Payson voters’ overwhelming approval of Home Rule this week averted deep cuts in the town budget and delighted town officials who had been sweating out the vote for a month.
About 71 percent of voters supported the exception to spending limits based on the 1980 town budget. About 15 percent, or 762, voted “no.” Another 14 percent left the measure blank.
“I believe that it indicates the voters of Payson are discriminate. They do pay attention,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, who had said he would have likely resigned if Home Rule failed.
Evans said he thought the large number of people who didn’t vote on the ballot measure reflected flaws in the design of the mail-in ballot. Voters had to unfold the ballot to find the box to mark a vote on Proposition 300, which was opposite the column for the council candidates.
“I think a lot of that had to do with the confusion of the ballot,” said Evans. “We got a lot of people who came in and wanted their ballot back, after they realized they hadn’t marked the Home Rule proposition.”
Councilor Ed Blair, who was re-elected, said he knocked on 3,000 doors in the course of the campaign and found a big change in voter attitudes toward Home Rule in the course of the campaign.
He said he stumped for Home Rule every time he talked to a voter.
“When I started going door-to-door back in November, they’d go ‘what?’ And then I’d go through the whole hand waving so they could visualize the difference between $26 million and $14 million. But as time went on, I didn’t have to.”
Fred Carpenter, the former town manager who narrowly defeated Vice Mayor Mike Vogel, called the Home Rule vote “overwhelming.”
He said he was a town manager when the spending limits were first imposed in 1980, and that he could not recall seeing such a strong margin of support.
“It’s one of the strongest majorities I’ve ever seen. I read from that that there’s a general understanding on the part of the electorate — they’re not ignorant. And they’re not as cynical about local government as about the state and federal levels.”
On the other hand, Evans noted that at least 15 percent of the voters proved willing to force drastic cuts on the town.
If voters had rejected Home Rule, it would have limited town spending to about $21 million — a roughly 60 percent cut from the current spending plan. Town officials said that if voters rejected Home Rule they would have had to abandon plans for the Blue Ridge pipeline and a possible ASU campus in town, since the spending limits wouldn’t have fully funded the police, fire and water departments.
Voters have routinely waived the 1980 spending limit every four years since 1980, allowing town spending to rise far above that limit. Those increases included the cost of the water department and the fire department, both added since 1980.
However, Tucson voters rejected the normally routinely approved Home Rule provisions back in November, sending shock waves through nearly 100 communities statewide operating under the Home Rule waiver.
All of the council candidates pushed hard for Home Rule and several candidates like Vice Mayor Mike Vogel devoted as much as a third of their ad budget to urging the approval of Home Rule.
Many political observers linked the approval of Home Rule to the 68 percent approval of the Payson Unified School District’s budget override. Voters showed strong support for key local institutions even in the face of the recession and widespread frustration with the response of the state and federal governments.
The two measures illustrated that “the voters in Payson, if educated, can make a sound, correct, non-emotional decision,” said Evans. “That’s a healthy evolution. But it also shows that the voters do expect candidates to come and earn the right to represent them — to come to them and explain the issues.”