Star Valley will spend $240,000 in federal grant funds to make flood and safety improvements on a portion of Moonlight Drive and in upgrading Pinon Drive.
The council on Tuesday shuffled its priorities for spending of the federal money and dropped flood control improvements on Quail Hollow Drive to the bottom of its priority list.
The Community Block Grant Development funds are intended to help cities and towns help low-income residents. Payson generally spends its block grant money on things like rehabilitation of low-income housing and reducing neighborhood blight.
However, Town Manager Tim Grier assured the council during its meeting that the town remains free to use the money on things like street improvements, since most of Star Valley qualifies as a lower-income area under the federal guidelines.
The council made a roughly $100,000 project to improve a 4,000-foot-long stretch of Pinon Drive in the Diamond Point area its top priority. The money would pay for paving, widening, and improvements to remove the deep ditches on both sides of the curbless road.
The council made the $125,000 project to pave, widen and improve about half of Moonlight Drive its second highest priority.
Grier said that with the completion of those two projects, Star Valley will have paved 90 percent of the dirt roads it inherited from Gila County when the town incorporated six years ago.
Several council members wondered aloud whether it was a good idea to spend the federal low-income grant money on street repairs. Normally, the town uses gas tax Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) money passed along by the state to fund road improvements.
However, the state reduced HURF payments to cities and towns by about 18 percent this year and is devoting a growing percentage of the gas tax money to providing money for the state Department of Public Safety.
Grier said “HURF is declining and it looks like a continuing trend — the robbing of HURF money for cities and towns. (The Legislature) used to apologize as they picked your pocket, but now they no longer do.”
The council wrestled with setting the priorities, since Quail Hollow also suffers from erosion and flooding problems in heavy rains.
However, Grier and the town engineer insisted that narrow, heavily-trafficked Pinon should remain the top priority.
“This is the most important road in terms of the danger factor and erosion,” said Joe Janusz, town building official.
Councilor Vern Leis asked whether the $100,000 cost estimate included research on easements and property lines along the road.
The engineering consultant said “that’s opening a can of worms” and that the bid made the assumption that the road easement included the whole stretch between the fences on each side of the existing roadway.
But Leis objected to that assumption. “You can’t go from an eight-foot-wide road to 16 feet and have all the fences be equidistant. We could be rather surprised when we start doing construction. You could get halfway up the road and say ‘oops’ gotta make this eight-foot jog.”
The council ultimately approved the priority list, but said the town should spend the several thousand dollars necessary to do a title search along the right-of-way.
“That’s probably money well spent,” said Councilor George Binney of the right-of-way title search.
The council also debated whether to remove Quail Hollow from the priority list and replace it with one final flood-prone crossing on Moonlight Drive.
However, Grier said the town hadn’t done the necessary studies needed to get that Moonlight Drive crossing added to the approved list of projects prior to the federal deadline for committing the funds.
Besides, he said, the town needed a back-up project on the approved priority list like Quail Hollow in case the bids came in low or something prevented the town from going forward with one of the higher priority projects.
“You can’t add a new project at this point and there’s no strategic advantage to leaving Quail Hollow off,” said Grier.
In the end, the council approved the priority list unanimously.