The importance of this year's Payson Town Council election to the future of our community was underscored by a record turnout to see the mayoral and council candidates debate the issues Tuesday night.
An audience estimated at 750 came to see mayoral candidates Jon Barber, Barbara Brewer and Bob Edwards, along with seven of the eight council candidates. The candidates answered questions generated by the board of the Tonto Community Concert Association. The candidates also presented opening and closing statements and most made themselves available to attendees during the break and after the debate.
Incumbents Brewer and Robert Henley generally defended the current council's record.
"I believe as the leader of this town, I've been able to pull a cohesive council together and accomplish many of the goals that were set before us," Brewer said in her opening statement. "I ask you to please think about the different things that we've accomplished."
Henley focused his opening remarks on his own record.
In the three-and-a-half years that I've served on the council, you've seen that I've been willing to tackle the difficult issues and try to work out a reasonable solution for all the citizens of our town," he said.
But most of their opponents said it's time for a change.
"I believe it's important that you, the voice of Payson, be allowed to share your opinions and your ideas," mayoral candidate Jon Barber said.
The third mayoral candidate, Bob Edwards, touched on a similar theme in his opening statement.
"As great as Payson is, we can be better," he said. "We can be better neighbors ... We can be better stewards of your tax dollars."
The first question asked of all the candidates was what steps each would take to improve the water situation in Payson. Almost everybody said Blue Ridge has to be a top priority, and many emphasized the need for continued conservation.
But several also touched on the controversial subject of piping water from Star Valley to build new subdivisions in Payson.
"Taking Star Valley water is not a moral thing to do and Payson should not be doing it," Edwards said.
Council candidate Charlie Smith offered a way to avoid the controversy in the future.
"We need to make an amendment to the current ordinance whereby developers have to supply their own water and that water needs to be identified so ... we're not robbing ourselves or other communities," he said.
Street repair and maintenance was another topic most candidates touched on.
"We have an active, aggressive road improvement plan to be able to slurry seal, chip seal or build new roads every six years ... and we will continue to do that," Brewer said.
But Edwards challenged her statement.
"We're putting more money right now into Main Street than we are street maintenance," he said. "I find that to be a wrong set of priorities."
Barber also questioned the council's commitment to streets.
"I'm told we've spent a lot of money on streets, but I don't judge the success of a program by how much money we've spent on it," he said. "I judge it by the end result, and right now people are asking to have the same streets fixed that they did when I moved here 11 years ago."
But on the subject of growth, Barber agreed with Brewer -- who contended that "it's not at all excessive."
"The actual number of people who have moved to Payson have been almost the same over the past 15 years," Barber said. "The growth is so tied to Payson's economy that we can't just shut it down."
"Growth is normal, but I think we have to manage that growth within our resources," he said. "Currently, we have a water problem, and I believe we have to deal with that problem up front."
In their closing remarks, the candidates made their cases one last time. Some highlights:
"One underlying issue that hasn't really been talked about that may be the number one issue is respect for the citizens, because how we do that determines how we deal with every other issue that we face. I think it's very important that we consider every citizen in the decisions that are made."
"We practice safe yield in our town and would do the same thing and are working with the Diamond Star council in order to develop that safe yield plan for them too.
"It would benefit Payson, and the extra water that would come from the Diamond Star wells that belong to Roy Haught and George Randall, and the extra 130 gallons would come to us, and the extra $750,000 we're paying for it puts us in control not the developer."
"I hope Ed (Blair) and I have earned your vote with the following positions: Let Star Valley keep their water. Put ‘We the people' back in Payson government. Deal aggressively with the water issue. Get Payson back to normal growth. Repair the streets, and cut the waste from the budget."
"Payson has many challenges and we all know what they are: water and growth and streets and two-way communication between town hall and the people of Payson. Fire is a most imminent danger, and we need to have that as a top priority. Together we must preserve our resources and our outstanding quality of life."
"I would like to see whoever is elected create a reunification here in our community. I think we've got a lot of divisiveness. We've got a lot of bitterness. We've got a lot of misunderstanding. Whoever is up there needs to try to put it all back together."
"I think I have shown that I'm open and receptive to your comments. I've tried to be responsive to all that have contacted me. I know I've had numerous exchanges with Mr. Edwards in the past regarding certain issues and growth. We have a comprehensive general plan that you the voters have approved and I use that as my guideline."
"I was at the newspaper the other day and (Payson Roundup Publisher Richard Haddad) said, ‘You know what's always impressed me about you? I've really been impressed with your honesty. I think you should say, ‘I will always be an honest voice for the people.' So I took it from Richard Haddad and I put it on my ads."
"I want to say that I'm not affiliated with any committees, any PACs or special interest groups. I want to do what's right for the people of Payson. I'm applying for a job. I want to work for you."
"Now that I'm retired and out of work I feel I can donate my time to serve as your council person. I will do my best to look at all issues and all aspects and vote what is best for the town."
"The definition I was given several weeks ago of a councilperson: It's a neighbor that you trust enough to bring your problems to. I want to be your neighbor, I want you to trust me, and I ask you to vote for me."
(Council candidate Ed Blair could not attend because of a prior commitment to his wife for their 40th wedding anniversary.)
Ballots for the Payson and Diamond Star council elections were mailed Thursday and should arrive Friday or Saturday.
Registered Payson voters who do not receive their ballot should call the town clerk's office at 474-5251, ext. 2211.
Meet the Candidates
Follow this link to compare mayoral and council candidates' positions on key issues.