The mayoral candidates weighed in on the drama and now town council candidates are sounding off on the decision to allow swimming pools in town.
In May, the Payson Town Council unanimously agreed to lift an “as long as anyone can remember” ban on building an outdoor pool. The decision came as part of an overhaul of the town’s water impact fees. One small change, setting the rate for a pool, opened the door for new, outdoor pool construction. As it turns out, you could always build a pool because the town’s ordinance only explicitly banned above or below ground outdoor pools.
The rule therefore barred only outdoor pools. You could always build a covered or indoor pool.
Still, the move to allow outdoor pools outraged several council candidates, including Robert Lockhart, Chris Higgins and Charlene Creach Brown, as well as mayoral candidate Randy Roberson, who called it a waste of the town’s limited water supply.
The four candidates, who are running as “The Voice of Rim Country,” sounded off in a June press release, claiming the mayor snuck through the change so a friend could sell his Chaparral Pines mansion to a prospective buyer who wanted to build a pool.
Roberson even alleged Evans pressured the council to change the code and may have violated the open meeting law to do so.
Evans vehemently denies the accusations.
We wondered where the council candidates stand on the issue several months after the decision.
No surprise, councilors Su Connell, Fred Carpenter and Ed Blair, who are all running for re-election, stand behind their decision, while their challengers maintain it was a mistake.
“I am opposed to the lifting of the swimming pool ban or any other water conservation ordinance,” Brown said. “We live in a drought-ridden state and Payson is not an exception.”
The challengers maintain the council should have waited to lift the swimming pool ban until water from C.C. Cragin Reservoir (formerly Blue Ridge) was flowing to Payson, which is now projected to happen in 2015. The pipeline will give Payson an additional 3,000, acre-feet of water a year.
Until then, using the area’s water supply for such frivolous use as a pool is risky, the challengers maintain.
The incumbents disagree.
“As a town council member, I know that we have a very good supply of water,” Connell said. “Currently, we are using approximately 60 percent of the established safe yield. The completion of C.C. Cragin will provide Payson with a major source of water, enough to sustain approximately 38,500 people.”
“With work on the C.C. Cragin pipeline project progressing satisfactorily, water conservation, while still important, will not be as critical to our future,” added Carpenter. “And even though the ban on outdoor swimming pools has been lifted, I do not expect to see a mad rush to build them in Payson. Our climate is not conducive to unheated outdoor pools because of the cool nights we experience even in summer and costs go up significantly with heating.”
Higgins and Lockhart said the swimming pool ban should have at least remained in effect until water from Cragin arrived in town.
“I would have waited until the water was actually here, taken a look at the prudent allocation of this sparse commodity, considered the quality of life issues that this water could bring to the average citizen, and only then made an informed decision,” Lockhart said.
He speculated that most of the councilors were not aware they were lifting the ban on swimming pools when they voted for the ordinance. For example, the council voted to lift the ban on grass only when Cragin water is flowing. He suspects some of the councilors thought the ban on swimming pools would also end when Cragin was actually flowing.
“I am completely convinced that only the current mayor understood that the ban on pools would take effect Jan. 15, 2015,” Lockhart said.
“I feel the ban on outdoor swimming pools should have remained in place until we were closer to securing water from Blue Ridge Reservoir,” he said. “I also think the council should have known what the new ordinance said before they voted. Public statements made by certain council members clearly confirmed that this was not the case.”
Higgins is alluding to when Brown questioned Councilor John Wilson about his vote for outdoor pools when he appeared on the radio. Wilson reportedly said that swimming pools would not be permitted until the C.C. Cragin pipeline was complete, which is not the case.
Brown pointed out that the Cragin reservoir is currently only 25 percent full after dropping from nearly 50 percent over the past three months. Read more about the reservoir’s water level in Pete Aleshire’s article in today’s paper.
“It takes winter snowpack to bring that capacity back up. Conserving our water is a major priority of mine even after the C.C. Cragin pipeline and treatment plant are completed and water is flowing into Payson,” Brown said.
Council candidate Lew Levenson said the council perhaps acted too hastily adopting the new ordinance. He would have considered the matter openly and discussed any unintended consequences before voting.
Shortly after the council’s vote, Mayor Kenny Evans came out in defense of the change, saying impact fees paid for swimming pools would help pay for the pipeline.
Evans estimated it would cost about $40,000 to $50,000 in impact fees to build a swimming pool commercially. He said the town has lost resort developments in the past because of the pool ban. Residentially, would-be pool owners will have to pay an impact fee anywhere from $6,592 to $20,000, depending on the size of the pool. The pool owner will still have to pay monthly water rates to keep the pool full.
So far, only one pool permit has been pulled. The owner is paying the town $3,400 in impact fees and a $300 permit fee.
Carpenter said water conservation is still an important part of Payson’s planning, however, with the town required to pay long-term bonds for the pipeline and treatment plant, “a little more consumption is not a bad thing as it will help retire those bonds.”
But with just one pool permit so far, Brown said the impact fee from it is a drop in the bucket to cover the cost of the pipeline.
“My point is, in my mind, this move was not good for Payson and its efforts to conserve water,” she said.
Connell said as long as a business or resident follows all requirements, they should be allowed to build a pool.
Blair said he doesn’t understand why anyone would want to build a pool in Payson anyway considering their cost, maintenance and danger.