Star Valley’s mayoral candidates agree on quite a few things.
Both believe the town should remain the way it is, small, quiet and friendly, and both agree that grandiose ideas of a townwide sewer system and commercial growth are unrealistic and unfathomable at this time. However, they have different opinions and ideas on leading the town through the next four years, mainly, the importance of photo enforcement. Incumbent Bill Rappaport sees it as a way to save lives and make money while former Star Valley vice-mayor Randy White views it as a nuisance that the town can afford to do without.
The Roundup sat down with Rappaport and White to get their opinions on where the town is heading and learn a little more about what brought them to Star Valley.
The town today
When Rappaport arrived in Star Valley in 2004, he said he fell in love with the scenery and people.
While he had never lived in a small town before (he grew up in southern California and later relocated to Scottsdale), he found the sense of community refreshing.
“It keeps you on the straight and narrow,” he joked.
Rappaport said he wants to protect this way of life and is excited because the council is doing just that.
“We are in a great place right now,” he said, referring to the blooming relationship with Payson, talks of getting a share of Blue Ridge water and the recent paving of several roads.
“We never would have got the roads paved through the county,” he said.
If homeowners agree to turn private roads over to the city, nearly all town roads should be paved, Rappaport said. “It is an incredible thing.”
In addition, Rappaport said he is proud the council negotiated a new law enforcement contract with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office that includes animal control. While the town was not able to create its own police department due to budget concerns, the sheriff’s office is doing a great job for residents residents, he said.
White said the current council’s direction is not dramatically different from what he would like to see, but added, “It needs a little different leadership to keep it moving in a positive direction.”
“The voice of the people I hear constantly say they want to keep it small, friendly and honest,” he said.
“I feel committed to the people who originally signed the petitions (for incorporation) to fulfill my promises to keep it simple.”
White became a resident of Star Valley nearly two decades ago when he started a car dealership in Star Valley known as Phil White Ford. Two years ago, White retired from the auto industry and has spent the majority of his free time with family.
While he has seen the town grow and change over the years, he wants to keep it small and friendly.
While the town has established a lot since incorporation, each year White would like to accomplish something new that “is done right,” such as creating a small police force and acquiring a permanent town hall.
“We can create our own police force, I think it can be done for our little town,” he said. “We may still need the help of the sheriff’s department.”
An area where the candidates disagree is photo enforcement.
While Rappaport is pleased with the effectiveness of photo enforcement, which was established soon after the town incorporated and is a major source of revenue for the town, White said he could do without the cameras.
Rappaport pointed out that before the cameras were installed, the average speed of cars traveling through town was 72 mph, now it is 43 mph.
“It has saved lives,” Rappaport said.
White said he is opposed to the cameras and has been since Rappaport proposed them.
“I voted against the cameras,” he said. White believes the town does not need the revenue from the cameras because there are plenty of funds coming in from sales tax and revenue sharing with the state.
Currently, photo enforcement revenue makes up about 60 percent of the town’s budget.
“If we lose it, we will have to have a tax,” Rappaport said.
“Sewer is never going to happen,” Rappaport said. “We could never afford our own district.”
Challenger Randy White agreed saying a sewer system is not needed at this time because there is no evidence septic systems are failing.
“Right now, I don’t think we need one,” White said.
Some sewer system advocates have said it is only a matter of time before aging septic systems begin to fail and pollute ground water wells.
However, no residents have reported problems with their septic systems or water quality, White said. So while the town may not need a system now, he did say it is important the town secure land for a sewage treatment plant so one could be built in the future.
“We need to be able to accommodate a small grocery store, restaurant, hotel, small shopping mall and these are all big producers of waste,” he said.
How would the town fund a sewage system? White believes it would need to float a bond and get grants.
Rappaport said sewer is not a big issue with him because he has never heard of a resident’s septic system failing so long as it is pumped out regularly.
While both candidates agree that a sewer system will not happen now, both also agree that water remains a crucial issue for the town, which was founded on fears that the town’s ground water supply may one day bleed dry from increased pumping of neighboring wells, mainly the Tower Well.
Before Star Valley formed, White and Rappaport worked together for incorporation, both fearful of losing their water.
Today, both candidates are less afraid of losing their water since Payson is acquiring additional water through the Blue Ridge Reservoir.
However, White still believes the town should revisit acquiring Brooke Utilities, which the town decided not to buy after it realized it could not afford the steep asking price.
White admits taking over Brooke Utilities may not happen overnight, but it is important to get the ball rolling.
Rappaport hinted that the town council expects to make a major announcement about a safe and sustainable water supply for Star Valley in a few weeks, but would not elaborate on what the announcement entails except to say that the both Payson and Star Valley’s councils are working together on it.
Rappaport added that water would always be a key issue for the small town because after all, that is what the town was founded on, still with this agreement, water would no longer be an issue.
Building a future with Payson
Since taking over as mayor 10 months ago, Rappaport said one of his top priorities is building a working relationship with Payson.
“We have started an open dialogue,” he said. “We are reasonable people talking to each other.”
Rappaport said he feels there is a small faction of Star Valley residents who do not want to see Payson and Star Valley work together “for their own reason.”
But thinking like that gets you nowhere, he said, and was part of the reason the town was incorporated instead of annexed with Payson in 2004.
“If the present town council (in Payson and Star Valley) were in place in 2004, I don’t think there would have been an issue over the Tower Well,” he said.
While the Star Valley council has been hard at work making friends with Payson for the last few months, White said he would never have had to mend fences with Payson in the first place.
“I am friends with (Mayor Kenny) Evans, we visit and can carry on a dialogue,” he said.
“I know everyone on (Payson’s) council and I don’t have any problems with them.”
Although White was fearful that the Tower Well, which is operated by Payson, could bleed the town’s water supply, he said he is not mad with Payson for its decisions.
“I don’t have any animosity,” he said, “We should hold hands and should do things together because we are side by side.”
Rappaport and White are not the only ones vying for a seat on the Star Valley council. Chris Benjamin and Paty Henderson hope to unseat incumbents Vern Leis and Del Newland.
The all mail election begins March 9 with the primary, with the general election on May 18.