Council Won't Cut Chamber Funding


In a show of solidarity, a room full of supporters showed up at a special Payson Town Council meeting Tuesday, asking the council not to cut the town-sponsored grants of two local nonprofit agencies.


Tina Bruess

The Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation (PREDC) and the Rim Country Chamber of Commerce receive a share of their operating budget from the town -- a combined $130,000 a year.

A decrease in the town's stipend, supporters said, could create gaps in regional economic development.

"Growth is going to happen," said Jan Parsons, Arizona Public Service customer service manager. "Payson deserves to go from good to great."

Back in early summer, when the town set the 2007 fiscal year budget, council members considered shaving its funding to PREDC and the chamber.

To mollify their concerns, the council asked both organizations to delineate current goals before they'd approve funding.

"I would like to see a very clear plan with what you want to do with our dollars," Mayor Bob Edwards said.

Payson, the council said, was paying disproportionately more money to support these organizations, which were designed to serve the region.

The county, for instance, provides economic development activities in southern Gila County with more than $100,000 a year, according to Parsons.

PREDC receives $25,000 from the county and $53,000 from Payson, she added.

Although the county is looking for additional grant dollars, Parson said Payson derives most of the benefit from PREDC, including money from the county for forest health.

Community Development Director Jerry Owen said the town should continue its current funding level, and for the region to grow, these organizations must work together with local government agencies and the citizen's task forces. And most of all, PREDC should refocus its business and economic priorities.

"A high quality of life to me means choices," Owen said.

PREDC attracts businesses to the area and conducts ongoing economic analysis.

This summer, the agency released the Building Bridges to Business report, known informally as "B3." PREDC, in conjunction with APS, compiled a business profile of the region, including employment trends, commerce forecasts and growth potential.

Owen said the B3 study represented one of the most profound breakthroughs of the area's economic development -- data on which the region could capitalize, especially in regard to image promotion.

That's where the town falls short, he said. PREDC can step into that role and attract new businesses and talent from Phoenix, the nation's fifth-largest city, just 90 minutes away.

In an upcoming study, PREDC will analyze the skills and experience of the able and available workers in a 30-mile radius.

Councilor Mike Vogel, who initially questioned the value of PREDC, said he appreciated the progress Director Barbara Ganz has made.

"I think (PREDC) is a good program," he said. "Do I think it's money well-justified as it's going right now? Yes."

The council unanimously approved PREDC funding with a stipulation that a town representative must join the board of directors.

To pitch the publicity side of economic development, chamber President Kevin Dick and Executive Director stood as a unified front before the council.

"This chamber is truly a chamber of events," she said.

Most of its budget comes from fund-raising, the town's bed tax, grants, such as those provided by the town, and membership dues. And though the organization supports adjacent towns, it receives a fraction of its funding from those sources.

The chamber serves as the area information center.

Edwards, who's election platform included turning Payson into the "fun capital of Arizona," said he'd like to see more statewide event promotion.

Councilor Andy Romance agreed.

"I think we've fallen down on advertising," Romance said.

The chamber's activities need redefining, the council said.

All of the area's public relations activities should funnel through the chamber in the future.

As the council voted unanimously to give the chamber its $76,800 allocation, the audience, wearing stickers saying, "Businesses means business," applauded.

To continue its funding, the town will require each organization to provide periodic financial and progress reports.

The council will meet three times next week -- at 6 p.m. Tuesday, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and Thursday at 5:30 p.m. -- to discuss the alternate bypass route and other town business.

Read the Tuesday Payson Roundup for details.

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