County Vote Leaves Main Street Out

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Tommie Martin

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Shirley Dawson

Gila County’s new offices will move into the First American Title building on Highway 260, two supervisors decided Tuesday in a vote that overruled northern county Supervisor Tommie Martin and the three Paysonites who spoke in favor of the Womans Club on Main Street.

Supervisors Shirley Dawson and Mike

Pastor chose First American because they said the newer building would likely cost less to maintain.

Sentiment around Payson, however, heavily favored the Womans Club.

“I don’t see how you could say, ‘Chamber of Commerce, sorry. Town, sorry, we know best,’” Martin told the board Tuesday. “This is an indication of how we don’t listen to the town of Payson and the folks that are there.”

The Womans Club, a historic building on a

street many in Payson have worked to revitalize, emerged as an early favorite among leaders in northern Gila County as the county examined buildings into which it could expand.

Underscoring the potential benefit new county offices could offer Main Street, Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce Manager John Stanton and Payson Mayor Kenny Evans attended the meeting to support the Womans Club, although they did not speak. The building was also the least expensive of three options.

Ironically, two southern Gila County supervisor votes nullified Martin’s vote on where her office would move.

“I’m going to be in the building, not them,” Martin said Wednesday.

The District 1 supervisor office, along with a few other departments now located on the second story of the county’s Beeline Highway complex, will move to the new building after March to dilute the crowded probation offices, which are now downstairs.

Although five buildings, including the Main Street Grille, moved in and out of contention, the final choice dwindled to the Womans Club on Main Street, First American Title and the Department of Economic Security building.

Womans Club Vice President Jayne Peace-Pyle urged the county to save the organization’s 60-year-old building by leasing it.

“Yes, it does need some repairs,” she told the supervisors. “But with the rate of the lease, we feel that Gila County would benefit.”

The building would have cost the county a maximum of $250,000, according to Martin. County officials said at a meeting Tuesday that the building would cost $227,000 to renovate, which Public Works Director Steve Stratton said was a high estimate.

Martin said the county would have subtracted the cost of renovation from $250,000, and paid the remainder over the five-year lease period.

“And for that $250,000, Main Street would have had a refurbished historical building that was ready for commercial use,” Martin said Wednesday. The Womans Club owns the building, and it would have continued to meet in the common room there twice per month.

Dawson disliked that stipulation, and said she didn’t want to make county employees share the space. Some critics of the deal were also wary of taxpayers financing the Womans Club remodel.

Ultimately, the county will spend $70,000 to ready First American Title for move in, and pay roughly $6,000 each month to lease it, or almost $358,000 for five years. The county will also likely enter into an option to buy.

Martin said the lease price could increase if the consumer price index rises, and the county must also pay property taxes on the building, which now cost about $16,000 annually. That figure, however, could also rise or fall depending on property values.

If the county decides to purchase the building, it will also have to pay $5,000 for a new appraisal. In 2007, the building was appraised for $985,000. However, Realtor Cliff Potts, who the county says it contracted with to assure impartiality, wrote in a recommendation that the figure was probably $100,000 too high for this real estate market.

Potts ultimately recommended First American Title, and he wrote that the Womans Club “is hemmed in by other uses” that could limit the county’s ability to operate. The county will pay Potts $450 for his services, and Stratton assured supervisors that Potts had no conflicts of interest.

Payson Realtor Ray Pugel, who represented First American Title, also spoke on its behalf.

He noted the plethora of paved parking available and said that would surely please constituents who must often park on dirt now. He also said the location made the option first-rate.

Dawson suggested eventually moving the recorder and assessor’s Payson offices into the new building. She and Pastor said they believed the First American Title building gave taxpayers the best deal.

Pastor said it was better for the county to move toward owning a building instead of sharing.

Martin, however, said the building will cost the county an extra $275,000 over the five-year lease period, which includes additional expenses like property tax.

“We have a hiring freeze on. We have a salary freeze on. Weekly the chairman hammers on the other elected officials about holding costs,” Martin said. “And we turn around and lease the finest, fanciest digs in Payson.” In fact, on Tuesday, supervisors also denied a raise for the constable clerk in Globe.

Ken Volz, chairman of the Green Valley Redevelopment Area Committee, encouraged the county on Tuesday to pick the Womans Club, saying the county’s presence on Main Street would have a “significant economic benefit to our area.”

Payson resident Judy Baker also urged the county to choose the Womans Club. “I realize that looking at First American Title — that’s kind of a bright, shiny building — and I would like in my own life to move into a bright and shiny building, but I have an interest in historic buildings,” she said, adding that the choice could help revitalize Main Street.

“I appreciate what historic buildings are — I’ve owned some,” said Dawson. However, she said older buildings can require extensive maintenance, and that First American Title was in the “best interest of taxpayers.”

Martin said while some people think the Womans Club dingy, the building would brighten after $227,000 worth of renovations. Later, she added that her office has received about a dozen letters and phone calls in support of the county leasing the Womans Club, and that both “the old mayor bunch and the new mayor bunch” also supported the deal. The two factions have been divided on numerous issues.

The county is not expected to sign a lease until March, and so the agreement is still not finalized.

An option to buy the First American Title building will likely allow the county to place a certain percentage of rent each year toward the final purchase price.

The exact percentage, which is expected to decline each year, will be negotiated during the final lease agreement, said Stratton.

Stratton said he’s not sure how quickly the building will be ready because it depends on the amount of work needed.

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