The Star Valley Town Council Tuesday approved a $5,000 payment to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park to help keep the landmark attraction open through the summer.
Star Valley is the second town to donate to the cash-strapped park, which was at risk of closing just a few months ago. Through a $24,000 contribution from Payson and several local organizations, a deal was struck to the keep the park open, at least temporarily.
Star Valley’s donation assures the park’s operation at least through the summer.
Last year, the Arizona Legislature all but drained the State Parks Board budget dry, forcing the board to consider closing all but a few state parks. Only through the financial help from towns and residents were some state parks kept open.
Thanks to a townwide effort and a last-minute, million-dollar payment from the parks board, the Tonto Natural Bridge has remained open, giving guests a chance to visit the world’s largest travertine arch.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilor Vern Leis, who proposed the donation, said it is time Star Valley contributes to the rest of the Rim Country and supports an attraction that annually brings in roughly $3.6 million to the Rim Country’s economy.
“The bridge is something that belongs to all of us,” he said.
“I would like to see Star Valley extend a donation to (the park’s) operations.”
Leis said although the park does not directly affect Star Valley’s businesses, Payson businesses are impacted and since Star Valley residents rely on these businesses, the town should support their continued operation.
“We receive a lot of things through Payson,” he said. Besides stores, Star Valley utilizes Payson’s Meals on Wheels program and the Payson Helping Payson program.
However, Councilor George Binney said he could not support the donation because he does not believe town governments should make donations to state-run programs.
“I have real trouble with this issue,” he said.
“The state can’t manage their budget” and we are supposed to pick up the pieces. “I don’t have a problem with individuals donating money, but we are responsible for our constituents’ money and it should be spent on them.”
Binney said a donation to the park would be similar to corporate welfare.
“Because (the state Legislature) did a bad job allocating funds, they want us to bail them out again. I can’t support this issue.”
Councilor Gary Coon said he supported the donation.
“I respect my friend George’s opinion, but this is a community effort,” Coon said. “Although our stores won’t benefit, in Payson they will, which we want to keep open.”
Coon added $5,000 was not much to spend for such a valuable resource.
“If it’s not much money, why not pay out of our pocket?” Binney said.
Councilor Barbara Hartwell and Mayor Bill Rappaport said they supported the measure.
In a 6-1 vote, the resolution passed, with Binney casting the only no vote.
In other action, the council appointed Gary Rolf to the Floodwater Commission and approved a $4,170 payment to Tetra Tech for additional work done on the town’s sanitary master plan. The town also adopted a budget policy and financial operations guide without discussion.