Payson Budget: Stingy, Yet Strangely Lavish

Possible federal grants and money for Blue Ridge pipeline make proposed budget look huge — but penny-pinching continues

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The Payson Town Council got a close look last week at a very strange budget — like a lady who can eat twice her weight in crab meat and still stay real skinny.

At first glance, the proposed budget features a wild increase in spending to a staggering $69 million despite the lingering economic slowdown.

Alas, there’s a lot less to the town’s bank account than meets the eye.

The huge rise in potential spending comes mostly from a hoped for bundle of about $24 million in federal stimulus grants and about $10 million to get started building the Blue Ridge pipeline.

That big bundle of federal money could represent a giddy, infrastructure Christmas present for a town that has canceled almost all its road building projects and maintenance for the past two years.

First District Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, who is running for re-election, lobbied to insert into a proposed second round of federal economic stimulus some $22 million infrastructure projects for Payson — including money to rebuild Bonita Street, Manzanita Drive and an extended Mud Springs Road, which represents the town’s top three street priorities.

In addition, the town could get $18 million for a covered “multi-purpose” center at the Event Center grounds.

But beyond those glittering possibilities, the budget news remains mostly glum in the preliminary budget presented to the town council in two special sessions last week and again at a special session on Tuesday.

The council will likely adopt the preliminary budget on Tuesday, but continue waiting for more refined projections before adopting a budget ceiling for 2010-11 on June 5.

Under the preliminary figures presented last week, the town’s general fund would decline to about $12.2 million. This funds all the town departments, save the water department — which lives on water bills.

Most of the town’s departments would spend a little less than this year, which featured budgets much less than two or three years ago.

However, the preliminary plan would eliminate some of the most arduous cutbacks. Town hall would reopen on Fridays. And town workers would no longer have to take two days a month off without pay, which was an effective 12 percent pay cut.

Moreover, the current budget assumes that the town will need to borrow all of $1 million set aside by the water department as a loan — and begin paying it back in fiscal 2010-11.

Only the water department would enjoy a big budget increase — to about $20 million. But half of that represents costs related to building the 14-mile-long Blue Ridge pipeline along Houston Mesa Road — which will double the town’s water supply when it’s complete in about 2015. The preliminary figures presented don’t factor in a 10 percent water rate increase approved by the town council recently.

Other departments will struggle to hit this year’s shrunken mark, thanks to revenue projections that predict that sales tax and other revenue will remain close to this year’s levels — which are down 15 or 20 percent from the highs of two or three years ago.

The police department would feature only minimal increases in its roughly $5 million budget.

The plan calls for leaving three vacant slots for officers unfilled — about 10 percent of the force. The reductions this year have reduced the number of officers on duty by about one per shift this year — although crime has declined significantly despite the reduction in the number of officers on patrol.

The preliminary budget calls for an additional $53,000 reduction in overtime, building on a sharp decrease in overtime this year. In the past, the department has paid overtime for many shifts and for most training activities. As a result, the combination of the freeze on overtime and a two-day-a-month furlough has reduced most officers’ take-home pay by 15 or 20 percent.

The budget does provide $100,000 to buy three new police cars, since the department has 20 vehicles that now have more than 100,000 miles of service. About 14 of the department’s vehicles are more than 10 years old and one is more than 18 years old.

The budget does not include any money to continue posting a school resource officer in the schools, unless the Legislature decides to continue funding the program.

The fire department would also leave two firefighter slots vacant plus the empty slot for a half-time fire prevention specialist.

The budget includes a $28,000 cut in supplies and a $19,000 cut in services and manpower and overtime restrictions that would probably require the department to continue its practice of putting only two men on each truck for most shifts and cutting training to a bare minimum.

Police and fire account for the majority of the town’s general fund spending.

Budgets for other departments also reflect the continued budget woes. Preliminary figures by department include:

Tourism

Money spent to lure to town visitors that represent the mainstay of the town’s economy would decline from $192,000 to $189,000. The town council recently boosted the bed tax by 5 percent to raise an extra $85,000 for the tourism department — but that will mostly free up general fund money now spent on promotions. In 2008/09, the town spent $207,000 on tourism.

Recreation

The die-off of the town’s once broad recreation department will stabilize, but remain far below the glory years. Administration will go from $53,000 to $55,000, trails from $66,000 to $73,000, and other programs from $202,000 to $192,000.

