Alas, It’S Easier To Start A Water War Than End One

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Turns out — it’s easier to start a war than to stop one. At least, so it seems in Pine and Strawberry where buying the water company didn’t drown the divisions that have now complicated the effort to run the water district.

The whole community suffered a blow this week at the last meeting of the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District where bitter divisions cost the fledgling district vital expertise.

On the face of it, the complicated, bitter, lamentably personalized fight seems to revolve around whether the district should buy Robert Randall and Ray Pugel’s well.

Mutual suspicions, name-calling, conspiracy theories and bitterness have complicated what should have been a straightforward business decision.

So we hope that everyone will now take a breath — and refocus.

It’s not about blame-placing and score-settling and who makes money. It’s about providing the community with the water it needs at the best possible possible cost. So here’s what we would suggest.

First, get two or three independent appraisals of the well from people familiar with Arizona wells. Pugel says it cost him $400,000 to develop and some estimates suggest it would cost another $400,000 to hook it up to the existing system, due to the elevation of the well head. And maybe that’s what it’s worth. Maybe it’s worth even more. That’s why reasonable people hire appraisers before shelling out the cash.

It is obvious that they need as much water as they can get due to the unforeseen circumstances and possible future drought conditions in Pine and Strawberry.

The district must move quickly to hire a qualified manager to run the district. After all, micro-managing by inviting individual board members leads to dissension and dysfunction in any organization.

Additionally, cool it with the conspiracy theories and personal attacks. If the board bases decisions on the facts — then motivations don’t much matter.

For instance, why shouldn’t Ray Pugel try to recoup the cost of his well? Wouldn’t you? Don’t forget, his financial gamble played a key role in freeing the community from the shackles of the building embargo. That doesn’t mean the district ought to pay him more than the well is worth, but it does entitle Pugel to respect and courtesy.

All sides need to conquer the impulse to hurl accusations and weave conspiracy theories. No doubt, the various parties involved will look to their own financial interests. That’s why the board must hire objective, professional management and then stick to making policy. That’s why the district should rely on proper appraisals and objective data.

If the board can’t do that, then the hard-won purchase of the water district will prove only a truce instead of the longed-for end to the war.

And if that happens, the whole community loses.

Guard changes as fires still burn

The guard changed Tuesday — and Payson got a new councilor to man the bucket brigade that’s been trying to douse the economic fires that have charred this town’s hopes the past two years.

Former Town Manager Fred Carpenter took his seat, disavowing “radical change” and promising to work for a convention center and a college campus.

Great goals — vital to eliminating the boom-bust reliance on tourists and homebuilders that has cost us so dearly these past two years.

Re-elected Payson Mayor Kenny Evans and Councilors Su Connell and Ed Blair also renewed their oaths of office and promised to continue working for economic recovery.

We congratulate them all and sympathize.

Tough time to run a town. The economy still sucks.

The town faces big challenges in first recovering and then diversifying the economy and growing to its potential, without destroying the small-town charms that drew us all here in the first place.

We will miss Vice Mayor Mike Vogel, who lost narrowly to Carpenter and who contributed so selflessly to the town during his service.

That said, we have high hopes Carpenter will play a vital and constructive role in the next four years. Certainly, the town has rarely had a councilor with such deep expertise. Clearly, he has a commitment to this community and priorities that will provide great benefit to the town.

With any luck, in the next two years we’ll start construction on a college campus, the Blue Ridge pipeline, an expanded event center, a convention center, new industries and a revived housing market.

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