Potholes Abound In Bleak Payson Budget

Council reviews five-year plan that patches carpets and streets, defers ambitious projects

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A cheerful, giggling herd of Girl Scouts stampeded into the Payson Town Hall last week and took over the council chambers as the council declared Girl Scout week in Rim Country. The 10 Girl Scout troops have doubled their membership locally in the past six months and continue to recruit new members and adult volunteers. The troops got together this year to collect supplies for New Beginnings, which helps new mothers get a good start. Anyone interested in joining or volunteering should call Rhonda Evans at (928) 474-0653.

The Payson Town Council this week visited the corpse of its five-year capital improvement plan, filing past the embalmed remains like spooked visitors to Lenin’s tomb.

The five-year plan includes an impressive total of $82 million worth of street, public safety and water projects — about $1,000 per year for every man, woman and child in Payson.

However, even routine street maintenance has been pushed off into the last half of the five-year plan in the desperate hope that the economy will revive and developers will once more provide the cash to rebuild streets, improve parks and patch up water and sewer systems.

The plan includes nearly $14 million in the current fiscal year and $16 million next year — but the Blue Ridge pipeline accounts for more than half of that total. The town will use a combination of accumulated water impact fees and a $10.5 million federal grant to cover the bulk of the pipeline costs.

Various grants account for much of the additional proposed spending in the next two years, including about $900,000 in federal funds to upgrade low-income housing; $3.4 million to build and equip a new fire station, funded mostly by the remains of a 2004 bond issue; and $3.8 million for improvements at the airport, funded mostly by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Streets remain the sore point for many residents, as the potholes grow on streets long overdue for routine maintenance and chunks of pavement start to work loose on narrow, curbless residential streets carrying more and more traffic.

Before the recession hit, Payson spent $500,000 annually maintaining existing streets and had launched several multi-million-dollar street rebuilding projects — including a rebuild of Bonita Street, the extension of Mud Springs, improvements on Phoenix Street and others.

At that time, developers were building 200 to 300 new houses each year. In the past year, the town has issued permits for about 30 new houses — mostly infill without a developer with the money to make major street and infrastructure improvements.

Back in the day, the town also had consultants working on a master plan to improve Main Street and to refurbish and put a roof on the rodeo grounds stadium — complete with a proposed convention hotel.

Now, all those big plans have withered — with the single, hopeful exception of continued negotiations with Arizona State University in hopes of luring to town a four-year college campus.

Town Public Works Director LaRon Garrett reported that at $500,000, the town could repave and maintain every street in town every seven years. But the budget for street maintenance has now shrunk to about $100,000 annually.

“It’s a pretty steep curve even just getting back up to where we used to be,” said Garrett.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said stinting on maintenance now will cost the town dearly in the long run, as streets that originally needed cracks sealed develop potholes that require a major rebuild.

“The $200,000 we didn’t spend last year will cost us $300,000 next year as cracks become potholes and potholes become chuckholes,” said Evans.

But Garrett said the town can’t afford to undertake even the most crucial, cost-effective repairs. “If you’re talking about that level, you’re talking about coming up with $2 million.”

That drew a pained laugh from the town council and the assembled department heads, all glumly aware of the furloughs and other cuts needed for the town just to stagger through the current fiscal year.

But the council asked town staff to survey the condition of streets to identify safety problems posed by the bare-bones maintenance plan.

“Going up Phoenix Street,” said Evans, you can take a pencil and stick it through the pavement. “

Councilor Michael Hughes said “we need a phased plan to get us back on track in the next four years.”

But then again, the improvement plan doesn’t even include enough money to replace fraying carpets at town hall — which have some tricky, heel-catching holes in them now.

“I’ve caught my heel a couple of times — isn’t that a safety issue?” asked Councilor Su Connell.

“Maybe we could come up with a plan to patch the holes,” said Chief Financial Officer Cindy Smith.

“We could patch the patches,” said Evans, glumly.

Town Manager Debra Galbraith said the staff could look into using floor tiles in certain high traffic areas where the carpets have a lot of holes. “We have some pretty critical issues everywhere,” she noted. Then visualizing the effect if augmenting the worn carpet with tiles and carpet patches, she added, “we could have an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ thing going here.”

Several department heads came to the podium with their laundry list, noting that they’re not making any improvements at all this year or next.

A few departments have grants — like the million-dollar communications system upgrade in the police department funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The fire department’s building projects list was dominated by construction and supplying a third fire station just off Highway 260 on the border between Payson and Star Valley. The town is using bond money approved by the voters for a third fire station back in 2004 and hopes to land a federal grant to provide the money for the six to nine new firefighters it will need to staff the station. Council members have said they may have to mothball the station as soon as it’s built if they don’t get a hoped-for federal grant to cover the firefighters’ salaries for the first few years.

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