Council To Examine Long Range Priority Plan For Payson

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Even the best laid plans go astray, says the cliche.

Like the retirement plans of the baby boomers, with the economy in free fall.

Sort of like Payson’s strategic plan.

What a difference three years makes.

The Payson Town Council on Tuesday devoted a two-hour study session to sorting through the scraps of the town’s cozy little cabin of priorities — splintered when the boulder of the recession came rolling down the hill and took out the living room.

The council plans a public meeting on March 24 to gather citizen advice on the town’s strategic plan and five-year priority list for capital projects.

So the councilors took the first step this week by reviewing the overall strategic plan adopted in fiscal year 2006-2007. In addition, the council reviewed the Payson Goal Plan adopted by the council last year with public input, which established an ambitious list of improved services and facilities.

Finally, the council reviewed the results of a survey handed out earlier this year, which drew about 105, non-random responses.

The conclusion? Time to hit the reset button — hopefully with a translation not provided by the state department.

“We’ve got all these items — not one of which any longer fits,” sighed Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.

“We need a document that says, ‘this is done, and this is done, and this can’t be done,’” said Councilor John Wilson, the only person still on the council who was there when the town adopted the 2006-07 plan.

Perhaps even more telling, the 2007 report lists all of the department directors who participated in drawing up the plan. The only three department heads still running the same departments are town attorney Sam Streichman, town clerk Silvia Smith and fire chief Marty deMasi. The other eight positions have either turned over or been eliminated.

The report presenting the previous plans and the result of the most recent citizen survey is as thick as the Payson phone book and presents pages of projects. Many essentially dropped off any realistic construction schedule last year when the council reacted to the economic slide by canceling virtually all the scheduled construction. That included work on the once high-priority upgrade of the Payson Event Center, now seemingly in long-term limbo.

Only the Blue Ridge Reservoir pipeline project has remained more or less on track from the long list of major projects the town planned to launch by now back in the heady days with the building department was processing permits for 250 homes annually. Back in those halcyon days, the big issue was whether to limit building permits — now nearly as rare down at town hall as wandering dodo birds.

But even the town’s success at signing an agreement on the Blue Ridge pipeline requires overhauling the existing priority list, said Assistant Public Works Director Buzz Walker.

The existing list includes various efforts to find more water and drill new wells. Those initiatives have been overtaken by the agreement with the Salt River Project to deliver 3,000-acre-feet annually through a not-yet-built $30-million pipeline. The town agreed to not drill anymore wells or seek any other water sources in return for the Blue Ridge water. The pipeline will more than double the town’s water supply and accommodate a build-out population of about 38,000.

Walker said a number of the items in the current plan relating to the water supply could be dropped, now that the town has come to terms with SRP.

“Do you think the process now will run itself if we didn’t intervene?” asked Evans of the continued push to win Forest Service approval of the proposed pipeline along Houston Mesa Road.

“I don’t trust bureaucrats,” said Walker grimly.

“Problem is, I am one now,” said Evans ruefully.

As an example, Walker said the current priority list calls for drilling test wells to find additional groundwater the town could acquire, although such wells are now effectively barred by the Blue Ridge deal.

The town’s long-term plan envisions paying the cost of the pipeline with the town’s $7,500 per unit impact fee on new homes. However, with home construction all but halted, the town neither needs the water nor has any way to pay for the pipeline.

Councilor Wilson noted that the town has applied for federal stimulus money to start the construction process immediately. “If we could get the federal government to give us a big loan for no money,” then the town could get started despite the housing slump, he suggested.

The council then wrangled with the unwieldy process of completely overhauling the plan, given the new financial realities.

Evans hoped the town staff could gather up all the shattered timbers and hammer together some sort of a new structure — including an updated list that would indicate what had been accomplished, what still needed doing and what had slipped out of realistic reach.

Councilor Ed Blair agreed. “This is just way too detailed,” he said, making a frustrated gesture with the thick report. “Can we get the staff’s opinion, so we’re not discussing 3-year-old projects?”

Evans said he didn’t “want people to show up in mass for a long discussion of something we’ve already dropped.”-±

So the council directed the town staff to sort through the lists of projects and check off those already accomplished, drop some that have been already shelved and propose more realistic timetables. The council will then work over that list next week to come up with a proposal to which residents can react on March 26.

The council hopes to adopt a general set of overall goals, leaving the implementation and details to a business plan based on those goals and written by the town manager.

The list of projects on the 2007 and 2008 plans suggests that the beautiful mountain house with a view of the Rim conjured by previous plans must have been nice before the financial landslide.

For instance, almost all of the projects on the town’s five-year capital improvement plan slated for construction in 2008-09 have been postponed indefinitely. The plan calls for nearly $9 million in capital projects in the current fiscal year, almost none of them done or scheduled.

Postponed projects include:

• About $200,000 in improvements requested by the police department — some of them addressed in a recent remodeling.

• The $1 million extension of Mud Springs Road to the highway.

• The $1.4 million widening and rebuild of Bonita Street.

• The $390,000 construction of a highway roundabout at Airport Road.

• About $550,000 of street maintenance.

• A $250,000 project in the American Gulch, which will actually be addressed by a proposed luxury condo project that has lately fallen well behind its construction schedule.

• $700,000 in improvements to Green Valley Park.

• $150,000 to re-carpet Town Hall.

• $300,000 in fire station improvements.

• $125,000 in additional construction on the trails system.

• $180,000 in improvements to the event center.

• $150,000 in highway landscape improvements.

• $1,400,000 for land purchases near the airport.

The plan looks even more hypothetical for the next four years. Although several million in budget cuts this year have brought the spending plan into precarious balance for the fiscal year ending in June, town officials expect a more cuts to come for the next fiscal year. That means the projects postponed this year don’t seem likely next year and makes the projects planned in the 2009 to 2012 period entirely hypothetical.

That includes $10 million worth of projects in 2009-10, $8 million in 2010-11 and $4 million in 2011-12.

Anticipated state and federal grants would underwrite the bulk of those projects, but the economic slowdown has played havoc already with things like grants funded by gas tax money that pay for most major street improvements.

The projected capital spending budget jumps to $20 million in 2012-13, which mostly reflects the costs of the Blue Ridge pipeline and water treatment plant. The town still hopes to hold to that schedule. The town already has about $5 million in accumulated water impact fees. Payson is also pursuing both low-cost federal loans and stimulus money to offset that cost.

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