Parks Board Wants $95,000 Master Plan

Consultant would list needs, grants and study increase in impact fees

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Payson needs a $95,000 study on future park facilities and how to raise the needed money, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board concluded at its April 1 meeting.

Mark Meyer, with Logan Simpson Design Inc., met with the advisory board this week to outline the plan for a study that would tally up the town's existing facilities, survey residents, list future possibilities and suggest ways to finance park needs. That would include a survey of other towns to determine whether Payson should consider raising the current $1,200-per-unit impact fee to pay for recreation infrastructure.

Payson Parks and Recreation Director Rick Manchester had originally estimated the study would cost $40,000, but the ultimate bid came in more than double that original rough estimate. On Tuesday, Logan Simpson's proposal won unanimous approval from the board.

"Honestly, I think we're in the ballpark" of what the town needs, said Manchester after surveying the costs of similar studies in half a dozen other cities.

An analysis of the town's $1,200 park impact fee will likely play a central role in the study, since the fee remains a major source of revenue for new park facilities. A previous study in 1996 had recommended raising the fee to $1,800 per unit, but the council never acted on that recommendation, said Manchester.

The town and the sanitary district already impose more than $15,000 in impact fees for every new housing unit. However, a dramatic drop in building permits has sharply reduced income from fees so far this year.

The consultant's study to develop a parks master plan would take 9 to 12 months, including a series of public meetings to get the input of town residents on what park facilities they want.

The study would focus mostly on Green Valley, Rumsey and Mustang parks, plus a limited survey of what undeveloped land might serve future recreational needs -- including large tracts of Forest Service land the town might seek to trade or acquire. The study would also examine connections between existing parks and the still-developing, comprehensive trails system that will connect them.

However, the study would leave out possible park or recreation facilities on the 36-acre Payson Event Center grounds, since the town has a separate study going to plan for the use of that area.

Board chairman Mel Sorensen questioned Meyer closely, to be sure the study will include consultations with the Tonto Apache Tribe, the community college, the schools and others -- as well as public hearings.

He noted that many of the retirees who comprise half the town's population remain skeptical about town budgets and programs.

"In this time, it's so important any time you want to expand something" to enlist public support and as many partners as possible, said Sorensen. "The only way a lot of this stuff is going to work out is as a partnership with other governmental agencies."

Meyer said the project cost includes money for distributing citizen surveys at many public sites and holding two public meetings at which people can talk about what recreational facilities they want the town to provide.

"We need the public input so we can discover what the public values," Meyer said.

"We need to be looking at what the seniors want, because demographically we have so many seniors in this town," said Sorensen.

The consultant noted that the proposal represented a "scaled down" approach that would identify basic needs and funding sources for the next five years.

The study wouldn't provide all the policy details necessary to produce the state-mandated recreational element for the town's general plan.

The firm has conducted similar studies in more than a dozen other communities. As a result, the firm already has a substantial database on all the impact fees and other revenue sources other cities have used to fund parks.

Manchester noted that the study should provide a solid foundation for future decisions about impact fees, grants and priorities.

He noted, however, that the building slump has provided a lot less money for recreation through the existing impact fees. Town building permits over the past five years have averaged about 250 units per year, but permit totals barely broke 100 in the past year. That decline from the average has lowered the money generated by the parks impact fee from the previous average of about $300,000 annually to about $120,000.

"Regardless, we need a master plan," said board member Rory Huff.

The board's recommendation will go to the council for possible approval at its April 17 meeting.

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