Fences, Criminal Complaints Top Council Agenda

Payson councilors on Thursday will consider host of issues and adopt the tax rate for next year

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The Payson council will hold a special meeting on Thursday at 5:15 p.m. to set the property tax rate for the year, before taking up a pair of topics that have spurred debate about whether Town Hall has been getting too powerful: A new fence ordinance and the use of criminal charges to enforce town codes.

And if that's not enough for the session at Town Hall, the council will also talk about the provisions of the open meeting law councilors have admitted they violated, consider a $100,000 contract to clean up polluted groundwater under Main Street -- and declare the drought-adapted, yellow-barked ponderosa pine the official town tree.

The property tax rate will drop slightly, to compensate for a small rise in the total assessed value of all the homes and businesses in town.

People whose houses did not change in value should see a small, overall property tax decline, while people whose houses jumped in value will have the size of the resulting tax increase buffered.

The last time the fence ordinance came before the council, it triggered lively debate. On one side, Councilor Mike Vogel decried the fence ordinance as a heavy-handed attempt to butt into people's business, with burdensome provisions that would turn the whole town into a "homeowners association." On the other hand, the planning commission had adopted the ordinance mostly to give the town the tools to keep people from building fences that would block the view of drivers at key intersections and prevent anyone from putting up an ugly fence -- a reaction to a dispute between a developer and neighbors that resulted in an eyesore of a chain link fence, sheathed in orange plastic.

The council sent the proposed ordinance back to the planning commission, which had already held a series of hearings on the first version. The planning commissioners made some minor changes to make the paperwork requirements less burdensome, and tossed the baked but still hot potato back to the town council.

A second proposed ordinance giving the town's code enforcement staff bigger teeth to chomp down on chronic violators, spurred spirited philosophical debate when it came before the planning commission.

That ordinance grew out of a dispute between the owner of a topless bar and town officials. The town ordinance bars parking trucks with commercial messages painted on their sides along busy streets as a form of advertising. But a panel truck with the name and location of the Star Valley topless bar parked along the highway on a busy holiday weekend. Reportedly, the owner ignored town officials' notice that the sign was illegal and parked it along the highway at a different spot on another weekend.

Currently, the town code enforcement officer must give someone a 10-day warning, before issuing a civil citation for violation of town laws. Even if the person repeatedly violates the code, the most the town can do is to file a civil suit.

The proposed new ordinance would allow town officials to cite violators on the spot. If a person repeats the violation anytime in the next two years, the town staff can ask the town attorney to file criminal charges.

Some planning commissioners felt that the change might place too much power in the hands of town code officials -- and worried about the prospect of someone facing criminal charges because of a sign in front of their business or the color of their walls.

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