulating new cost-saving measures which have increased the county's ability to perform more maintenance projects," he said.

Christensen also underscored victories in 2004:

  • Holding the tax rate steady again.
  • A top quality county staff.
  • Increase in federal payment in lieu of tax payments.
  • Preservation of the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District.

Christensen also noted a few setbacks in the past year:

  • Lack of recognition of the problem and action taken to remove bark beetle-killed trees from federal forest lands.
  • Long-term effects of and damage created by the Willow Fire.
  • The inability to secure funds and build a safer passage at Second Crossing on Houston Mesa Road.

"In 2005, I look forward to participating on the governing board for the Gila Community College Provisional District," Christensen said. "I hope to be instrumental in enhancing and expanding higher learning in Gila County."

Don Crowley, Co-Chairman, Citizens for Better Payson Government

  • Perhaps most important for Payson's future, the November passage of federal legislation paving the way for the town to access water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir.
  • Impressed with the progress and quality of deliberations by our current town council under the leadership of Mayor Barbara Brewer. Members have been cooperatively addressing important issues.
  • The inaugural Payson Citizen's Leadership Academy was well-executed and rewarding to attendees, and represented an important step toward broadening public knowledge and participation in local government.

Barbara Ganz, President, Gila Community College

"I am very pleased that the college was able to arrange an agreement with Payson Regional Medical Center and Rio Salado College for students entering RN (registered nurse) training to do their clinical studies at our local hospital and remain in Payson.

"Also, thanks to the governor and our representatives for their support; to the College Foundation for their scholarships; to campus supporters of poetry, music and art; the Xeriscape Council for beautifying the campus; the wonderful students seeking a higher education; and the faculty and staff who have embraced Gila Community College and its goals. I look forward to even greater accomplishments in 2005."

Pat Randall, Private citizen

Randall is concerned with the following town actions and decisions:

  • Restricting water to present citizens, yet giving incentives for multiple housing and more people.
  • Too many ordinances; too little enforcement.
  • Building entertainment centers and giving money to businesses and to nonprofit organizations in a select area seem to be the town's priorities. Fire and police protection, water, better streets, and better maintenance of parks and town structures should take precedence.
  • Giving grants and tax money to a select few instead of using the funds for town improvements and for the good of all residents.
  • Too many frivolous projects and studies.
  • Not doing enough to help the young, disabled and elderly.

Randall also believes the town should strive for better relations with the Tonto Apache Tribe and surrounding communities.

Herb Weissenfels, Superintendent, Payson Unified School District

"This past year was a notable one in education as we expanded horizons for the youth of Payson," Weissenfels said.

"These changes will impact the future for all of us and reinforce our faith in today's youth. Payson is addressing the future on so many fronts in education, business, and government that the future continues to shine for all.

"I challenge everyone to focus on the positive and not let the negative determine your path to the future. Problems will be solved with a commitment to what is best for the future."

Dick Wolfe, President, Zane Grey Cabin Foundation

"This past year was very good to Payson," Wolfe said.

"Growth was well-managed, and our quality of life remained high. I believe we continue to have one of the best-run small towns in Arizona.

"We had our town council election and elected caring and knowledgeable leaders as mayor and council members.

"One of the major stories of the year has to be a future resolution to our water problems, and, hopefully, a much desired development of the 36-acre Payson Event Center site, including covering the rodeo arena. These two issues alone will assure orderly growth in the future, and also enlarge the revenue stream to the town to help pay for needed improvements, such as to our streets.

"The dream of having a YMCA here in Payson holds great promise and would provide a much-needed venue for folks of all ages in the area. Best of luck to our mayor, council and all those involved in making this a reality.

"I believe 2004 was a good year for Payson, and 2005 will be even better. With good leadership and a good economy, Payson will continue to move forward.

"Finally, look to see the completion of the Zane Grey Cabin in Green Valley Park. We have started the construction, so stop by occasionally and join in the excitement of this project.

Marcy Rogers, Town Housing Coordinator and Director, Payson Community Kids

"From Community Development Director Bob Gould comes hope for renewing efforts in our blighted neighborhoods. As housing coordinator, I would like to see some of the old trailer parks redeveloped into owner-occupied affordable housing.

"With the Arizona Department of Housing assistance we were able to provide homebuyer classes on several occasions this past year. Many would qualify for their first-time homebuyer down payment program if they take the classes and meet the other income and credit requirements. The Community Development Block Grant money was used to repair and rehab many single-family houses in this area and other parts of town. I look forward to starting four or five more homes in this program within the month. Coordination with Gila County on home repair has been beneficial to our community.

"La Ron Garrett would like more money for new streets and street repairs. Steve Hansen would like more money for sidewalks.

"Building Official Ray LaHaye indicated that almost 200 residential building permits were issued last year, and he looks forward to working with the contractors to meet this amount next year. He is also looking forward to the opening of Home Depot and the employment it will provide.

"From the home front and the Payson Community Kids Program, many will remember that Christmas 2003 was our saddest ever with the death of a child the Sunday before. Most of our children 10 years and older spent New Year's Eve at the funeral and we mourned together and supported the family, friends and each other.

"After that, everything seemed to be off and running with a new spirit of energy and we started the after-school program with a grant from the Wallace Foundation of Arizona to hire a teacher. The Wallace Foundation recently granted us $15,000 for the program to run another year, which means the children will continue to have somewhere safe to go where they enjoy good food and help with homework and other fun activities like art and Kung Fu. The other big accomplishment for our group was the granting of money from the Central Arizona Board of Realtors and the Arizona Women's Partnership for housing rehab money to assist priority needs set up by the board of directors.

"As I write this today and our segment on the Montel Williams show did not air on Channel 10, I remind myself that I signed the contract that said, "You have no control and you give up all rights ...." I apologize to the community that was all ready to sit down to watch or tape the show. In my heart I just hold on to the girl (Stephanie) who got to go to New York and live her dreams and be rewarded for making the right decisions and being a leader among the children who need her help. What a wonderful and amazing trip that was.

"If only next year is as sweet as 2004 was for the kids program and those of us who serve them. Thank you to a great community that cares. With one foot in front of the other we will see where (we can go) and what we can do next."

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