Payson Jostles For Stimulus Funding

Blue Ridge pipeline, third fire station, streets contend for a sliver of the $4.2 billion in stimulus money coming to Arizona


Although Arizona wound up in line for a relative pittance of the federal stimulus projects, Payson hopes last-minute bids for help on the Blue Ridge pipeline and a new fire station might sneak into contention.

Politics counted for more than population in the formula for dividing up some $787 billion in stimulus money, including an estimated $150 billion in infrastructure projects.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans this week hand carried to the governor’s office a plea for $10.5 million to repair an existing stretch of 11 miles of pipeline from the Blue Ridge Reservoir to Washington Park at the head of the East Verde River. The grant would also lay the groundwork for the stretch of pipeline along the river down to Payson.

Although the final section of the pipe still requires a year or two of studies before construction could start, the project managers say they can spend the $10.5 million in the next eight months — meeting the “shovel ready” requirement.

Evans also delivered a request for money to build a $4 million fire station on the boundary between Payson and Star Valley. That station would house crews from both Payson and Hellsgate fire departments and provide coverage for an overlapping area that now has relatively long response times.

The prospects for that project are enhanced because Payson has the authority to sell $1.5 million in bonds previously approved by the voters, which means the town has matching money available.

The two last-minute grant requests precisely tailored to the recently established criteria for handing out stimulus money have already landed higher on the now-bulging priority list than the street projects the town had previously submitted through the laborious, regional priority setting system.

Those projects included rebuilding Bonita Street and Manzanita — plus a slew of postponed street maintenance.

Evans, who has worked with the priority-setting group established by the governor’s office, said the lobbying by local officials for stimulus money has been intense.

If the $787 billion had been allocated based on population, Arizona would have gotten perhaps $16 billion. Instead, it appears Arizona will get about $4.2 billion.

So far, local governments have asked for $12 for every $1 the state seems likely to receive, said Evans. The rules for handing out the money give the governor’s office and the Arizona Department of Transportation substantial control over allocating the infrastructure money that comes to the state.

“They’ve got a table (in the governor’s office) that’s 18 feet long and it’s stacked with proposals 2 and 3 feet deep, up and down both sides of the table,” said Evans.

“They’ve got a lot of wish lists — and a lot of hope lists — that are going to get turned down,” he said.

ADOT has the task of sorting through about $675 million worth of road projects, most of which it will have to reject.

ADOT decided to use the same formulas for dividing up the road money as it has used in the past to allocate federal highway user funds financed by the gas tax.

Maricopa County with two-thirds of the state’s population gets 37 percent of the highway funds. Pima County gets 13 percent.

The other 13 counties divide up the remaining 50 percent based on population.

The Central Arizona Association of Governments (CAAG) has the job of deciding how to spend the highway fund money in Gila and Pinal counties.

So CAAG asked any of the cities within those two counties who wanted stimulus money to submit proposals for ready-to-go street and infrastructure projects.

The proposals flooded in from almost every city in the region, with the exception of Star Valley which did not submit any projects, according to a Jan. 12 list prepared by CAAG.

Payson submitted three projects, including the $1.2 million rebuild of Bonita Street, the $1 million rebuild of Manzanita Drive from Highway 260 to Timber Drive and $500,000 to slurry seal various streets. The Bonita Street project had been slated for this year and had approval from CAAG for matching funds, but dropped into road building limbo when the town’s budget crisis hit.

Payson Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said early estimates suggested CAAG would have about $3 million in federal stimulus money to spend on road projects. CAAG prioritized the nine-page list of projects submitted by 49 cities and counties in the region. The top Payson project would only be funded if CAAG wound up with $4 million instead of the expected $3 million, he said.

However, Payson slipped the Blue Ridge project and a bid for a new fire station in by the side door, after Evans met with the people in the governor’s office about the criteria being used to set the priorities.

That prompted the town to write the grant application virtually over-night then drive back down to deliver it to the governor’s office.

The Blue Ridge Pipeline grant would provide about 100 new jobs in the next eight months and pay for an estimated one-third of the cost of the pipeline. Previously, town officials had assumed the pipeline could not qualify for the stimulus funds because it still needed environmental studies for the portion of the pipe that the town will have to build along Houston Mesa Road, paralleling the East Verde. Those environmental studies are expected to take at least a year.

However, the existing 11 miles of pipeline on top of the Rim needs substantial repairs and upgrades to make it reliable enough to carry a municipal water supply. Moreover, the town could start work immediately on various access roads for the eventual full project.

The Blue Ridge pipeline will carry up to 3,500 acre feet annually — including 3,000 acre feet for Payson and another 500 acre feet for Star Valley and other Rim communities.

That pipe will provide enough water for Payson to grow to a population of 38,000, without taking more from the underground water table than residents and the town pump out of the ground. Currently, Payson uses less than 2,000 acre feet annually.

The proposed fire station would provide improved coverage for sections of both Payson and Star Valley that currently have potentially dangerous response times from Payson’s existing two fire stations — one on Main Street the other on Rancho Road, at the north end of town.

Voters several years ago approved a bond issue to build fire stations, but the town ran out of money before it could build the third station. The town has already drawn up plans and made a deposit on the land, which means work could begin quickly, one of the top requirements of the stimulus plan.

“Initially, the odds of us coming out on top of the list were pretty small,” said Evans. “But by tweaking some things to match the requirements of the grant, I think we are in a much stronger position now than many thought we would be.”


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