Water Rate Increase: Timing Is Everything

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Timing, they say, is everything. So on Thursday, the Payson Town Council will consider a slimmed down water rate hike — 10 percent. Now, that’s just half as bad as the first proposal — which asked for more like 20 percent.

Assistant Public Works Director Buzz Walker has made a strong case for the increase — even at the higher figure.

Granted, the water department has some $7.5 million in cash reserves — enough to provide a million dollars in standby money to cover a projected year-end general fund deficit.

But most of the water department’s reserves came from impact fees and must ultimately cover costs associated with the Blue Ridge Reservoir pipeline. In the meantime, the town must accumulate about $10 million to replace aging water mains and expand hydrant coverage.

Raising rates now makes sense. After all, we wouldn’t be in such a mess right now if other layers of government had acted responsibly — accumulating reserves in the boom times to pay for predictable future needs. Instead, government tends to squander money in the good times then borrow like drunken bankers when the crisis hits.

Still, the timing stinks.

Rim Country’s economy continues to languish, becalmed by a “recovery“ that has produced little decline in unemployment and no noticeable rise in sales.

At this very moment, many voters are pondering their mail-in ballot, which will determine whether the state imposes a three-year, 1 cent sales tax increase. If they balk, we can expect terrible cuts in education, health care and a host of other government programs. It could blight prospects for an ASU campus in Payson and force another round of layoffs at Payson Unified School District.

So, it doesn’t seem like quite the right moment to hit hard-pressed consumers with a 10 percent jump in water bills — even if it amounts to less than $5 a month for most.

So we hope the council will wait another six months before imposing the necessary rate increase as a gesture of sympathy for this town’s suffering residents.

Timing, after all, is everything.

GCC: Set feuds aside

Gila Community College board members and our legislators, who are supposed to be looking out for the best interest of the college, again find themselves in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Rep. Bill Konopnicki, who once served on the board of Eastern Arizona College and now represents Payson and Gila County in the Legislature and Sen. Sylvia Allen of Snowflake, are battling over who will lead the fight to help make GCC independent. Konopnicki, is term limited this year and running for Allen’s state senate seat.

Just a few weeks ago Konopnicki said GCC would never achieve independence, but that was before Sen. Allen set up a committee to find a way to make GCC independent. Now, Konopnicki wants to climb aboard the bandwagon, saying he has a plan to bring the change to GCC.

That’s great guys: Now maybe we could actually work together?

It will take a concentrated effort to enact legislation that will ensure GCC is treated the same as all the other rural community colleges in this state.

Of course, it would also help if the GCC board could line up on the same side — instead of letting deep, north-south divisions cripple the district.

We saw one faint sign of an early spring last week, when GCC board president Bob Ashford proposed setting up a new “executive liaison” position to help the board get a grip on the district’s finances.

Gee, just a month ago Ashford helped vote down board member Tom Loeffler’s suggestion the board hire a part-time accountant and making the three deans report to the GCC board rather than to EAC administrators. That plan would have required a renegotiation of the EAC contract and made perfect sense, since it would give the elected GCC board more power over the college’s day-to-day operations, instead of letting the Safford school’s board make policy for our college.

So we’re glad Ashford now sees the need for the GCC board to gather reliable information.

Except for one problem: Ashford wants the executive liaison to report directly to him, not to the board as a whole. That seems likely to do more to enhance Ashford’s already disproportionate power than to improve the flow of information to the board. Poor GCC: one step forward and a little stutter step back.

So now we just hope that everyone concerned will take a deep breath and ask themselves: What will best serve the voters who elected them? Then perhaps Konopnicki and Allen and Ashford and Loeffler and all the rest of the board will discover they’re on the same team after all.

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