Cowboy up, freeloaders.
That’s the hard-nosed message the Payson Town Council delivered last week to a bunch of horse lovers who have been holding events for the saddled set for the past 45 years.
The Mogollon Montoneras gymkhana backers came with cowboy hats in hand last week to the council, hoping the town would waive $2,550 in newly-imposed fees to use the Payson Event Center arena.
The Montoneras have staged six gymkhanas at the rodeo grounds annually for years, but the town has only now sought a fee.
Local riders participate in the gymkhana, one of the most visible outriders of the horse-oriented groups that used to play a prominent role in Payson when ranching was king and the town reveled in its reputation as the host of the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo.
In fact, Payson got its start a century ago because all the cattle ranches in the region herded their semi-wild herds out of the surrounding mountains and gathered them in the grassy flats around Payson for the spring roundup — before driving them to railheads at either Winslow or Phoenix. Those rowdy gatherings of cowboys led to the founding of Payson and the launch of the Payson Rodeo, still going strong.
However, tourism and retirees have largely displaced the ranching set in the regional economy, where only a few working cattle ranches survive.
However, the gymkhanas have drawn old ranch families and local horse lovers to the rodeo grounds for decades.
The group charges low fees, but uses most of those fees for prize money.
However, last week the long tradition ran into a new austerity, as Payson continues to scramble for ways to make up for a steep drop in sales tax revenue as a result of the ongoing downturn.
Three years ago, the town used to frequently waive town fees for charity groups — and even provided annual subsidies for many charity groups in town.
However, the town council has shut down most of the subsidies.
The Mogollon Montoneras got the latest lesson in the new austerity, following in the chastened footsteps of Payson Community Kids and Habitat for Humanity — which this year faced unexpected cutoffs from the town’s previously laid-back fee policy for worthy causes.
Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Cameron Davis recommended that the council impose fees totaling $2,555 on the group this year. That would include a refundable security deposit of $250, a $900 arena fee (to cover six days), a $150 fee to prepare the arena, a $160 fee for lighting and $1,080 for a water truck and driver — presumably to keep dust down in the uncovered arena.
Gymkhana organizers appealed in vain for at least another year to get ready for the fees, since participants aren’t used to paying them yet.
However, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said participants can afford the fee, if it’s spread over the six events and the 30 to 50 participants.
Even if the group gets just 30 contestants at each of the six events, the fee would only amount to about $12 each, he calculated.
The town council then unanimously rejected the groups request for a fee waiver.