Star Valley's two contending mayoral candidates offered impressive credentials for community service but few distinguishing differences, save a polite disagreement about taxes at a wide-ranging candidates' forum that drew about 50 potential voters on Wednesday night to the community hall of the Lamplighter Mobile Home Park.
Incumbent Mayor Chuck Heron and Vice Mayor Randy White fielded questions that touched on the whole range of issues facing the small, recently incorporated town -- ranging from the lack of a police force to the lack of a sewer system.
But the only clear disagreement of the evening came near the end of the forum when an audience member complained about a recently imposed tax on renters.
When Star Valley incorporated, town officials elected not to collect that "lodging" tax -- thinking it applied to hotels. But when they later discovered that it applied to any rental property -- including mobile home parks -- they decided to add that tax to the town ordinances.
Heron defended the tax, while White said he'd opposed it.
"Every town in Arizona has it," said Heron. "It may be hidden in what your rent is. And everybody in town is paying taxes -- it's universal."
"Payson renters aren't paying it," insisted the questioner.
"Yes they are, they just don't know it," said Heron. "And if we'd snuck it in at the beginning, you wouldn't either."
White simply observed, "I wasn't for the tax, so leave me out of that."
White and Heron both stressed their long hours of pervious service to the community.
Heron said he'd been involved in community affairs since 1980, and played a leading role in working on water issues and incorporation. He said serving as mayor of the town has been a full-time job, including travel and conferences that have given him the connections to continue serving.
"I have at least four good healthy years to devote to the residents of this town," he said. "I want to keep those lines of communication open."
White, a longtime Northern Arizona phone executive, who 18 years ago started a car dealership in Star Valley, said he was running for mayor to fulfill promises he made during the incorporation drive to ensure that the council imposed no new taxes and protected both the water supply and the rural nature of the community.
The two candidates did provide different perspectives on a parade of questions that at least touched on most of the problems facing the town, which incorporated two years ago in part in response to neighboring Payson's approval of a well that Star Valley residents feared would drain the town's future water supply.
Payson insisted that the well tapped into an isolated underground formation that would not affect most wells in Star Valley, but the issue spurred an incorporation drive, lawsuits and years of conflict between the neighboring communities.
The format gave each candidate a chance to answer the same list of questions. Those questions and answers included:
How can Star Valley provide a wastewater treatment plant that's needed before the town can approve most new commercial developments?
White: Build a plant south of town along existing drainage routes, perhaps on land donated by the U.S. Forest Service.
White didn't discuss how to fund the potentially expensive system, but said many crucial business cannot come to town without such facilities.
Heron: Explore a partnership with the Tonto Apache Tribe to pump the town's sewage uphill to the substantial but underutilized treatment plan the tribe has already built. Moreover, "I'd like to see a lake south of town using effluent that we can then sell" to developers for things like golf courses.
How can Star Valley provide sufficient affordable housing?
Heron: "This has to happen. We have got to have affordable housing." Without lower-end rental housing, the town won't have a sufficient labor pool -- especially since Payson is so expensive. In practical terms, affordable housing means more apartment projects.
White: He said one solution lies in negotiating land trades or donations with the federal government to provide cheap land. "I have seven kids and it is awful tough for them to get started in housing."
What are the biggest challenges facing the town?
White: 1) Finish the town's infrastructure -- especially establishing a police department. 2) Convince Payson to agree to operate the Tower Well in a way that will not deplete Star Valley's groundwater.
3) Conserve water and make sure Payson does the same, especially making full use of the treated wastewater now coming out of the neighboring towns sewer treatment plant.
Heron: 1) Secure approximately 640 acres of land from the Forest Service under the terms of the Township Act. 2) Negotiate an agreement with Payson that would shut down the Tower Well if neighboring wells drop more than 10 feet.
Are police and courts doing enough to enforce drug laws?
Heron: The police do a good job, but the courts just let them go. "I read in the paper so and so has been released and then a week later, I'm hearing that same name on the police scanner."
White: "I wouldn't point a finger entirely at law enforcement. I would encourage being our brother's keeper. I would encourage giving precious time. I would encourage love. I don't mean love the druggies, but love your child, love your neighbor and love ourselves. Stand for what is right."
What are the principles you would never compromise?
White: "No tax increase on my watch. I would like to keep my promises. Live within a budget, a planned budget. Continue to be a town that's friendly and easy to work with. Welcome new people. Join hands with Payson. Join hands with Pine and Strawberry."
Heron: "My first principle is honesty, integrity -- dependability, in all aspects of working for you as mayor. I learned this in business long ago, always, always be grooming your replacement.
And the last one, as stated by Teddy Roosevelt: ‘Never hit at all if it is possible to honorably avoid it -- but never hit soft.'"