Tough Times Pose Tough Tests For All

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Last month, when the Payson Town Council furloughed town workers and imposed $1 million in fresh cuts, we hoped they were overreacting.

Probably just spooked. Trigger happy. Alarmist.

Ah. If only.

Instead, the most recent tax figures woefully validated the council’s quick action to a renewed slump in tax revenue.

The just-released December figures revealed a 14-percent drop in local sales tax — in dismaying contrast to the statewide jump of 8 percent. Overall, Payson’s tax revenue has declined about 20 percent from the already wilted totals from the same period in fiscal 2008-09 as the recession set in.

So it looks like Rim Country lagged behind the rest of the state in sliding into the pit — but will perhaps also prove slower when it comes to climbing out of the hole.

We appreciate the council’s quick action to impose additional cuts in the face of the storm warnings. The good information and quick action contrasts with the befuddlement as the recession took hold that prompted the town to consume all its reserves before the council knew they were in trouble.

We did make note of one interesting bit of information in the otherwise dreary financial report, which showed declines in virtually every source of town revenue.

The figures showed little reduction for bars, restaurants and the entertainment sector. Moreover, overall retail spending declined only modestly. That suggests that the year-rounders have continued to go out to eat and shop, supporting local businesses and helping this community struggle through the hard times. We saw that same spirit at work in the food drive, which largely achieved its ambitious goals — thanks to the generosity of our neighbors.

So congratulations to the council, for making the hard calls. And thanks to the town employees, who have absorbed reductions in pay, benefits, overtime and holiday pay. And thanks also to residents of Payson, who have helped their neighbors and kept the faith.

Better times are coming, we’re sure of it.

But there’s no better measure of a community, than how we react to the bad times.

Homeowners step up

Folks living along Airline and Luke Drive have something to teach us all.

Specifically, residents there have agreed to take a crucial step toward replacing their septic systems with sewer hookups by joining the Northern Gila County Sanitary District.

Now, this will cost them up front. The district hasn’t yet come up with a firm cost estimate — but it will likely prove substantial.

The price tag will probably determine whether homeowners pay up front — or finance the improvements with 10- to 15-year bonds. If it’s too costly, there is still a chance homeowners will not go forward with the plan.

Replacing aging septic systems with a connection to a sewage treatment plant will protect the region’s ground water.

Payson’s participation underscores the link between septic systems and groundwater. Payson will kick in $300,000 and pay its share of the costs for four properties it owns there in order to protect nearby drinking water wells from possible contamination from leaking septic systems.

Rim Country remains critically dependent on water pumped out of wells — many of them shallow wells vulnerable to pollutants leaching out of septic systems, which must be replaced every 20 to 30 years. The problem looks much more alarming in Star Valley than in Payson, since Star Valley relies almost exclusively on both septic systems and shallow wells.

We hope that the process proceeds smoothly from here — and the Northern Gila County Sanitary District does everything it can to reduce the upfront costs to homeowners. The district had in the past sometimes piled on too much upfront cost, which has the effect of discouraging people from doing the right thing for the community. The district’s war chest accumulation of impact fees imposed during the boom times might help ease the pain now in the down times.

Sometimes, you make sacrifices now for the good of the community, with an eye to the future. Sometimes, you just make the hard decision, instead of wallowing in denial or running out on a bill that will come due for your children to pay.

So good job, homeowners.

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