The Payson Town Council Thursday night cleared the way for a November election on whether the town should partner with the YMCA to build a year-round gym and pool complex.
The council unanimously adopted an emergency ordinance to streamline the process of calling a $40,000 special election, just in case backers succeed in forcing a vote on the proposed deal.
The vote now appears likely, with a report at the meeting by Gary Bedsworth that petition gatherers have about 340 certified signatures and about 400 additional signatures not yet certified.
The town council hasn't approved the terms of the proposed agreement with the YMCA, but has approved a list of negotiating points. Under the terms of the proposed agreement, the town would give the YMCA a long-term lease to take over operation of the Taylor Pool, build a year-round pool, a fitness center and a 6,500-square-foot gym on about five acres of town-owned land in Rumsey Park.
Several community members began circulating petitions two weeks ago to force a referendum on the proposed arrangement with the YMCA. Organizers said they opposed a lease that amounted to a gift of public land to a private group. The lead organizers of the petition drive have said they have no political affiliations. Bedsworth is a planning commissioner and member of a citizens group that had strongly backed former Mayor Bob Edwards.
The council approved the first steps necessary to get the possible referendum on the ballot in November, even though the petition drive itself may become moot if the final terms of the deal turn out differently than the terms outlined in the negotiating points.
But the timelines have gotten so short already that the measure could only qualify for the ballot as an "emergency" measure, which drops the need for a second reading of the resolution.
"Timelines were critical," said Mayor Kenny Evans.
He said signature gatherers face an Aug. 1 deadline to turn in the petitions. "But nothing in this can be read as a waiving of the requirements" for a sufficient number of legal signatures on a properly drafted petition.
The town can cancel the proposed election if the opponents of the YMCA deal don't get enough signatures or the deal changes so much that the signed petitions no longer make reference to the final terms of the agreement.
Bedsworth indicated that the signature gathers expect they'll have 800 to 1,000 valid signatures before the Aug. 1 deadline.
"I appreciate your explanation," he said of the need for an emergency clause to schedule the election. "A lot of the public didn't realize something like this was on the agenda," since it was added just before the council meeting.
The proposed deal with the YMCA has been several years in the making. The YMCA has promised to raise $5.6 million to build a pool, fitness center and gym complex that would probably have monthly membership fees of $35 to $50. The complex would convert the town-owned Taylor Pool into a covered, year-round facility and add a covered play pool. The YMCA has promised to keep the pool open for public swim hours in the summer, which would save the town the $160,000 annual operating cost. The town would lease the YMCA the existing pool and about five acres of park land for $10,000 annually, under the not-yet-finalized terms.
The town's current budget crunch will force the closure of Taylor Pool in August, nearly a month ahead of schedule.