Home Rule Ballot Issue Buried Under Mayoral Contest

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An ordinance that gives the Town of Payson autonomy in determining its budget, sits on the general election ballot, overshadowed by the mayoral and town council races.

It's called Home Rule and gives municipalities, including counties and special districts, the ability to set budget limitation -- the maximum amount that entity can spend on town services each year.

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Town Councilor John Wilson

"The law lets us manage our own money," said Town Councilor John Wilson. "State law requires that a town cannot spend money it doesn't have."

In 1980, the Arizona State Legislature added Home Rule, also known as alternative expenditure limitation, to the state constitution.

The law bases spending limitations on the population and budget numbers of 1979-1980 --the year the law went into effect. Income such as grants, interest and dividends, is not factored into the spending limitations.

At the time, Payson's population was 4,305 with a baseline budget of $1,267,280.

In 26 years, the town has grown to nearly 15,000 residents with a spending cap of $25 million.

"(The figure) is based on money we're going to receive or money we hope to receive," Wilson said. "It doesn't matter if we have the money or not. If we don't get it, we can't spend it."

For instance, the Central Arizona Project allotted funds to the town of Payson for water exploration. Even though the town can only tap into those dollars for the specific purpose of finding water, the money is still included in the budget.

A "no" vote for Home Rule would force the Town of Payson to abide by the state-mandated minimum, which could pare the budget by $11 million.

"We would have to determine what town services are essential and nonessential," Wilson said. The cut could slash programs such as the Payson Public Library and curtail civic fundamentals like police and fire protection.

The state-imposed computation is simple. It factors in population growth, budget increases and an inflation percentage.

Population numbers -- based on employment and wage data -- culled from the Arizona Department of Economic Security, Population Statistics Unit establish the formula's head count.

The result is the 2006-2007 expenditure limitation.

"If (the law) does pass, we have to prepare a budget based on revenue and anticipated cost," Wilson said.

At that point, each town department compiles its own numbers and submits them to Town Manager Fred Carpenter and Chief Fiscal Officer Glenn Smith.

Carpenter and Smith analyze the numbers and determine whether the expenditures fit within the town's income and available funds, most of which are carried over from the previous year.

"Then we have a series of public hearings on the budget," Wilson said. "It goes to town council, and the council says yes or no."

Payson was among the first of the 55 municipalities that adhere to Home Rule to adopt the law.

For more information or to schedule a Home Rule presentation, contact Wilson at (928) 951-0014.

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