Payson Locks In $36 Million Budget Limit

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Payson adopted a still shifting tentative budget Thursday night, with the decline now set at about 9 percent to $36,093,821.

The council's unanimous vote set an upper limit for the 2008-09 budget that shrank nearly $3 million from this year's spending.

The council made another round of minor adjustments in a spending plan that called for a salary freeze, a partial hiring freeze, a reduction in overtime spending and a $3 million drop in capital spending on streets and drainage.

Once again, Councilor Mike Vogel made most of the specific suggestions for cuts or adjustments.

He won approval for an $8,600 payment to firefighters who had earned certification as paramedics.

He also asked for the town's engineering department to investigate whether it could save $25,000 by providing maintenance on the town's fleet of police cars.

He also asked that in the future the budget should also take into account the expected payouts to retiring employees. He estimated that in the coming year the town will have to spend at least $100,000 paying off the vacation and sick time plus funding benefits and pension plans for retiring employees.

He also asked the Parks and Recreation Department to make sure that even nonprofit groups the town allows to use the Payson Event Center free of charge should at least pay cleanup costs.

The only other council member who suggested additional cuts in the budget was Richard Croy, who balked at the proposed additional expenditure of about $42,000 to help about 100 homeowners lower their insurance costs by filing with the federal government a map showing their houses were no longer in the flood plain. The houses were actually protected from flooding when they were built 20 years ago, but the developer never filed the necessary paperwork and mortgage companies have just now started cracking down.

Croy suggested that the town see if the homeowners would help pay for the filing and the new maps if the town took the lead. However, his suggestion was rejected on a 5-1 vote, with Councilor Ed Blair absent.

Councilor Su Connell congratulated the town staff for coping with the cutbacks, but added that she hopes the staff will resume providing the council with budget updates as it did more than a year ago before the departure of the previous financial director. "When things have calmed down, I hope we can begin receiving the reports with the charges and graphs that showed how we are doing."

Mayor Evans commended the town staff for dealing with a tough budget year and coping with a complicated and confusing accounting system that made it hard to provide the council with accurate information on spending and revenue throughout the year.

"There's a lot of discussion on the street we have not made the tough decisions," he added.

"I guarantee it has not been easy to meet with department heads and cut their budgets. This has not been easy and we understand that lives are affected."

The town finance staff had upped the revenue projections and added some additional spending in the week since the last budget hearing.

In the current year's budget, a drop in sales tax and building fees not matched by a decline in spending consumed the entire rainy day fund. The town ended up spending $39 million, but balanced the budget with about $2 million in reserve funds.

The tentative budget for the upcoming year includes a 9-percent decline in personnel costs ($12.7 million), a 9-percent increase in operating costs ($11.3 million), a 6-percent increase in debt service ($1.4 million), a 7-percent drop in capital spending ($8.4 million) and a 57-percent decrease in transfers ($1.9 million), mostly because the reserve fund had been spent.

The latest figures show the town with a projected ending balance of $536,000.

Only a handful of capital projects made it into the budget. Those included:

  • $1.1 million to upgrade Main Street and the American Gulch
  • $1.2 million to rebuild Bonita Street
  • $2.4 million for various water pumps
  • $275,000 for fire department trucks
  • $1.5 million to repair the existing pipeline from the Blue Ridge Reservoir
  • $105,000 for police vehicles
  • $250,000 for computer equipment
  • $413,000 for studies of housing, Main Street and signs and landscaping.
  • $125,000 for additional segments of the trails system
  • $856,000 to buy land and update the Airport Master Plan

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