Critics of the lease of town-owned land to the YMCA for a $5.6-million pool and gym complex on Tuesday turned in more than three times as many signatures as they needed to force a November special election on the proposed deal, according to Payson Town Clerk Sylvia Smith.
The clerk's office on Tuesday received 124 sheets with 1,581 names, compared to the 514 signatures needed to force an election. The town clerk's office disqualified 12 of the 124 sheets with signatures on technical grounds, but the remaining 112 sheets still had 1,387 signatures.
On Wednesday, the clerk's office turned in a randomly selected 5 percent of the signatures for validation by the County Recorder's office. But the hand check of the signatures in that random sample would have to find that more than half the signatures were invalid before it would derail the election.
In the meantime, Assistant Town Attorney Tim Wright said that Payson will not draft a final lease or come to terms with the YMCA on the proposal until after voters decide on the referendum, which would overturn a council resolution approving the near-final negotiating terms for the proposed partnership.
That original council resolution would have taken effect on Aug. 2, but now won't take effect until after the Nov. 4 election. The all-mail election will cost an estimated $40,000, which will cover the cost of printing and mailing a brochure with arguments on both sides and separately mailing out the ballots to the 8,913 registered voters.
The opponents of the YMCA proposal managed to gather the signatures of potentially 15 percent of the town's voters in less than three weeks, mostly as a result of a door-to-door campaign organized by two Payson retirees who handed out petitions to about 44 people who fanned out to get signatures.
Ballots will be mailed out Oct. 2
The town will mail out the ballots on about Oct. 2, which is four days before the deadline to register for the November election, said Smith.
State law bans the use of town resources to influence the outcome of a local election, although it allows members of the town council to campaign freely -- so long as the council as a whole doesn't take actions intended to sway the election, said Wright.
YMCA spokesman Cameron Carter said he couldn't think of another case in which a group mounted a ballot measure to block the construction of a YMCA facility in town. He noted that most YMCA facilities are built as a result of collaborations with governments.
"I'm not sure how to account for it," said Carter of the opposition."Usually, communities greet the YMCA with open arms."
He said the Valley of the Sun YMCA hadn't decided whether to invest money in advertising and campaigning.
However, a citizen's group -- Friends of Payson Parks and Recreation -- has committed itself to both defending the YMCA proposal and then helping raise the projected $5.6 million construction budget.
Carter said the YMCA completed two different surveys of Rim Country residents before starting negotiations with the town, trying to determine if it could raise the money and then enroll the roughly 800 members necessary to make the facility pay off.
Both those surveys indicated strong support among Payson residents for a YMCA, said Carter.
"We believe the great majority of people in Payson are supportive of the project," said Carter. "They see a need for this type of a facility and know that a collaboration is the only way that this community center can get built in Payson. This lease is a good deal for the Town of Payson and its residents -- it's a positive project and we think there is widespread support."
But Vicki Lucas, who headed up the petition drive, said nearly everyone she contacted in her door-to-door quest for signatures objected to the use of town land to support a private business.
"It's the idea of giving away the park land that upsets people," she said.
Land not a give-away
But Carter said "it's not a give-away,"noting the YMCA is a non-profit organization. The YMCA will take over the operation of the Taylor Pool, which will save the town $130,000 per year -- in addition to the $10,000 lease payment. That total value to the town of $140,000 would cover the conventional cost of a $1-2 million mortgage.
"At this point, we're in a wait and see," said Carter. "The petitions have been filed and we'll see what happens next. I can tell you that the YMCA and the local supporters that we have -- which are many -- will actively support the YMCA and support the lease agreement."
On the other hand, Lucas said her core group of 44 signature gatherers has also vowed to campaign in favor of the referendum -- especially if any organized group rises to support it.