The Payson Town Council took a look at its get-tough fee-waiver policy, listened to the parade of speakers from the Payson Unified School District and quickly made its decision.
In short: Don’t mess with Mister Stevens.
The council voted 6-0 Thursday to waive $11,000 in fees for reviewing plans for the new agriculture sciences building, after hearing from Superintendent Casey O’Brien, agriculture science teacher Wendall Stevens and a chorus of students testifying to how the program had changed their lives.
Alicia Bayless, who also serves on the town’s Youth Advisory Council, said “in two years I have learned so much from the program and Mr. Stevens has always been there for me. I am here asking you to waive the fees for Mr. Stevens’ new building to recognize 30 years of hard work and dedication.”
Jessica Stone, treasurer of the local Future Farmers of America chapter, confessed to being “a crazy animal lover” and appealed to the council to support the program.
“It would open so many doors to students for so many years to come. Mr. Stevens has inspired so many students in his 30 years of teaching,” she said, having earlier said she’d learned everything from horse judging to public speaking from the program.
Pausing for effect, Stone gestured to Stevens who sat in the audience and concluded: “Look at that man and tell me he doesn’t deserve this building,” she said, drawing delighted laughter from the crowd and a flush of embarrassment from Stevens.
The new $1 million, 12,000-square-foot building will include facilities for handling animals for a program that attempts to prepare students for careers in farming and animal care. Advocates fought for years for the facility until the school board finally managed to cobble together leftover bond money and vocational grants to build the facility this year, despite ongoing budget woes.
Stevens also spoke to the council, saying “In the summer of 1980, I promised the then-superintendent we would have a quality program. When this building is built, I will be able to deliver to Mr. Casey that promise.
The outpouring of support put the council on the spot, with the ink on its new, get-tough fee policy barely dry. The council several months ago refused to waive several thousand in fees for another school project, but in that case no one from the district showed up to plead for the waiver. The council had also adopted a new, tougher policy on waiving fees for various groups.
Councilor Richard Croy said the town should stick to its policy. “The program is a wonderful program. But I would like to see it approached some other way than to put it all on the citizens of the town of Payson (by waiving $11,000 in fees for plan reviews).”
However, he didn’t get much support from the rest of the council.
“Philosophically I agree with Councilor Croy,” said Councilor Ed Blair. He said that the policy allowed for fee waivers only in “extraordinary circumstances.”
However, he continued, the service the facility would provide to the whole community justified the exception in this case.
Councilor Su Connell said education remains her top priority.
“We have this opportunity to provide an education in leadership. These are the people who are going to take care of us in the future.”
Mayor Kenny Evans, who once owned one of the largest farms in the country, said “no event in my life has had as much impact as my decision to sign up for an ag sciences class in high school. It’s real easy to draw a line in the sand (on fee waivers), but these are unusual times.”
The council voted 6-1 to waive the fees.
Mr. Stevens looked pleased.