Main Street may get a little face lift after all. It all depends on whether the state legislature blows any more gaping holes in Payson’s budget.
After a long, pained discussion and a deeply split vote, the Payson Town Council on Tuesday agreed to try a little longer to glue together the pieces of a $300,000 federal grant intended to transform a 500-foot section of Main Street into a pedestrian-pleasing model for the future.
The issue came down to whether the town could scrounge up an estimated $17,000 in the upcoming budget year to provide the local match for a $300,000 federal grant, administered by the Arizona Department of Transportation.
“I just don’t know where you’re going to find $17,000,” said Councilor Mike Vogel. “And what people may not realize, is that we still have no idea what the state is going to give us (in shared sales and gas taxes) next year. The whole budget is just a guess.”
Councilor Michael Hughes agreed. “At a certain point, the bottom of the barrel is the bottom of the barrel. Do you cut bulletproof vests for police? If you don’t have it, you just don’t have it.”
However, Charles Proudfoot, a minister and head of the Green Valley Redevelopment Committee, said he suspected the town could negotiate with ADOT to further reduce the town share — perhaps down to zero, considering the town has already spent $54,000 on the project.
Proudfoot had already managed to reduce the estimated town share from a town staff estimate of $160,000 two weeks ago, to the $17,000 figure.
“I really think there’s a possibility we would not have to put any additional money out,” he said.
The council majority agreed.
“Over the course of the last 12 months, we’ve faced a number of significant challenges, and on each occasion, citizens have stepped up,” said Mayor Kenny Evans.
“A $17,000 encumbrance seems worth the risk for a $300,000 grant,” said Councilor Ed Blair.
“There just has to be a way to find the money. Mike Vogel said our budget is still just a guess — but I’d hate to turn down a $300,000 grant on a guess. What if the guess is wrong?”
“I believe Main Street is critical for our town,” said Councilor Su Connell. “I don’t want to lay off one more employee, but if we can go forward with this, we’ll have a vision for the future. If we procrastinate, I don’t believe we’ll ever have a Main Street to showcase the most beautiful park in the world.”
The town has already spent $54,000 drawing up a master plan for the Main Street face lift, hoping to turn it into a tourist-friendly retail zone likely to lure browsers out of their cars and showcase town events. The consultant started out with a vision for the whole, mile-long street, but as the town’s finances contracted, the grant came to focus on the 500-foot stretch between the two intersections with McLane, which will affect maybe a dozen businesses.
ADOT has already approved the project for that section. The town staff’s original cost estimate put the town share at $164,000 or so. That cost supposedly reflected the town match and various add-ons the ADOT-administered grant would not cover — including the relocation of utility lines.
However, Proudfoot and other members of the redevelopment committee spent the past two weeks calling various ADOT administrators, reviewing the grant and suggesting changes in the project to drop anything not eligible for grant funding as well as seeking ways to count money already spent as the town’s required 5.6-percent match. If that effort succeeds, the town might not have to provide any more matching funds.
However, Town Engineer LaRon Garrett said that, in addition to the required matching funds, the town would have to pay the costs of moving water, electrical and gas lines. He said those costs could run to $30,000 or $50,000 — or perhaps nothing at all.
Unfortunately, the town won’t have estimates of those costs — if any — until engineers prepare detailed plans. If the town backs out of the deal at that point, it might have to pay back any money ADOT had spent on the project.
On the other hand, some of those costs might be covered by former Councilor Andy Romance’s offer to defer to sometime in the future charges for some of his design and engineering work on the project.
That weave of guesswork and possibility bedeviled the whole discussion.
“But we might get it finished at no additional cost to the town?” asked Evans.
“We won’t know that until later,” said Garrett.
“But we could also have substantial unknown costs,” said Hughes, in reference to the utility lines.
“There is that possibility. But we could do added changes to keep those costs under control,” said Garrett.
“If there were substantial costs,” said Evans, then we would not go forward.
“But we might have to return grant money spent up to that point,” said Garrett.
Proudfoot said so far he’d gotten different answers to key questions at ADOT.
“Different people at ADOT have different opinions — and a couple are on vacation. I’m looking at the legislation and it appears there are ways to renegotiate this thing, but we really don’t know yet what ADOT is going to say. But we will know all those costs up front before we commit to anything.”
The uncertainty was compounded by the chaos of the state budget process for 2009-10. Lawmakers are struggling — mostly behind closed doors — to close a multi-billion dollar projected deficit.
One recent proposal emerging from the legislative leadership was to raid the accumulated impact fee accounts of towns to provide money for infrastructure projects, like sewer and water lines. In addition, the towns are bracing for major projected declines in stateshared gas and sales taxes.
However, state law requires towns to adopt a budget that sets limits on their spending before the legislature adopts its budget. As a result, towns will likely have to lock in their budgets without knowing how much money they’ll have to spend.
“I don’t know anybody that’s seen anything positive coming out of (the legislature in) Phoenix,” said Vogel.
“I very rarely worry about money — but there’s not one single sign the state is going to treat towns fairly. So I just can’t do it: I can’t gamble when we’re at the point where we’ll have to choose which department to shut down.”
Councilor Hughes added, “Unless the state does some house-cleaning on its own, we’ll be back here like we were last December,” when the council approved layoffs and canceled millions of dollars worth of street building and maintenance.
Councilor Richard Croy, although he voted to give the town staff more time to work out a deal with ADOT that minimized the cost to the town, said he hoped the property owners on Main Street will step forward to help.
“Property owners will not be putting up any money for this. That’s been one of my problems from the start. I see some very dedicated individuals (on Main Street), but the majority of people — it seems like they could care less.”