Economic Views Clash In Payson Mayor’S Race

Does Evans do too much – or not enough?

Mayoral candidates, challenger Randy Roberson and incumbent Kenny Evans.

Mayoral candidates, challenger Randy Roberson and incumbent Kenny Evans.


He hasn’t done enough.

And he’s a micromanager.

Sometimes, you just can’t win — especially during an election.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans probably figured he could base his re-election bid on the Blue Ridge pipeline, the town’s brightening economic prospects and landing a job-generating industrial park.

Instead, challenger Randy Roberson has launched a tenacious attack on the incumbent’s economic development efforts. The critique encompasses the effort to keep

one of Payson’s only manufacturing firms from leaving town, ambitious plans to support future development by expanding the town’s water supply, and even Evans’ constant, hands-on efforts to recruit new businesses.

“We will continue to work prudently and diligently with anybody in the community that can step forward and help us protect jobs,” said Evans, noting that he’s spent hundreds of hours helping find a site for an ammunition maker to expand in Payson — an effort that resulted in the current move to annex the Fox Farm and surrounding Forest Service land in Granite Dells. “If through this process someone surfaced with a better site, I’d be thrilled. Tell them to call. This was getting started. We know that if we never started we would never end.”

Evans said that finalizing the deal to nearly triple the town’s long-term water supply through the Blue Ridge pipeline, bring a university to Payson and recruiting an increasing number of new businesses have laid the foundation for the town’s revival.

“You don’t harvest a crop before you plant it,” said Evans, “you’ve got to plant it and cultivate it — then you can start thinking about a harvest. Unfortunately for novices on the outside looking in, they want to measure what you’re harvesting, not what you’re cultivating.”

He said work on the water supply and job-producing businesses like the university and the industrial park have laid a strong foundation for Payson’s growth to a diverse population of 40,000. He said he has generally worked 60 hours a week or more during his whole tenure to lay that groundwork.

“We have so many projects so close to being finished. If we don’t do what we need to do now, in 20 years we’ll be licking our wounds and we’ll still have a population of 15,000. What you say and what you can demonstrate you can do are very often incredibly different things.”

But Roberson said Mayor Evans has tried to micromanage the town and cut too many deals. “I’m just raising questions. I think we need a lot more detail before we start making important decisions. I’ve heard many concerns about the annexation (of the Fox Farm for an industrial park). I’m not opposed to bringing that property into the town limits, but I’m not sure industrial uses are the best use for it.”

The owners of the ammunition manufacturing plant have given Evans personal credit for first bringing them to town and then finding a property to allow them to stay in town. However, Roberson said that’s not really the mayor’s role.

He said the town should help businesses — but that the mayor should refer questions and negotiations to the town staff instead of getting so deeply involved.

“I’m not absolutely convinced it’s the mayor’s job to do this. We have a planning and zoning department. We have various staff in the town of Payson. I don’t think it’s the mayor’s job to be out trying to swing deals. Granted, there are times where questions would be asked of the mayor. I think basically, it’s more a matter of a need for the mayor to refer them to the various town staff. We have too much micromanagement.

“I think the problem isn’t that the mayor saved (the ammunition makers) — the problem is that we didn’t have a system set up to embrace business coming to town.”

The clash in philosophy and approach runs throughout the positions of the contenders on issues of economic development and job growth. The issues have gained urgency at the tail end of an economic downturn that slashed town revenues by 60 percent, laid waste to the once booming construction industry and for years turned the local business climate into an episode of “Survivor.”

The campaign comes amidst signs of a turnaround, including a rush of new businesses, an uptick in the housing market, a rise in town revenues, the start of construction on the Blue Ridge pipeline and progress toward selecting a site for the university.

So here’s a summary of key contrasts on economic development issues:

Industrial Park

Roberson has raised fresh questions about Evans’ advocacy for construction of an 80-acre industrial park surrounded by Forest Service land in Granite Dells, a popular recreational area. Star Valley has de-annexed 760 acres of surrounding public land and Payson has already annexed it.

