Bad Choices With Lives On The Line

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Out of the frying pan — into the fire. Sometimes public officials have only bad and worse to choose from. Consider Payson’s no-win choice when it comes to staffing the third fire station now under construction.

The council opted to build the fire station on Tyler Parkway, which was promised to voters who approved the bond issue more than five years ago. The new station will cut several minutes off the response time in eastern portions of town — particularly in the country club communities.

The town made a shrewd deal on the land and the building. The station will cost about 50 percent less than the town’s last station. So far, so good. But now it starts getting complicated. The town can’t afford to staff the new fire station with or without hoped-for federal grants.

Currently, Payson pays neighboring Hellsgate $160,000 to cover calls along the eastern border. That gets crews on scene a couple of minutes quicker than dispatching from the Main Street station — and also gives Hellsgate manpower vital to protecting Star Valley.

Payson’s budget crisis earlier this year forced town-wide furloughs, which on many shifts left just two firefighters on a truck. After six months of short-staffing, the picture brightened and Payson returned to three-man crews. Some town officials are wondering out loud if they could get by with two-man trucks if we don’t get the hoped-for federal grants to staff the third fire station.

That sounds almost reasonable — unless you read the research. Three-man crews get vital tasks done 25 percent faster and suffer a 50 percent lower injury rate. A four-man truck enjoys additional advantages including the ability to send one team into a burning building, with a rescue team standing by.

That research suggests we’d be better off with two, three- or four-man trucks, rather than three, two-man trucks.

Certainly, we’re all for cutting costs — which is why we have nagging doubts about whether the town can afford to staff a third fire station right now. Perhaps Payson needs to return to a greater reliance on reserves, to run three- and four-man trucks. Like we said — the council faces an unpalatable choice between bad and worse.

Still, we oppose any economy that risks the lives and health of firefighters by running dangerously small crews.

Not yet Christmas, but we can still sing a few campus carols

Will Christmas ever come? Payson and Arizona State University have now taken a major step in what has turned into a torturous two-year effort to build a college campus here.

Specifically, the negotiators have signed a memorandum of understanding so they can “examine and analyze” the plan for a four-year campus, with tuition about 50 percent lower than on the main campus.

The MOU confirms the broad outlines of the whispers and promises that have sustained us these many months.

Payson will set up a community facilities district to buy 300 acres from the Forest Service and then raise the money to build the campus — plus provide space for support facilities like a conference hotel.

For its part, ASU won’t need to bring its wallet. Instead, the university will develop a marketing and academic plan to be sure it can provide enough students to make the whole thing pencil out.

The MOU confirms the visionary details for a “green” campus nestled among the trees — an idyllic setting in which students can earn a low-cost, four-year degree. We suspect the campus will be a godsend, especially for kids from rural towns who all too often get swallowed up when they attend classes in Tempe with 50,000 other students.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the handful of people at both ASU and Payson who have lavished time and effort on this crucial effort — even if it never comes to pass.

So while this seems a hopeful moment, we do not minimize the difficulties that remain. First, Payson must sweet-talk the Forest Service into selling the land quickly enough to make the campus possible.

Second, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans must keep corralled his miraculous critical mass of investors and donors who have pledged in excess of $500 million.

Third, we hope ASU grasps the opportunity to build what amounts to the state’s first college that can offer affordable bachelor’s degrees where soaring tuition has already slammed the door of opportunity on many students.

It’s not yet Christmas Eve — the purgatory of our long wait hasn’t ended. But the MOU does amount to the first Christmas jingles on the radio.

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