Town, Animal Shelter Seek Fed Grant

Payson, humane society find loophole and apply for $3.27 million in

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Payson and the Humane Society of Central Arizona have teamed up in a long-shot bid to snag a $3.27 million federal stimulus grant to build a new animal shelter, the town council revealed at its Thursday night meeting.

“There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain, so let’s go for it,” said humane society treasurer, John Wakelin. “A little faith and a little Sherlock Holmes and what a difference a week makes.”

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans offered to make a joint application, since the town was already engaged in shuttle diplomacy with the

governor’s office to win funding for a new fire station and a portion of the Blue Ridge pipeline.

The town and the humane society plan to put the finishing touches on the application today and Evans will then hand-carry it to the governor’s office.

The governor’s staff will rank all the Arizona applications for that obscure pot of money, then forward the application to the Department of Homeland Security — now run by former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

The Department of Homeland Security will then decide which projects nationally will get a share of the $1.6 billion it received in the stimulus package. A decision is expected by June, said Evans.

The humane society has worked for several years to raise the $3.6 million it needs to build a new, sound-proofed shelter with double its current capacity, including a low-cost spay and neuter clinic, exercise runs and a medical treatment center.

The humane society had raised about $1.2

million and spent half of it on various costs, when the recession slowed donations. Nonetheless, the group’s board of directors recently decided to go ahead and spend $400,000 to grade, put in roads and pour the sub foundation, in hopes the rest of the money will come in soon.

Wakelin attended a League of Arizona Cities and Towns briefing on the stimulus package when he noticed a reference to emergency animal shelters.

Wakelin pointed out that provision to Evans, who was already capitalizing on connections to run Payson projects past the governor’s office staff working on the state stimulus priority list.

So the town and the humane society decided to team up to put in a joint application. They discovered that few other towns had submitted applications for the Homeland Security money.

The inclusion of emergency animal shelters in the list of projects the Department of Homeland Security would fund, apparently dates back to Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of abandoned pets needed shelter in the wake of a natural disaster.

The stimulus package requirements specified that such projects had to create jobs, generate new construction for infrastructure and be “shovel ready” — with construction starting within six months.

Wakelin took one look at the chart in the presentation and said, “Whoa. What have we got here? Is this the answer to our prayer? You couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Wakelin then turned to Evans for help in slipping an application into the process.

“I said, ‘Kenny, I know a project that meets all those provisions and is shovelready right now,’” said Wakelin.

Evans said that the rules governing the distribution of the stimulus money ran to 1,400 pages — with even the executive summary weighing in at 600 pages.

The legislation proved full of different categories, many controlled by the departments already in the business of passing federal money along to local governments.

The animal shelter will now become the third Payson project with a fighting chance for stimulus money, said Evans.

The town had applied for money to rebuild Bonita and Manzanita streets. The transportation money went through the established process of setting priorities, run by the Arizona Department of Transportation and regional government associations. The Payson projects were ranked number four on the priority list for this region, but the money only funded the first two projects on the list.

“Kind of like coming in fourth in a beauty contest,” said Evans ruefully.

However, the other three Payson projects remain in play.

The town applied for about $10 million to help build a pipeline to carry water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir to Payson.

The full, $30-million pipeline will require at least another year of studies before construction starts. However, the town asked for money to repair a stretch of existing pipe up on the Rim, and to do the groundwork for the eventual pipeline along Houston Mesa Road.

That grant will go through an existing federal system to fund water and sewer projects. Evans said the town could hear “within days” whether that application will be ranked high enough to get funding.

The town also applied for about $3 million to build a new fire station on the border between Payson and Star Valley.

The application fit all the main criteria, plus Payson has about $1 million in voter-approved bonding capacity to provide matching funds.

The fire station grant falls into yet another category, with funding depending on how highly it is ranked by the governor’s office.

The town may not hear on that grant until June, said Evans. However, he noted that the state is moving as fast as possible to allocate its $750 million share of the federal stimulus money earmarked for infrastructure.

“I think they’ll decide sooner rather than later,” said Evans Thursday night.

Town staff will huddle with the Humane Society today to finish the grant application, which Evans will then drive down to Phoenix on what has turned into a near-daily stimulus package commute he has undertaken for the past two weeks.

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