Payson Ponders Gift-Wrapped Controversies

Police contract with tribe, design review top agenda

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The Payson Town Council will open its presents early on Thursday — some neatly wrapped controversies and a potential new source of revenue.

The regular council meeting starting at 5:30 p.m. in Town Hall will follow a council executive session on a new contract with the Payson Regional Airport Authority. The town turned the airport over to the nonprofit group several years ago, a move which saved the town several hundred thousand dollars.

At the regular meeting, the council will decide whether to contract with the Tonto Apache Tribe to provide police protection on the reservation and how to set up a new system for reviewing the look and design of new buildings in town.

The council could act on a proposed $200,000 contract to provide police protection for the tribal casino and several hundred acres of reservation land on the edge of the town.

The town had provided police protection for the reservation previously — and received 20 or 25 calls a month. However, the town dropped that contract after being named in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit that stemmed from a drunken driver in the casino parking lot seriously injuring a pedestrian. Indian tribes are all but immune from lawsuits, so the town turned out to be the “deep pocket” for the lawsuit — which was settled out of court.

However, Police Chief Don Engler, in an earlier report to the council, indicated that the tribe could take out an extra insurance policy to cushion the town’s liability.

The proposed contract comes at a crucial moment for Payson, which recently laid off seven full-time town workers — and has delayed replacing three vacancies on the police department. Engler asked the council to use the $200,000 from the proposed contract with the tribe to fund raises for many of the town’s 27 officers and to provide the money to fill two positions expected to be vacated by retirements.

That contract would also affect Payson’s negotiations with Star Valley, which is currently seeking an extension in its $260,000 annual contract to provide police protection. Based on the contract with the tribe and the relative call volumes, Payson’s contract with Star Valley would cost more like $500,000 to $1 million annually.

In addition to the contract with the tribe, the council on Thursday in the council chambers will once again wrestle with how to review and improve the look and landscaping of new commercial and apartment projects.

More than a year ago, the council set up a Design Review Board to come up with a set of design standards and work with developers to improve the look of new projects.

The board came up with standards intended to give Payson the feel of a mountain town with a Western heritage, which included lots of wood and stone materials, natural, low-water-use plants and Western motifs — with a minimum of red tile roofs, stucco and metal buildings.

Several council members objected to the level of detail in the design standards when they were first presented to the council some two months ago. At that time, several council members suggested perhaps the town staff should apply the design review standards and the citizen-members of the design review board just sit as an appeals board if the developer objected to the requirements imposed by town staff.

The town staff then worked up two alternatives — one of which would turn the design board into an appeal panel.

Since then, the Design Review Board has worked with other citizen boards to come up with consistent standards in various areas, like the Main Street redevelopment district. In addition, members of the Design Review Board have said they would rather disband than become a largely toothless appeals board.

On Thursday, the council will decide which system to adopt.

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