Evans spent a year quietly helping Advanced Tactical Armament Concepts (ATAC), makers of HPR Ammunition, look for a property that would accommodate not just the ammunition maker’s need for a 100,000-square-foot facility with dimension necessary to allow for test firing of ammunition for quality control, but a home for two or three other industrial firms as well.

ATAC has in the past five years expanded from seven to 60 employees and expects it could expand to 100 to 200 in a new location. The other firms could bring the jobs provided by the industrial park to 200 to 400. ATAC asked Evans to sign a confidentiality agreement about its plans for expansion.

ATAC officials in a series of confrontational public hearings said they would have moved to Texas without Evans’ help — and insisted no other industrially zoned property in town would work for them.

However, Roberson said the site has many problems and he’d rather see the facility located at Doll Baby Ranch or on existing industrially zoned property by the airport. In fact, he said ATAC at one point offered to buy two parcels totaling 100 acres near the airport for $1.7 million, before negotiations broke down. He suggested this demonstrated they could have built in town instead of Granite Dells.

“If it’s unacceptable, then why were they offering to buy it? I’m just raising questions. I agree people should be allowed to pursue things they want to pursue. The concerns are how it affects neighboring property owners. I am not opposed to what they want to do. I do think we can find an answer that will work for them. I think we need to have more information up front as we go.”

But Evans said that without intense effort, the town would have lost a crucial source of jobs. “We would have lost the company. Micromanaging is a term of the trade that has been so abused. If they think we’re micromanaging, they’re just lost in the forest. We know we’ve got a lot of new businesses. We know we’ve put the infrastructure in place — all the things that make it possible for the next generation to look at Payson and say, ‘that’s a place I want to go.’”

Development Fees

Payson recently dropped its impact fees from about $10,000 per house to about $6,500 per house, mostly in response to changes in state law. The town cut the water impact fee from $7,500 per house to about $6,500 per house. Originally, Payson hoped to cover most of the roughly $50 million in Blue Ridge pipeline costs with water impact fees on new construction. Those fees raised nearly $10 million before the collapse of the housing market dried up the flow of money. That money plus nearly $10 million in federal grants and loans covered the first roughly $20 million in pipeline costs. The town still has to finance $30 million in pipeline costs.

Roberson says the town should repeal all the impact fees, which he believes discourage new businesses from locating in Payson.

“I do think that we need to be far more friendly and cooperative with business trying to come to town. We need to look back over the last 20 years and take a look at what we’ve done to inhibit growth. We implemented these development impact fees that have never generated significant revenues. Past administrations implemented them as a deterrent to growth. As such, we have stalled our growth significantly.”

Evans disagreed vehemently, saying that the repeal of the remaining $6,500 per house water impact fee would do nothing to spur growth — but could result in a doubling of town water rates.

“It would be catastrophic. We probably wouldn’t be able to get the funding and if we did get the funding, we’d have to double our water rates.”

He said if the town borrows $30 million to finish the pipeline, the total payback over the course of 30 to 50 years would come to about $60 million. If Payson reaches the build out population of 40,000 envisioned in the general plan, the town will need to add some 10,000 homes. The impact fees on those homes would generate about $60 million — enough to cover the long-term cost of the pipeline. Since the town needs the water to accommodate future growth — the impact fees make sense, he said.

“We know we can add another 17,000, 18,000, 20,000 people and we’re done. Those people will be paying into the system to buy into what is one of the most successfully negotiated water settlement solutions in the entire state of Arizona. So, yes, they ought to pay a premium to come in and enjoy what we have built.”

By contrast, rural competitors for growth throughout Arizona face water shortages and huge costs. Flagstaff has a plan that would cost $3.3 billion and Prescott Valley a $1 billion project. “They continue to hang onto the hope that the federal government or the state government is going to come along and write them a check — but it just isn’t going to happen,” said Evans.

As a result, when competing towns impose growth limits because they’ve run out of water — Payson’s edge will count for far more than the $6,500 per house impact fee, said Evans.

