Mayor Praises Water Progress

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Payson has made great strides in promoting citizen input, funding public improvements and securing a long-term water supply, but faces a tough budget year and other ongoing challenges, Mayor Bob Edwards said Thursday, Jan. 17 in his broadcast and televised "state-of-the-town" address.

The closest thing to news the overview of the year's events produced was the mayor's report on negotiations to secure the long-debated Blue Ridge Reservoir pipeline, which would cost an estimated $30 million and deliver 3,500 acre-feet per year of water from a reservoir on the Rim.

That would provide enough water to stabilize the town's hard-pressed water table even after the town develops all the private land in its 19-square-mile boundary. At build-out, the town's projected population would more than double to about 36,000.

Edwards declared the reservoir pipeline a "done deal," although he acknowledged that the postponement of the last three scheduled meetings to negotiate details with the U.S. Forest Service and the Salt River Project have spurred rumors the project was in danger.

"Water is Arizona's 900-pound gorilla. Thanks to the efforts of our Water Task Force and our water department and our Town legal staff, I can report to you that we're very close to taming that gorilla."

He said the town is now one of the few rural communities in Arizona that has secured rights to enough water to fully support its development plans and that the water from Blue Ridge, plus plans to reuse almost all the treated wastewater will even buffer water users in Payson against extended drought.

About 30 people attended the mayor's mostly upbeat assessment of a year of progress and turmoil in town government, then answered reporters' questions in a free-flowing hour-long meeting.

He opened his remarks by praising the involvement of hundreds of community volunteers on the town's bewildering array of committees, commissions and task forces.

"Payson is fortunate to have a large number of people with vast talent and giving spirits. I have never witnessed a community of such giving and caring people," he said.

He highlighted the number of volunteers by department including 11 who aid the fire department, three who provide education, 10 on-call for special projects, 55 police department volunteers who donate 12,000 hours annually, 30 trail builders, 36 library helpers, 135 people who help out at special events and the people who serve on 14 boards and commissions.

Moreover, the town formed 21 task forces to address specific issues. When asked when reports from those task forces, which have in the past been difficult for reporters to obtain, will be made available to the public, he referred listeners to the Web site that doubles as his campaign Web site.

Edwards said town government has gone through a major shuffle this year, with the resignation of the police chief, forced departure of the town manager and promotion of the chief financial officer to town manager.

Nonetheless, the town has undertaken major projects, thanks to a two-year 28-percent increase in the street maintenance budget, a 37-percent increase in capital outlays and a 370-percent increase in spending on drains.

Much of the rest of the mayor's presentation centered on economic development.

He acknowledged that the state's projected major budget deficit and a slowdown in sales tax revenue that is forcing cities statewide to consider reducing staffing and putting projects on hold will make for a tough budget year in Payson.

However, he said the large number of retirees on a fixed income and growth in tourism will buffer the town's finances, even in a tough budget year.

Click here to read Mayor Bob Edwards' state-of-the-town address.

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