Federal money will restore three-man crews on fire trucks
The third time was the charm for the Payson Fire Department. After several unsuccessful bids, the fire department received word Monday it will get a $784,600 federal grant to hire six new firefighters. Payson is the second Arizona fire department to receive a Staffing For Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. In May, Hellsgate Fire in Star Valley got $607,000 through the federal grant. Both departments plan to use the money to retain or hire more firefighters.
Property values down. Property taxes up. Once again, beleaguered homeowners are caught in a disorienting trap, as local government agencies ramp up the property tax rate to compensate for a sag in property values and a loss of state support. The Payson Town Council Thursday night became the latest governing board to raise the property tax rate — although the town’s cut of the property tax bill is so small that most homeowners won’t notice the increase.
An initiative to extend the one-cent sales tax for education has gathered more than enough signatures to qualify for November’s ballot, say backers. In response, the president of the Arizona State Senate released a statement opposing the Quality Education and Jobs initiative, “... I am confident that as the facts become more known about the shortcomings of this initiative and risks of raising taxes ... Arizonans will vote this down and work for real reforms and accountability that our students and parents deserve,” wrote Senate President Steve Pierce.
Backers of the plan to build a university in campus in Payson held a town hall meeting Wednesday, hoping to shore up public support and raise money needed to pay the steep costs of getting the Forest Service to agree to sell a 300-acre chunk of land. Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said campus advocates would meet in Payson with representatives for Arizona State University next week in hopes of salvaging an agreement to build an ASU campus here. ASU had proposed a deal that the Rim Country Educational Alliance (SLE) has rejected based on finances.
Layoffs averted — cost of town’s operations remains little changed and slew of police department vacancies
The Payson Town Council on Tuesday adopted a budget that avoids threatened layoffs and boosts town spending significantly — mostly as a result of the start of construction of the $34 million Blue Ridge pipeline. Town spending will most likely increase to about $14 million, a hefty a 60 percent jump from this year’s projected year-end total of $8.7 million. However, a $4 million increase in spending on the pipeline accounts for the vast majority of the projected increase. That money comes from federal grants and loans and saved-up impact fees.
Numbers reflect 12 percent jump in local sales tax revenues
Sales in Payson so far this year have risen a heartening 12 percent, according to the town’s financial tracking report for April. Moreover, the value of building permits issued rose a whopping 31 percent to $128,000, according to the report. The report showed signs of life in the local economy heading into the vital summer months, when tourism lifts economic activity — although local officials are already fretting about the economic impact of a possible forest closure due to extreme fire danger. The rise in local sales tax, vehicle license taxes, building permits, planning fees and other purely local sources of revenue would make town budget planners downright cheerful were it not for the deep cuts in most sources of revenue from the state.
Town officials cancel layoffs as estimates of revenue rise by $600,000
Payson officials ransacked their budget projections for spare change and windfalls and came up with an estimated $600,000 in added revenue — enough to avert threatened layoffs and probably even restore full funding to the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce. A rise in projected state revenue sharing, a projected increase in taxes on utilities and other sources of money prompted the Payson Town Council to cancel a meeting last week it had called to set the layoff process in motion. “We went line by line by line by line,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans. “There’s not a rock left we haven’t turned over four times.”
Already battered counties and towns this week heaved a cautious sigh of relief with the adoption of a state budget that left fresh bruises — but didn’t actually throttle them. “When all was said and done, we were able to hold to no additional cost shifts to counties,” said Gila County District One Supervisor Tommie Martin. However, the $8.6 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts in June left in place some expensive financial shifts from this year — including the loss of gas tax money, a requirement that counties pay for insane prisoners held in the state mental hospital, a cut in funding for school resource officers on school campuses. The Town of Payson also found some muffled measure of relief in scrutinizing the details of the compromise budget plan reached in negotiations between Gov. Jan Brewer and Republican legislative leaders.
State sweeps prompt Payson to consider layoffs
The Payson council held an emotional, emergency budget session on Tuesday to grapple with a projected $721,000 deficit for the fiscal year that starts in July. Continued raids on local funds by the state Legislature and rising employee benefit costs could force a fresh round of layoffs and a reduction in many programs. That would include slashing town payments to the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce from $36,000 to just $11,000. The plan also calls for the cancellation of almost all capital improvements and big increases in employee costs for health care. The renewed budget crisis also means the town can’t fill five patrol officer vacancies or end its reliance on two-man crews on fire trucks on many shifts. The possibility of three fresh layoffs at one point left Town Manager Debra Galbraith choking back tears, as the town headed into a fourth year of cutbacks.
Town council clears way to consider removing 18-unit-per-acre cap in multi-family zones
Developers can build smaller houses packed in tighter — so long as it still looks pretty from the street. That’s the gist of a proposed change in the zoning rules for apartments the Payson Town Council is considering. But don’t worry: The repeated public hearings necessary to change the town’s general plan and zoning ordinance won’t take place for months.
Payson also earmarks $121,000 from Community Development funds to help hard-pressed residents repair homes
The Payson Town Council last week agreed to give the Payson Senior Center $87,000 in federal funds to repair and upgrade its facilities and set aside another $121,000 in federal dollars to help low-income homeowners repair homes in blighted neighborhoods. Housing Coordinator Bethany Beck said that unfortunately, the complex rules attached to the Community Development Block Grant program limited the number of partners the town could have — which essentially barred a plea for help from Payson Area Habitat for Humanity.
Once more into the breech, dear friends. Last week the Payson Town Council might not have had King Henry V or Shakespeare to get them riled up: But they did vote to charge into the heart of a once-and-future controversy — its sign ordinance. Payson’s effort to impose a restrained, resort-town standard on signs several years ago spurred repeated debates and bitter complaints by local merchants.
Major crimes drop 2 percent as Payson struggles to fill five vacant slots for patrol officers
Major crimes in Payson dropped along with the number of officers on the beat in 2011. The per-capita major crimes index reported to the FBI dropped 2 percent and calls to dispatchers plunged nearly 30 percent in 2011, according to a report released March 16. “We returned to the trend of declining crime after a spike last year (2010),” said Payson Police Chief Don Engler.
Police posed to quickly enforce ‘emergency’ ordinance adopted by Payson council
The Payson Police Department will move immediately to block the sale of “spice” and other synthetic drugs in accordance with an emergency ordinance adopted Thursday night by the town council, said Police Chief Don Engler. Engler asked the town council to include an emergency clause in the adoption of an ordinance banning the sale of “intentionally misused” products, so he would not have to wait the normal 30 days before moving to enforce the new law.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans joined mayors from around Arizona last week at the state Capitol to urge the Legislature to let cities and towns lead the way on job creation and not to preempt those efforts with legislation that erodes local control. Evans said the Legislature has made strides to create jobs, but then hurts local efforts with excessive micromanaging of cities.