For the first time in years, voters actually have a choice of candidates for the Northern Gila County Sanitary District board.
Three outsiders upset about impact fees and transparency have challenged a tight-knit group of incumbents.
Shirley Dye, Gary Bedsworth and Greg Friestad have pooled their resources to unseat Pat Underwood, LaRon Garrett and Guy Pfister.
The challengers say the public needs far more information about how the board has accumulated more than $14 million from impact fees imposed on homes and businesses that need to hook up to the sewer system, with an annual operating surplus of about $700,000. The challengers maintain the impact fees
have contributed to the collapse of the building industry in Rim Country and the sanitation district board should focus on increasing economic growth.
The Roundup will delve further into these issues in Tuesday’s edition, including what the district’s general manager sees as the biggest issue facing the district. Today, we offer an introduction of the candidates in a race vital to the region’s future.
The incumbents say they are surprised by the challengers’ concerns, especially coming from individuals that have never attended a board meeting.
Moreover, the incumbents all said they have received few complaints from customers about a safe, efficient system that has amassed enough money to grow without burdening current users.
And that’s where the candidates agree. All say the district, which provides sewer service to nearly every home and business in Payson, has a strong track record and is exceptionally run.
But the challengers wonder if the district could do more.
With storefronts and restaurants sitting empty for years, they wonder if the sanitary district’s fees have contributed to the problem.
Still, they’re often vague on the details in their bids for a low-profile office that has for years failed to produce a single contested race. In many past elections, voters had to actually go to the district’s office to vote, since the race didn’t appear on the regular ballot. This year, the contest will hit the general election ballot — which should dramatically increase vote tallies.
This time, the challengers say they hope to shed light on the district’s operations.
For instance, Friestad said although he’s sure fees of some $5,400 for a new house hookup are too high now, he’s not sure how much business should pay.
Still, with $14.5 million in the bank “and an average operating income surplus of $668,000 for the last five years, we should be able to reduce impact fees without sacrificing the quality of present and future service,” he said.
The incumbents all said they are open to discussing the rates and hearing any suggestions. Still, no one has ever approached the board with a new fee proposal.
“If people have concerns, ask questions. We are very open — we aren’t hiding anything,” Garrett said. “We don’t like to charge anymore than we absolutely have to.”
Bedsworth said he is not questioning anyone on the board, but believes change is needed. For too long, fees — adopted years before any of the incumbents joined the board — have gone undisputed. For too long, businesses have had to pay too much to hook up. And for too long, the board has gone unquestioned, he said.
Dye has vowed to ask the tough questions and make the necessary changes.
Ask away, the incumbents have retorted.
“Everyone has the best interests of the community in mind,” Pfister said. “We have had a really solid team of people with nothing but good intentions.”
• Past president of the Restaurant Association in Lee County, Fla.
• Bachelor’s degree in business from Michigan State University
• Payson resident eight years
• Vice chairman of Planning & Zoning Commission and Northern Gila County Fair
• Chairman of Mayor’s Water Task Force
• President of Pinion Ridge Property Owners Association
• Founding board member of Payson Fly Casters & Trout Unlimited Chapter #530
“They (the NGCSD) are flush with money, but I don’t think they are cooperating with the total environment of the community.”
• Roughly 15 years in sanitation administration with a sewer contractor
• Member of Payson Transportation Advisory Board and vice president of local Tea Party
“The restaurants are having a horrible time because impact fees are so high.” I want to find out if those can be changed.
• Engineering manager with Qwest Communications for 25 years
•Appointed rural addressing coordinator for Gila County
• Started Northern Arizona Blue Stake Utility Locating
• Served on Payson Planning and Zoning Commission six years and Gila County Commission two years
• Payson resident 33 years
“The main reason I am running is because I think the fees are too high. With $14.5 million in the bank and an average operating surplus of $668,000 for the last five years, we should be able to reduce impact fees without sacrificing the quality of present and future service.”
LaRon Garrett - incumbent
• Appointed to board eight years ago and worked in private civil engineering consulting 14 years
• Hired by Town of Payson in 1994 as town engineer, currently Payson’s public works director — responsible for streets and roads and water departments
• Civil and environmental engineering degree from Utah State University
“If people have concerns they should ask questions. We are very open — we aren’t hiding anything.”
Patrick Underwood - incumbent
• Appointed to board two years ago
• Serves on Mogollon Sporting Association
• Town of Payson Board of Adjustments and Payson resident 35 years
• Former restaurant owner, real estate developer
“I am a pro-growth kind of guy.”
Guy Pfister- incumbent
• Appointed to board six years ago
• Former president of the Rim Country Hospice Foundation
• Owned commercial refrigeration company Service Plus
• Former Realtor and chef
“We have had a really solid team of people with nothing but good intentions ... I have been in town long enough to know that (the NGCSD is) extremely well run.”