Payson would irrevocably change should voters defeat home rule in March, with demolished hopes of building the Blue Ridge pipeline and crippled services like fire and police, Mayor Kenny Evans said at a Citizens Awareness Committee meeting Thursday.
In March, voters will decide whether to continue home rule, a provision that allows the town to spend above a state-set limitation. Home rule doesn’t affect taxes or how much money the town collects, just how much it spends.
Voters have traditionally approved the measure every four years without much noise. However, Evans fears the growing discontent with state and federal government could impact how people vote this year.
Voters statewide approved the home rule ballot proposition in 1980 when interest rates and inflation spun out of control. It limited government spending to 1980-levels, with adjustments for population growth and a “convoluted” inflation factor that discounted many things, said Evans.
One of home rule’s fatal flaws however, was its assumption that all towns were mature, he added.
In 1980, Payson had no water department, a mostly volunteer fire department and the police department owned just two vehicles, said Evans. “We were not a very mature town.”
Consequently, if Payson could only spend the $19.5 million state-imposed limitation for next fiscal year, it “will alter this community forever,” said Evans. Home rule doesn’t affect taxes, and so the town would continue to collect the same amount of money. It just couldn’t spend a dime over the limitation.
This year’s town budget is $57 million, including about $17 million in grants. Some grants are not included in the spending cap.
With such a drastic cut in spending ability, Evans said the town could kiss the Blue Ridge pipeline goodbye, along with the 3,000 acre-feet of water that took 20 years to negotiate.
If the town spent the $10.5 million loan it was awarded for Blue Ridge, that money would count toward the $19.5 million it’s allowed to spend. But postponing the project equates to its death, said Evans.
Once repairs are completed next year on existing pipeline on top of the Rim, a clock starts ticking that allows the town five years to use the water. Otherwise, it loses the water right.
Various town obligations, including contributing to health care, pensions and bonds, cost about $9 million — “even if you shut the town down,” said Evans.
“Do you want a water department and nothing else in town?”