Council Votes To Shear Spending

Nonprofits face funding cuts

Advertisement

The Payson Town Council, at a special budget meeting Thursday evening, voted to trim nonprofit funding by 20 percent and slim the townwide nonpersonnel budget.

Funds siphoned out of these areas will be reallocated to other projects or serve as reserves for related budget items.

photo

The Payson Police Department has avoided budget cuts for 2006-2007, in fact there is discussion about adding personnel.

As the Payson Town Council teases the fluff out of the $39 million 2006-2007 fiscal year budget, Mayor Bob Edwards said tightening the numbers isn't about deprivation.

"I want to change the philosophy of the Town to where savings becomes a positive event," the mayor said. "I want the town to treat every tax dollar as a sacred thing."

The mayor initially suggested an across-the-board 7-percent budget cut, which drew council resistance and staff caution.

"Some of (the budget cuts) we could probably go ahead and make, and feel OK about them," said Town Manager Fred Carpenter. "Others are going to put a crimp in some operations."

The proposed reductions included the deferment of maintenance, the tightening of town services such as parks and recreation activities, and the ebb of staff training.

"I am totally opposed to implementing 7 percent cuts," Councilor John Wilson said. "None of those types of budget cuts are, in the long range, beneficial to the town."

"What's going to be taken out are some things that are important and we're still not addressing the unimportant on some of them," Vice Mayor Tim Fruth added.

With an unwillingness to cut services that directly affect the electorate, the council carved nonessential expenditures out of the town's public relations budget, for instance, a $6,000 annual trip to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

"Now we're getting somewhere," Councilor Andy Romance said. "We're talking about specifics. It's lazy just to cut 7 percent."

The council passed a motion to continue to seek spending reductions, and rather than changing the bottom line, the council will reallocate the savings to other areas of the budget.

On the personnel side, the council implemented a hiring freeze, except for a new secretary for the town's engineering department and additional police officers.

All town employees earning less than $70,000 will receive a salary adjustment; merit increases will take the form of a bonus instead of a raise.

The council has also taken into consideration the demand for police officers and dispatchers, and Payson's inability to attract qualified applicants.

Local wages for public safety personnel fall below the regional market. Fruth said the town will have to raise entry-level salaries to compete, especially if the department expands its coverage into Star Valley.

The Star Valley Town Council has approached Payson to provide police services, but without better wages, more officers and another dispatcher, existing service, said Police Chief Gordy Gartner, could be compromised.

Meanwhile, the council unanimously voted for a 20-percent reduction -- from $80,000 to $65,000 -- in funding to seven nonprofit beneficiaries: Gila County Community Action Program; Senior Center; Northern Gila County Historical Society; St. Vincent de Paul; Time Out; Rim Country Literacy Program; Payson Helping Payson; Habitat for Humanity; and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Gila County.

The council's motivation for slimming the nonprofit budget is twofold: other entities, like Gila County, that benefit from regional organizations such as the Northern Gila County Historical Society and the chamber of commerce, should chip in, and, according to Fruth, nonprofits could do more internal fund-raising with the help of the town's grant-writing resources.

Councilor Mike Vogel said he had concerns about the impact the cut would have on the senior center.

"A whole bunch of people depend on that one meal, and I don't want to see anyone go hungry," he said.

Although the council did unanimously vote to reduce nonprofit spending, the council members agreed to reappropriate money where needed.

Street improvements, specifically the extension of Mud Springs Road, also took top billing on the council's budget.

The project includes a traffic-alleviating extension to Granite Dells Road. To begin phase one, the council allocated $421,000.

Councilor Ed Blair asked the staff to study other options, and though alternatives are under consideration, his request faced council resistance.

"If there's a change in direction," Romance said. "You're moving back."

The street-extension project has been years in the making, and the archeological and environmental studies are done on an already-determined route.

To change the project now, Romance said, could involve easements, condemnations and feasibility studies that could eat up thousands of dollars.

Residents interested in learning about the details of the town's street projects in relation to its budget can expect the council to schedule work study sessions in the coming weeks. The final budget will be adopted Aug. 4, and the taxes levied Aug. 11.

Look for more than financial savings at the June 22 town council meeting -- that's when the environmentally friendlier council goes paperless.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.