Resolution 2098, which allows the town to pay $750,000 for water it plans to take from Star Valley, came within one vote of failing at a five-hour, standing-room-only town council meeting Thursday night.
And with the passage of the resolution, a group of Payson residents -- supported by the Diamond Star Water Coalition -- will file a referendum petition with the town today.
If the group can collect the signatures of more than 400 registered Payson voters, the resolution will be put on hold until an election can be held.
Nearly 300 concerned Rim Country residents attended the meeting or stood outside in the parking lot and listened, many carrying signs protesting the town's intention to allow developer G. Michael Horton to take Star Valley water for three subdivisions in Payson.
The coalition, comprised of residents from Star Valley and Diamond Point Shadows, wants to incorporate the two communities in hopes of keeping Horton from taking their water.
They were joined outside council chambers by members of a Payson group -- the Phoenix Street Extension Team -- that opposes Horton's developments near their neighborhoods.
Once the meeting started, three out the hundreds of dissenters on hand were allowed to speak, and then for only three minutes each.
But with town Public Works Director Buzz Walker making a lengthy presentation and council members also making extensive remarks, the council didn't vote until nearly 9:30 before it moved on to the bulk of its agenda.
Councilors Dick Reese and George Barriger broke ranks with the rest of the council, casting votes against the outlay of money for their neighbors' water. With Councilor Tim Fruth recusing himself due to a conflict of interest, the resolution passed 4-2.
Voting in favor were Mayor Barbara Brewer, Vice Mayor Judy Buettner, and councilors John Wilson and Robert Henley.
Before the vote was taken, Barriger moved to table the resolution pending a study of safe yield to determine the amount of water that could be extracted from the Diamond Star area.
Barriger's motion died for lack of a second.
As passed, Resolution 2098 calls for reducing the diameter of the proposed pipeline from Star Valley down Highway 260 from 12 inches to 8 inches.
This means the town of Payson will not reimburse Horton $300,000, as originally planned, for upgrading the pipeline.
During the discussion, attorney Art Lloyd, who lives in Diamond Point Shadows, addressed an issue he called a moral conundrum.
"I've heard some of you say that we make decisions here because they are legal and we can do it, not because they're moral, and I ask you to reconsider that position," he said. "You have a responsibility to the citizens; I ask you to listen to the citizens."
Both Buettner and Henley added their thoughts to the debate, denying they received money under the table and accusing the coalition of creating divisiveness by name calling and rumor mongering.
"You guys have tried to take the moral high ground, but how can you take the moral high ground when you are out there accusing town staff of taking bribes under the table, accusing the town council of lying to our citizens?" Henley asked.
After the meeting, Lloyd said passing the resolution made no sense.
"They passed one resolution saying we want to do a study to determine safe yield, and then they turned around and said, ‘We're going to go ahead and take 530 gallons a minute out of this well.'"
He said he was grateful for the support from the two dissenting councilors.
"We anticipated this result," he said, "but we were very, very happy to see George Barriger and Dick Reese finally take the moral high ground."
Coalition president Bill Rappaport promised to continue the fight.
"I think they're going to be very surprised when they see the reaction from the town of Payson over what just happened," he said. "I think you're going to see a referendum, possibly an initiative, and maybe a recall."
The Diamond Star Water Coalition encouraged Rim Country residents to attend the meeting through newspaper and radio advertisements, and by picketing at several locations on Wednesday and Thursday.
The group passed out fliers that charged the town with making its residents sacrifice while residents of Chaparral Pines and The Rim Club play golf.
"While the residents of Payson pay extremely high water bills and cannot water lawns, grow gardens, wash cars, and must put up with waterless urinals, nearly 2 millions gallons of potable drinking water per day is wasted during the summer on the closed and gated golf courses of Chaparral Pines and The Rim Club so that a combined average of 25 people per day can play golf," the flier stated.
"We're just pointing out the obvious," coalition board member Chris Benjamin said.
But Walker emphasized that Payson water cannot be used on the two golf courses.
"(They are watered) by wastewater effluent from the Northern Gila County Sanitary District when they can get it, and when they cannot they supplement that with flow from their groundwater wells at Calhoun Ranch," he said.
Walker denied charges by the opposition that the Calhoun Ranch wells are drying up and the area becoming "dewatered" by overpumping for the two golf courses.
See related stories:
Citizens groups to protest at town council meeting (Aug. 23)
Diamond Star rallies behind coalition (Aug. 19)
Diamond Star says, 'no deal, they still want our water' (Aug. 12)
Town officials, Diamond Star representatives agree to talk (Aug. 5)
Developer says taking water 'not a moral issue' (Aug. 2)
Neighbors question proposed subdivision (July 29)