Town Candidates Vow To Protect Rural Lifestyle

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After two years of often-bitter feuding, a Star Valley council candidates' forum at the Payson Rotary Club brought forth polite calls for buried hatchets and new eras.

Star Valley Mayor Chuck Heron and challenger Randy White, already on the council, both promised the gathering of Payson business people that they would work to maximize cooperation and minimize lawsuits in reweaving the frayed relationship between the neighboring towns.

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Chuck Heron

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Randy White

"The water wars are over," said Heron, suggesting that it's time for Payson and Star Valley to cooperate to secure future water supplies and promising to work to improve communications between the uneasy neighbors.

"I would like to join hands in Payson," said Councilor White, who helped spearhead incorporation efforts two years ago and is now challenging Heron for the top spot.

"I know a lot of you here and I know there's been a lot of ruffle in the water that ought to settle down. Let's grow together, we don't have time to fight."

In addition, council candidate Nathalie Stroup said she was just a local girl and not a politician, running to protect the rural lifestyle of Star Valley.

The peace overturns from the mayoral candidates came after years of tensions between the neighboring towns centered on future water supplies. Payson's decision to ask a developer to sink a major new well in the Star Valley area played a key role in the drive to incorporate the town two years ago. Since then, fears that the new well would drain Star Valley's water table have eased somewhat and both towns have been investigating a pipeline from a Rim reservoir that would ensure future supplies.

The public forum for council candidates provided a genial overview of broadly similar platforms and priorities -- a contrast to the sometimes bare-knuckle debates this year in Payson.

White, a longtime telephone company executive, who now is general manager of a Ford dealership in Star Valley, recalled that he joined the Payson Rotary club 28 years ago and had traveled all over Northern Arizona as customer service manager for the telephone company.

He said he felt compelled to run for mayor because during the drive to incorporate he had promised people to "not raise taxes, keep it simple, and keep it a bedroom community."

He said water remains the dominant issue and that he would push for the eventual establishment of a town-owned water company.

Moreover, he urged neighboring Payson to shake its thirst for water by upgrading the sewage treatment plan to clean wastewater to a drinkable standard.

"They need a polishing plant to clean that water to a drinkable standard, so they can leave Star Valley's water alone," he said.

Ironically enough, at a town hall meeting in Star Valley this week, citizens who attended heard an update on sewage problems in that town.

The town has studied the idea of buying out the only sewage treatment plant in town, which serves just 125 homes. But a consultant concluded that the plant was losing so much money and needed so much updating that it didn't make sense to buy it.

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Nathalie Stroup

As a result, the town will remain dependent on septic tanks and probably can't approve any waste water-intensive new businesses such as restaurants.

White offered a low-key overview of other key issues.

"The biggest thing is to work with the federal government for a grant" or land donation, so the town can acquire Forest Service land for parks, a civic center and other proposed uses.

He also said the town must move beyond its current contract with Payson Police to provide law enforcement in the 24-square-mile town that's mostly rural, residential developments, spreading outward from a strip of commercially zoned land along Highway 260.

White also adamantly and repeatedly opposed any increase in taxes.

However, the first question from the audience wondered how the town could provide upgraded police and fire protection, assure future water supplies and finance things like a town hall and other infrastructure without any increase in taxes.

"We have the money to do it all if we take it a step at a time," said White.

Mayor Heron sounded similar themes, insisting that his goal was to ensure "sustainable growth" that protected the town's rural lifestyle.

But he went briefly on the defensive on the issue of taxes.

When the town incorporated, officials told the state it didn't need to collect a lodging tax, since the town had only a handful of hotel rooms.

Later, town officials discovered the lodging tax also included rental properties -- like mobile home and RV parks, a significant source of potential revenue in the small community.

So the town officials went back to the state and reinstated a lodging tax.

"We messed up when we went through the paperwork. So we didn't really raise a tax, we corrected the tax code," aid Heron.

The Mayor said the town shouldn't have to choose between economic growth and quality of life.

"There should not be one versus the other -- we want a rural lifestyle that is sustainable."

The only council candidate to appear also wrapped her arms around maintaining a low tax, residential community geared to large, forested lots and people who like amenities such as horse corrals.

"Number one, I'm not a politician," said Stroup.

"I'm a hometown girl," born in Payson. She said she did move away and lived in the Valley, then returned to the area when her father fell ill three years ago.

"I packed up my family and moved to Star Valley and my neighbors are my sisters. It couldn't be any better and that's what I want for Star Valley. I want Star Valley to be a community where people are involved. I want to be able to go to the council and say, this is what the people are saying."

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