Home Rule Passes

Payson avoids fiscal disaster

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For nearly 30 years, the alternative expenditure limitation -- also known as Home Rule -- showed up on the ballot without much fanfare.

But during the 2006 election, for the first time in its history, Home Rule became a contentious issue and those involved in government began to worry.

Glenn Smith, the town's chief fiscal officer, said misinformation and skepticism piqued the public's interest in this formerly unremarkable ballot item.

"Part of it was misunderstanding and part (people) just wanting change," Smith said. "So, here's an issue the town has to put on the ballot. Unfortunately, I tie this to not trusting town hall due to all the problems we had with this election.

"It's just perception -- ‘Hey, anything they're doing down (at Town Hall) I'm going to vote against."

Voters passed Home Rule with 3,166 votes, and even though the 1,837 "no" votes might seem like a comfortable margin, Smith and Town Manager Fred Carpenter were expecting the worst.

"We were looking to find a $10 to $11 million to cut," Smith said. "This is going to hurt. How are we going to do this with the least amount of pain?"

Town employees watched as the final election results were recorded in black ink on white dry-erase board in the town council chambers Tuesday evening.

Smith and Carpenter saw the "yes" vote and let out a deep sigh of relief.

"It shows that the voters have confidence in the town's ability to manage their money," Carpenter said.

The Arizona Legislature incorporated the alternative expenditure limitation -- voted on every four years -- into Arizona's constitution in 1980.

The law caps municipality's budget spending on its 1979-1980 budget adjusted with inflation and population growth factors.

If the voters had rejected Home Rule, however, the town's budget would have fallen under a state-imposed formula, cutting expenditures by up to $11 million.

"It's an expenditure cap, not revenue reduction," Smith said.

Anticipating the worst, Carpenter and Smith sat down days before the election deadline to ponder: Where to slash?

John Wilson, Payson Town councilor and Home Rule advocate, said drastic-budget cuts would have been disastrous.

"They were making contingency plans," he said. "All of the streets projects would have been canceled, the police presence at the high school ... it would have been devastating."

The first to go, Smith said, are the nonessential services -- cutting back library hours to a couple of days a week, shutting down the event center and canceling youth and athletic programs provided by parks and recreation.

"The pool would probably close, so what would you do with the kids?" he said.

"Existing staff would have to absorb more work for no more money or possibly less pay. At some point you can't find (the money) and you'd have to cut positions. We don't have any choice."

Wilson said as staff layoffs continued, public safety and essential services would suffer, and as a result, so would the community. Plan reviews that took a couple of weeks would string out over months, hampering growth. Police officers barely making ends meet now would, because of wage cuts, be forced to find better wages elsewhere.

"That would reduce the quality of life," Smith said.

But none of this will happen because the voters chose Home Rule.

Since Payson adopted Home Rule in 1980, the town has grown to nearly 15,000 residents with a spending cap of $25 million.

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