Legal teams representing both Payson and a citizens group will journey to Tucson next week to appeal a Superior Court ruling that canceled a referendum election on a plan to build a $5.6-million YMCA pool and gym in Rumsey Park on town-owned land.
Last Friday, the town and Friends of Payson filed briefs seeking to overturn an Aug. 15 ruling that threw out some 1,500 signatures on referendum petitions because the group's name was incomplete and because of errors on the required paperwork forming the group.
The three sides will argue their case before the state appeals court on Wednesday, Sept. 17. The judges could make a decision on the spot -- or within several days, said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.
The town has already missed some key deadlines in getting the referendum overturning a previous council decision favoring the deal with the YMCA on the Nov. 5 ballot. However, the appeals court could waive some of those early deadlines to hurry the measure onto the ballot, noted Evans.
The legal tangle puts the town in the ironic position of spending thousands of dollars to defend petitions that would require the town to call a $40,000 special election to overturn the council's own action. Council members have said phone calls and e-mails have favored the YMCA lease. However, the opponents of the partnership managed to gather signatures of about 16 percent of the town's voters in just over two weeks.
Evans said the appeal could wind up precluding any future referendum drive, in the event the council ultimately approves the lease of five acres of park land that includes the existing Taylor Pool to the YMCA.
The proposed partnership would involve the 30-year lease of about five acres and the existing Taylor Pool to the YMCA, in return for a lease payment of $10,000 annually. The land in question was donated to the town by the Forest Service, on the condition it be used only for recreational purposes.
The citizens group's petition drive focused on a list of negotiating points adopted by the council, which qualifies as a "legislative action" subject to referendum. But if the council then approves the actual lease of the land to the YMCA based on those negotiating points, that will constitute an "administrative action" not subject to being overturned by a referendum.
Evans said he doesn't know what the council will want to do if the appeals court upholds the cancellation of the special election.
The council has discussed whether it could hire a public opinion firm to gauge the sentiment of the voters, but would have to avoid the use of public funds to pay for the opinion survey -- due to that earlier court case involving Scottsdale.
Evans declined speculation on what the town will do if it loses the appeal. "I never liked playing the ‘what-if game,'" said Evans. "The criteria never wind up being the same and nobody ever remembers the original conditions."