Payson demonstrated its statewide clout with the election of Mayor Kenny Evans to the Arizona League of Cities and Towns executive board and the unanimous adoption of two resolutions the town sponsored.
Evans was elected to a second, two-year term on the 25-member executive committee of the organization that represents 75 of the state’s 90 cities.
The representatives gathered at a Tucson resort last weekend and supported two key resolutions co-sponsored by Payson — one to encourage solar energy projects and a second to dramatically increase the pace of forest restoration efforts.
The “Solar Garden” resolution asked the Arizona Corporation Commission to repeal restrictions on backyard solar energy projects.
Currently, homeowners who put solar arrays on their property often sell any excess power they generate to the electric utility that has the ACC-granted monopoly to serve that area.
Instead, the Solar Garden concept would allow homeowners to connect to solar arrays on a neighbor’s property so they can share any excess power.
The city representatives unanimously endorsed Payson’s plea to loosen the current restrictions. Payson has played a key role in developing regulations concerning solar and geothermal projects as a result of its plans to build an energy self-sufficient college campus, which would include a solar array that would generate about 7.5 megawatts of power.
Payson also asked other cities to urge the federal government to move quickly to begin the large-scale thinning of millions of acres of overgrown, fire-prone forests in northern Arizona.
Once again, the Payson resolution won unanimous support from the gathering of town representatives.
The resolution cited as a model the 4-Forests Restoration Initiative (4-FRI), which would offer timber companies long-term contracts to harvest millions of trees less than 16-inches in diameter throughout a dense swath of ponderosa pine forests running from the Grand Canyon to New Mexico, including all of Rim Country.
The 4-FRI approach rose from a coalition that included key environmental groups, timber industry representatives, local officials, foresters and forest researchers from Northern Arizona University and elsewhere. The group agreed on the urgent need to use the timber industry to affordably thin millions of acres now prone to catastrophic crown fires during the hot dry months of the year.
This summer’s 733-square-mile Wallow Fire in the White Mountains galvanized support for that approach. Firefighters credit small-scale thinning projects similar to the 4-FRI approach with saving Alpine, Springerville and Greer from the ferocious crown fire.
Three years ago, only a shift in the winds saved Beaver Valley and Whispering Pines in Rim Country from the Water Wheel Fire, which roared through brush-choked slopes that had not burned in nearly a century.
Payson Councilor John Wilson said he felt encouraged by the conference — mostly by conversations with council members from other towns who lamented their deep budget cuts and collapsed local economies.
“We’re all facing the same problems, but our town is doing better than most of them. We have such a wonderful town, where people really come forward to help,” said Wilson.
Payson has resorted to only a handful of layoffs in the past three years, while actually increasing fire department staffing.
The town has done things like shut down town hall on Fridays, freezing salaries and postponing even routine street maintenance and construction. As a result, the town has avoided the deep cuts and broad layoffs that have affected many other cities despite a sharp drop in sales tax and building permit revenues.
Nationally, local governments have cut about 500,000 jobs since the start of the recession, according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor — far more than either the federal or state governments. Federal employment has declined by about 1 percent, state government by about 2 percent and local government by about 6 percent.
Evans said that several members of the Payson Youth Advisory Council attended the session in Tucson.
“I was most pleased. We had one of the best entourages of young people in the