Payson and Star Valley’s cozy new good neighbor policy took another step forward last week.
The Payson Town Council unanimously approved a plan to rent Star Valley a building inspector, to complete inspections of the lone house under construction.
Star Valley lost its building inspector this week and hoped Payson would both complete inspections of its only construction project and talk about taking over building and plan approvals on a contract basis.
Payson Town Manager Debra Galbraith suggested charging Star Valley $20 an hour, to cover the Payson building inspector’s hourly rate and drive time.
However, several town council members said that sounded too low and thought the charge should include enough to cover a pro-rata share of the building inspector’s benefits. Typically, benefit costs add about 30 percent to the hourly cost of a worker with good benefits.
“I selected that out of my head: Maybe it was the wrong number,” said Galbraith.
“We need to make sure we cover all our costs,” said Councilor Richard Croy.
Galbraith observed that the town would pay the building inspector’s benefit costs whether he inspected a house in Star Valley or not. In Payson, the recession dropped the workload of the planning and zoning and building departments from about 300 houses annually to more like 30 houses.
The conversation continued inconclusively for a time, before Payson Mayor Kenny Evans observed that the agreement for inspecting the single house in question amounted to “a few hundred dollars.”
With that, the council unanimously approved the temporary agreement — leaving it to Galbraith to fill in the hourly rate.
In the meantime, the council also approved talks with Star Valley about making the arrangement permanent.
Star Valley incorporated five years ago, mostly to prevent neighboring Payson from buying up wells that many residents feared would drain Star Valley’s water table. Subsequent studies convinced most Star Valley councilors that Payson’s pumping from the infamous Tower Well poses no threat.
In fact, in a remarkable political shift, the Star Valley Town Council in the past year has joined with Payson to form the Rim Country Educational Alliance to bring a university to the region and even bought three unused Payson wells. Payson signed an agreement promising back-up water in an emergency and Star Valley last week decided it has so much water that it doesn’t even need to buy into Payson’s Blue Ridge pipeline.
Star Valley has managed to float through the recession and lingering downturn as Payson has struggled to cut costs, largely because it has a reliable source of income from photo-radar speeding tickets. Star Valley also has minimal public services and no sales or property tax. The town contracts with Gila County for police protection and relies on the independent Hellsgate Fire Department for fire protection.
An almost entirely residential town of about 3,500, Star Valley has only a handful of sales-tax-generating businesses along the highway, but has nonetheless weathered the downturn without even tapping deeply into its longstanding surplus.