Payson ‘Takes The Fright Out’ Of Star Valley’S Water Deal

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In the event of an emergency, Payson has agreed to provide backup water and help to Star Valley.

The Star Valley Town Council lauded the agreement Tuesday night, Jan. 17, as the next step in the town’s development and working relationship with Payson.

The town plans on May 1 to take over the Payson Water Company in Star Valley from Brooke Utilities. The town will run the 360-hookup system and is in the process of establishing water ordinances and rates. One of the requirements is having water available in an emergency and an operator on duty around the clock. Star Valley does not have the work force or resources, but Payson has agreed to supply both when needed.

Earlier this month, the Payson council approved an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) where Payson would pump water to Star Valley and respond to after-hours calls when Star Valley’s water operator is unavailable.

Behind the scenes, Payson’s staff has also helped Star Valley work through the technicalities of establishing a water department.

Creating a water department and purchasing the water company have been complicated and labor intensive, said Star Valley’s Town Manager and Attorney Tim Grier. The help offered by Payson’s staff has been instrumental in the purchase, creation of a water rate structure and establishing rules and regulations.

“They have been really helpful in giving guidance throughout,” he said.

Star Valley Councilor Vern Leis, who helped negotiate the sale with Brooke, said Payson’s assistance has been incredible.

“My hat, and I think all of ours, should be off to the council, Mayor (Kenny) Evans and all of his support group up there. They have simply stepped forward and assisted us in every way possible,” Leis said. “Building rate structures and trying to figure out how to manage this business is a little bit on the scary side and they have taken pretty much all of the fright out of that by saying we have staff available… Their staff has leaned over backwards to answer questions and make us water smart.”

Payson will charge Star Valley $30 an hour per worker and 25 percent over cost for materials purchased.

Water and assistance would stop if it affected Payson’s resources.

“In the event that Payson does not have sufficient labor, equipment or materials, the needs of Payson’s water system shall be met prior to Payson having any obligation to respond to a request by Star Valley,” states the IGA.

Grier has tentatively hired a full-time water operator who will start three weeks before the May 1 takeover of Brooke.

“He cannot respond for every incident,” Grier said. “As a small town, it is cost prohibitive for us to hire enough people to offer around the clock service. Payson already has the staff in place and has agreed to offer assistance when needed. They have agreed, and I believe, that we are indebted to them for doing this.” In the past two years, there have been a few after-hours calls, Grier said.

While the IGA with Payson is set, the final signature needed for the sale of the water company is pending.

Gila County Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill has yet to sign off on the ‘friendly’ condemnation sale, although Grier expects he will sign it soon.

The town has signed a memorandum of understanding meanwhile with Brooke’s president Robert Hardcastle.

“It is a done deal, we are just waiting for Judge Cahill’s signature,” Grier said.

Leis presented a tentative rate plan to the council several weeks ago that raises water rates roughly 20 percent for most users. Leis and Grier defended the plan saying the increases were needed to cover new taxes and system improvements.

It has been 10 years since water users had a rate increase.

On Tuesday, water rates were off the table as the council held the first reading of an ordinance establishing water rules and regulations.

Water rates were absent from the ordinance for a reason, Grier said.

Because water rates are expected to change, including them in the ordinance could be costly. That is because any change to an ordinance requires two public hearings and publication in the paper, which runs more than $1,000.

The council will vote on water rates later in a resolution, he said.

Tuesday’s first reading of the general provisions for the water company raised no public comment. Councilor George Binney made a few changes to the document, including a recommendation to remove mention of development fees.

In April, Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law impact fee bill 1525 that redefines what fees cities can charge developers to help pay for new public services needed to meet growth. The League of Arizona Cities and Towns has yet to make a final recommendation on how cities will meet the law. Grier said once CAAG does, the town would adopt an ordinance accordingly.

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