Too Hot, Too Cold Payson Needs Just-Right Plan

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Payson seems to be having a Goldilocks moment. Alas, it’s not one of those “just right” outcomes — more like making a scary face at a taste of a “too-cold” bowl of porridge.

Specifically, we’re a little worried about the recent budget sputters and painful discussions about the Event Center and Main Street.

Not that we envy the council’s task — deciding what to do about the money-losing Event Center and whether to spend precious town money to lock in a big grant to turn a 500-foot stretch of Main Street into a pedestrian showcase.

The council properly pulled back from a proposal to convert the town employee running the event center into a contractor — which would have set a worrisome precedent and saved a paltry sum.

And we also understand last week’s discussion about returning a $315,000 grant for lack of an estimated $140,000 in matching money. The council put off the decision in hopes a much smaller match could still secure the grant. Former Councilor Andy Romance has made the deal sweeter, by offering to do some key engineering work on the project now but deferring his fees until later.

All that seems a reasonable wrestle with difficult questions.

What concerns us now is the sense that the budget-obsessed council has lost any urgent commitment to either the Event Center or Main Street.

Granted, the previous council went a little bonkers on both topics, with a slew of expensive consultants developing plans to roof the rodeo stadium and turn Main Street into downtown Flagstaff. Clearly, the council was “too hot,” when it came to shelling out probably unrealistic plans. Alas, the recession intervened before the consultants could even finish their description of utopia.

So we understand the need for a reality check.

But we hope that the council will soon move out of budget crisis mode and start thinking carefully about the future of both Main Street and the Event Center. People who have spent years working on the previous plans feel dispirited and adrift. The council’s recent discussions make it seem like we’re all going to have to live on roots and tubers and give up all those big dreams.

That strikes us as a tad too cool.

Could we work now on getting those plans “just right?”

Drought is back

It’s baaaaak. Cue the shark music. Oh, wait: Not enough water for a shark. Cue the Mogollon Monster music.

The drought has returned — although in truth, it never really left. Alas, a wet winter has yielded to a bone-dry spring — a reminder of the caprice of rain in the Southwest and the need for conservation and long-range planning.

A couple of big winter storms provided a healthy snowpack, filled the Salt River reservoirs to the brim and perhaps lulled residents into a sense that the water crisis had ended.

But then spring rains took a powder and runoff carried in Rim Country streams declined to between 50 and 80 percent of normal — despite that nice snow pack.

Fortunately, Payson continues to move forward with the Blue Ridge Pipeline project and generations of effort have created a chain of reservoirs on the Salt River that can capture the bounty of one or two wet years in the midst of an historic, 10-year drought.

Moreover, Payson residents have grown water-wise. Before the imposition of strict water conservation rules some years ago, Payson’s water use rose every year and well levels had dropped several hundred feet. Since the restrictions were imposed, well levels have stabilized and per capita water use has declined significantly.

Nicely done.

Payson has made tremendous progress on the Blue Ridge pipeline, which will cushion the town’s now-worrisome reliance on groundwater. Fortunately, saved up impact fees and a federal stimulus grants have enabled the project to move forward. The orderly, long-range plan for the pipeline presents an interesting contrast to the plan on the rest of the town’s infrastructure, which collapsed the minute the recession cut sales tax revenue.

So we applaud the water-conscious residents and the town leadership for the persistent effort to make Payson one of the few towns in Arizona with an assured, long-term water supply.

To paraphrase that immortal line from “Jaws.”

They got a bigger boat — just in time.

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