Water Supply

Roberson has tenaciously challenged a key claim the town has made in the past six years: Blue Ridge will provide Payson with enough water to sustain a build out population of 40,000 — a calculation based on building all the available land to the maximum densities allowed by the general plan. The approval of the general plan prepared by consultants and aired in a series of public hearings is also on the ballot for the primary election. The overhaul involves relatively minor changes in proposed land use, with an increase in maximum densities and increased flexibility for major developments involving a variety of uses and densities.

Roberson insists the town has manipulated estimates of the amount of water underground and the amount of water flowing into the water table in an average year, while understating the amount of water drawn out of some wells — particularly the Tower Well in Star Valley.

“I don’t think our water infrastructure can handle 40,000 people, even with the pipeline. Growth is inevitable. We can’t turn our back on that. We have to embrace it and we have to manage it carefully, not only for the economy — but we’ve got to very carefully manage the resources,” said Roberson.

He offered no direct evidence to support the contention that the town has manipulated or distorted its “safe yield” numbers — an estimate of the amount of water that flows into the water table in an average year. He said the response of private wells close to the Tower Well shows that Payson has pumped far more water from that well than it admits.

Consultants and hydrologists have put Payson’s “safe yield” at about 2,400 acre-feet annually. Some 600 acre-feet of that estimate comes from the area from which the Tower Well draws water. The town currently pumps far less than that from the Tower Well, according to water department records.

Currently, the town uses about 1,800 acre-feet annually, which includes use of the Tower Well. However, town records show that well levels have remained stable for the past four or five years, suggesting that even during the drought the 16,000 residents of Payson can use about 1,800 acre-feet without depleting the underground supply.

The Blue Ridge pipeline will eventually deliver an additional 3,000 acre-feet annually. Estimates suggest the town can rely entirely on the Blue Ridge water for nine months of the year and still put about 1,000 acre-feet of Blue Ridge water into the water table annually. In addition, most of the natural rainfall will recharge the water table during the months the pipeline operates.

Evans said, “We currently have 16,000 people using 1,500 acre-feet. If we just use the same amount — 1/10th of an acre-foot per capita per year — we could supply 55,000 people, even if the average water use increases by 25 percent. And all that’s before you ever cut into safe yield.”

Vision of the future

Asked to describe the Payson he envisions in 20 years, Roberson said, “I see the Main Street that we’ve all believed could eventually be here. I see the college becoming a reality. I see our service sector rebounding. I see us becoming much better stewards. I see Payson becoming much more of a tourist destination. I’d love to be able to bring more industry — green industry. We’re actually an ideal location for vineyards. Warm days and cool nights. Payson could still be a destination for wine tasting. Retail outlets. This is not based on hypothesis, but on what other people are successfully doing in other parts of the state.”

Asked the same question, Evans replied, “I see a true 21st century community. I see us with a great mix of senior citizens, but not a Sun City West. We will have a mix of young people who will make the town vibrant and bring the things we want to town to improve the quality of life. We will have a working middle class, which we don’t have today. We can provide the support to have children and grandchildren return to the community and make a decent wage. I see us recruiting and bringing in high-end health care, a plethora of health care providers and telemedicine — so we’ll be exporting medical expertise over the Internet to the intermountain west. I see a community that embraces our diversity and at the same time remembers what makes this nation great — civil discourse without attacking one another because we want a different outcome.”


Robbin Flowers 2 years, 4 months ago

The biggest problem that I see with the Fox Farm situation is that is was kept secret to make sure no one else could come in and "bid" a higher price for the property. That is altering the property values of Payson and keeping the price of the highly valuable commercial property suppressed. What if a housing developer would have paid a higher price for that property? Is this advantage going to members of a certain Church? What if another business in town was willing to bid a higher price? Why should they have been kept out of the bidding process? This is called "red lining" if I remember the term correctly.

"We will have a mix of young people who will make the town vibrant and bring the things we want to town to improve the quality of life." Not with the way the village is raising the children now by blocking resources to the parents and allowing the PUBLIC school to be sold off for a fraction of the value after the tax payers invested so much. That is the most EVIL act I have ever personally witnessed in my life!