The spending on the town pool would also drop sharply, from $57,000 to $38,000 — which reflects the impact of a private contract with EVO School Aquatics to run the summer swim program. All told, that contract should save the town $65,000 annually over the cost of running the pool, but users will face sharply higher costs for swim lessons.

Engineering

The budget will rise from $77,000 to $82,0000 — but remain far below the $224,000 peak in 2007/08. That reflects the near elimination of street building and new developments.

Streets

Spending will barely rise from this year’s $1.9 million total. However, if the stimulus grants sponsored by Rep. Kirkpatrick come through, spending could balloon by $22 million.

Parks Operations

The cost of maintaining the town’s two big parks could decline from $480,000 this year to $393,000, which compares to the peak budget of $846,000 in 2007/08.

Payson Airport

The town put into the budget hoped-for federal grants for safety and runway improvements, which require only a small town match. If those hoped-for Federal Aviation Authority grants come through — the airport budget would jump from $385,000 this year to $3.6 million. Most of that money would go toward the $2.2 million purchase of land the airport could then lease to airport-related businesses, bringing in enough revenue to finance future operations.

Community Development

The planning department has been all but idled this year with the collapse of the construction business.

The department used to issue permits for about 250 new homes per year, but that total has been more like 35 in the past year. The department once had 15 authorized positions, but that has fallen to about nine. The budget would leave all of those positions vacant. The 2010/11 budget would fall to $705,000 — a 16 percent decline from 2009/10.

The one continued bright spot in the community development department would be the continuation of about $380,000 in federal grant programs to provide energy upgrades and housing repairs for low-income residents and about $110,000 to overhaul the electrical system in the Payson Senior Center.

Magistrate Court

The budget to deal with minor crimes and drunk drivers continues to spiral upward — the only department besides water that seems immune to the recession.

The court brings in about $20,000 in fines every month — but most of that money goes to the state. Many of the costs — including providing a prosecuting attorney — remain with the town. The court’s budget will rise a projected 23 percent in 2010/11 to about $280,000. That compares to a budget of $102,000 in 2006/07.

Library

The town’s share of the library budget has been hammered in the past several years — declining from $401,000 in 2007/08 to a proposed $353,000 in 2010/11.

Fortunately, the county’s contribution has remained relatively constant — boosting the total budget to about $436,000. Volunteers have taken up the slack, with 11,000 hours of donated service.

The library has about 17,000 registered borrowers and 16,000 Internet users who check out 164,000 items annually, and make 43,000 reference inquiries.

Central Services

This huge, mysterious budget category includes things that cross department lines, like operating town hall, health insurance, unemployment and workers compensation, utilities and liability insurance. The total budget will decline from $1 million this year to a proposed $754,000 in 2010/11.

Financial Services

As befits the budget folks in a crisis, town spending on financial services continues to decline. The proposed budget for next year would decline by 17 percent to about $284,000, with three of the six authorized positions still vacant. By contrast, the budget for fiscal services peaked at nearly $600,000 in 2007/08.

Computers

The town’s IT department keeps polishing its wish list. This year, the department spent $367,000, which includes two full-time positions, $10,000 worth of new computers and tons of software and hardware.

Next year, the department wants to spend $397,000, including $50,000 for new hardware, $40,000 for new $6,000 laptops for squad cars, $58,000 for new software and a chunk of change to back up vital data to a second location in case town hall burns down.

Town Council

The town council hopes to set the pace on stingy with a 33 percent drop in its budget to $86,000 — partly as a result of reduced insurance costs and by moving the itty bitty public relations budget onto the town manager’s budget.

Town Manager

By contrast, the town manager’s budget would jump 30 percent to $210,000. That includes a newly created economic development division, with $24,000 to subsidize operations of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, $9,600 for a “consultant” — mostly likely outgoing Vice Mayor Mike Vogel, who will serve as a business recruiter, ombudsman and trouble shooter.

Health and Welfare

The town could finish phasing out money for various groups in town, like Rim Country Literacy and the Time Out Domestic Violence Center.

The only subsidies for other groups in town could be $19,000 worth of free building permits for Habitat for Humanity, $80,000 for the Payson Senior Center for various services and $36,000 to the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce to run a visitor center for tourists.

The town’s $88,000 contract with the Humane Society to house and adopt out stray dogs and cats would remain tucked away in the police department’s budget.

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