Current economic indicators for the Town of Payson can be reviewed as follows:
• The Town has a declining population that is down nearly 17 percent from prior years.
• Real estate primary assessed valuation is down 7.1 percent from the previous year. Resale homes for sale number in the 250-300 range, with most homes selling for less than $200K. The market for homes over $200K is stagnant. New home construction is almost non-existent.
• 75 percent of students in the Payson Unified School District are under the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Programs, which means their family’s annual income must be less than $30,000 to qualify.
• Although the town’s water supply is adequate for the current population, the Town is engaged in a $32 million-plus dollar construction project (Blue Ridge Reservoir) to support a future population of 40,000. The Town hopes to pay for perhaps 20 percent of this project with water impact fees generated through the construction of an ASU facility. By now, what are the odds of this happening? And when? Meanwhile, the remaining cost of this project with or without ASU will be borne by the current 15,000 residents through higher water rates.
• Recent attendance numbers for Gila Community College reflect a significant decline compared to a year ago. Will this mean higher tuition and property tax rates to pay for remaining overhead?
• The Northern Gila County Sanitary District is proposing to increase property tax and their monthly rates to pay for expanding their facility to also support a population of 40,000. Is this really needed at this time?
• The PUSD has already spent $35 million for new school facilities for which the Secondary Property Tax Rate will increase 22 percent over the next five years as the current rate is for interest only and does not include principal repayment.
• The main shopping areas are on the Beeline and 260 highways. Meanwhile, the west end of Main Street has mostly empty retail storefronts with buildings for rent or sale. What are the odds for this area to ever evolve into a successful tourist attraction and historic district as thought by the town council? And at what cost?
• Per recent reports, the Town’s revenue, general fund and grants, is just covering expenses even after significant reductions in spending levels. Regardless, the town council wants to spend $200, 000 for more land use planning. If this money is available, how about spending it on seal coating on some of our deteriorating streets?
None of these economic indicators bode well for the future of current Payson residents. Decisions that have been or are in the process of being made by the mayor and town council, the Payson Unified School District, and the Northern Gila County Sanitary District are going to increase significantly the cost of living to Payson residents, now and well into the future with little assurance of any near term benefit.
Lower income families and retirees on fixed incomes will experience these increases through increased property taxes, water, sewer and rental rates and probable assessments for services. Perhaps to the extent of them not being able to afford to live here?
The desire to improve the economy of Payson is commendable. In the past, the influx of retirees and resultant new home construction was the driver of the economy. If the ASU project is ever attained, will it fully replace, as thought, the portion of the economy lost by the demise of home construction? Will the future population growth be enough on a timely basis to pay for all of the project expansion? Will there even be future population growth versus the current population decline?
What are the answers to these questions? What is the opinion of Payson residents?
Jim Hippel, M.B.A./C.P.A. (retired)