John Naughton 2 years, 4 months ago

The Fox Farm property has been on the market for years


Pat Randall 2 years, 4 months ago

Robin, You are trying to get back on the religion kick that you like to use so much. It is a free country and anyone can belong to the church of their choice. We may not like all the members in our church or approve of what they do, but it is not up to us to judge.


Barbra White 2 years, 4 months ago

You can't worship one homeless man on Sunday and ignore/belittle another on Monday...time for change. I agree...young people needed!!


Pat Randall 2 years, 4 months ago

Robbin, The town does not own the schools. The schools are under the PUSD. The school board controls them. They are the ones who sold the school, not the town.


Art Goodoy 2 years, 4 months ago

"ATAC at one point offered to buy two parcels totaling 100 acres near the airport for $1.7 million, before negotiations broke down."

Mayor Evan's and ATAC have been lying to us all. This whole deal stinks of corruption.


Barbara Buntin 2 years, 4 months ago

When Mayor Evans says that the Blue Ridge pipeline is “ one of the most successfully negotiated water settlement solutions in the entire state of Arizona“ he is absolutely right. His vision, contacts and experience will probably keep Payson from drying up. This is what allows the university and other growth to happen. It is a major accomplishment.

I’m sure Randy is a nice, well intentioned fellow, but Mayor Evans, for all his faults, has the drive, the vision, and the right experience to move Payson forward. What he envisions for the future of Payson shows a far better understanding of the world ahead.


don evans 2 years, 4 months ago

All I will say at this point is, read the Town Ethics Policy on the Town Web site.


Rex Hinshaw 2 years, 4 months ago

Art, Calling the Mayor and ATAC corrupt liars....I hope you have proof...and a good attorney. Robbin, Please stay on your meds.


Art Goodoy 2 years, 4 months ago

The proof is that ATAC claimed there is no other location that they could build a new plant. They claim the Granite Dells is the only site suitable for their operation. We know know that ATAC made an offer to buy 100 acres up near the airport. Why would they offer to buy it if it wasn't suitable? Don't take my word for it. Read the articles posted on this website. All the evidence is there.

Since you brought up proof... We have yet to see any proof that Texas really offered ATAC $200 million dollars in fund loans to move their plant to TX. Where is the proof of that? Mayor Evan's is fighting hard to keep the plant in town, but we don't have any proof that they have anywhere else to go. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. But I have not seen a single document with the state seal of Texas printed across the top. Have you?


Pat Randall 2 years, 4 months ago

Barbara, I don't know what you people don't understand about Craigin water. The town and Buzz Walker has been working on it for years. Saying evans did it is wrong. Like saying after you are baking a pie and someone comes and takes it out of the oven and gets credit for a great pie.


Robbin Flowers 2 years, 4 months ago

Pat, "It is a free country and anyone can belong to the church of their choice. We may not like all the members in our church or approve of what they do, but it is not up to us to judge." I agree anyone can belong to the church of their choice, Lucifer included.

It is not OK to continuously build up only member's of ones church with the tax dollars that came from members of all churches! That is for me to make transparent and open for all to see, you call it "judging," I call it telling the truth and dragging the Luciferian BS out of the closet. These "dark markets and systems" are going the hell they belong in!



robert young 2 years, 4 months ago

For almost five years I've been going out Granite Dells road to the Fox Farm area on a regular basis. I've often wondered why nobody has put that land to use. Now a private enterprise wants to make purchase of private land for a development which requires annexation in order to provide needed services. The land has been sitting empty. Now somebody wants to utilize it to expand a business that will provide more jobs for a town that, frankly, needs every single one it can create. Those who are employed and the manufacturer will contribute to the town's tax base. To make it simple: Jobs are good. Increased tax revenues are good. Working with businesses to help them grow is good. Enough with the juvenile conspiracy theories.


Pat Randall 2 years, 4 months ago

Robbin, Why don't you put some proof of all the crap you put to on here? Just because you have a wild idea it doesn't make it true. Proof lady, proof.


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.