No more politically charged, excruciatingly public firings and demotions. The Payson Town Council just took itself out of the loop. Still smarting from two painfully public employee appeals, the Payson Town Council last week decided to let fired and demoted employees appeal to professional personnel hearing officers in the future — instead of the town council. “This takes the council out of the disciplinary appeals process,” said Town Attorney Tim Wright. “It removes the potential for politics, which could create some real problems. Employees could be treated differently from someone who isn’t so popular” in the community.
Sale of synthetic marijuana to teens prompts town to consider law that would examine intent of the seller
The Payson Town Council on Thursday directed Police Chief Don Engler and Town Attorney Tim Wright to come up with an ordinance that will make it possible to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs like spice. The council’s move comes in the wake of community protests in front of a handful of Rim Country stores selling spice, a legal mix of compounds including a synthetic version of the active ingredient in marijuana. Moreover, the state Legislature last week rushed through SB 2356 that would ban some versions of the drugs that have quickly gained wide popularity among teenagers in recent months. Most of the blends are labeled “not for human consumption,” since the health effects of eating or smoking the materials remain unknown and untested.
Rim Country residents will finally have a place to recycle plastic, metal and glass under the terms of an intensely debated contract adopted by the Payson Town Council on Thursday. The council approved a $24,000, 36-month contract with Waste Matters to operate recycling drop-off centers in Green Valley Park and the Sawmill Crossing Shopping Center as well as provide waste disposal at all town offices and special events. The contract provoked a long discussion and a split vote, with Councilors Ed Blair and Su Connell pushing to reopen the bidding on the contract. Waste Matter’s $23,000 bid came in far below the $32,000 bid of Waste Management and the $47,000 bid of Roadrunner. Blair said the numbers in the contending bids didn’t add up, so he wanted the town staff to provide a clear explanation of the differences.
Building increase hints at recovery, despite still-high unemployment
Payson’s revenue from building permits has rebounded from historic lows this year, stoking hopes of a revival of the region’s once-crucial building sector. Unfortunately, sales tax revenues remain flat and state-shared revenue for gas taxes and income taxes remains depressed — pushing the long-hoped-for recovery off for at least one more month. The region’s unemployment rate also remains stubbornly high, rising from 9.6 percent to 10 percent in December — the most recent month for which county rates are available. That contrasts to a marked improvement in the unemployment rate statewide in December, with the rate dropping from 8.7 percent in November to 8.5 percent in December.
Stand back: Time for making history in reverse. The Payson Town Council Thursday will consider repeal of the water ordinance that provoked the incorporation of Star Valley and put the town in the forefront of the water conservation movement. Blame the approval of the Blue Ridge pipeline, which forever transformed the water politics of Rim Country. Town Ordinance 820 was enacted in 2006 as Payson’s water table dropped inexorably to make sure that developers provided new water supplies before collecting their building permits. Developers could either pay a $7,500 water impact fee for each unit or provide water from outside the town. That ordinance prompted one developer to acquire the Tower Well in Star Valley and swap it to Payson in return for the right to develop hundreds of housing units. Payson’s approval of that deal outraged many people living in the unincorporated community of Star Valley right next door, fearful that their neighbor would pump so much groundwater from the Tower Well it would drain the underground water table.
Building permits show sharp rise
Could have been worse. Might even get better. That’s the gist of the Payson Town Council’s first-ever quarterly financial report, offered by finance director Hope Cribb at a recent regular meeting. “We’re not thriving,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans after hearing the report, “but we’re striving to get to the next step.” The most hopeful tidbit in the report lay in the big jump in building permits issued by the community development department, after three years without a single significant new housing development. Building permits for the first half of the fiscal year totaled $95,000, a 35 percent jump from the year previous. That’s still far below the boom times in 2008 and 2007, when the building department approved permits for an average of more than 250 new homes annually.
Report sheds light on contract between town and Humane Society
Payson paid $137 for each dog and cat impounded by the Central Arizona Humane Society last year, Payson Police Chief Don Engler reported to the town council last week. The council approved Engler’s report without comment, although the town’s $7,400 monthly contract with the Humane Society has sometimes spurred controversy. Engler said that the Humane Society impounded in the town limits 170 dogs and 100 cats between July 1, 2011 and November 30, 2011. Out of those 270 animals, the town’s animal control officer accounted for 102 of the animals turned over to the animal shelter on Main Street. “Therefore,” concluded Engler’s memo, “one could surmise that out of the 270 total impoundments, 168 of those were provided by citizens of the community.” The $88,000 annual contract with the Humane Society has repeatedly spurred debate in the several years since Engler proposed slashing it by about two-thirds, on the grounds that the town should only be responsible for animals its own animal control officer captures and turns over to the shelter.
Payson this year cleared its state-mandated annual audit with flying colors. “We didn’t find any significant issues at all this year,” said Dennis Osuch, with Larson Allen CPAs, Consultants and Advisors. The town’s financial accounting system has corrected the problems revealed two years ago when Town Manager Debra Galbraith discovered nearly $1 million stashed away in “restricted” accounts that weren’t really restricted. Moreover, the town staff has instituted monthly and quarterly reports to the town council that have eliminated the lack of oversight that four years ago prompted the councilors to approve budget changes that consumed the reserve fund before they even knew they’d done it.
In the event of an emergency, Payson has agreed to provide backup water and help to Star Valley. The Star Valley Town Council lauded the agreement Tuesday night, Jan. 17, as the next step in the town’s development and working relationship with Payson. The town plans on May 1 to take over the Payson Water Company in Star Valley from Brooke Utilities. The town will run the 360-hookup system and is in the process of establishing water ordinances and rates. One of the requirements is having water available in an emergency and an operator on duty around the clock. Star Valley does not have the work force or resources, but Payson has agreed to supply both when needed. Earlier this month, the Payson council approved an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) where Payson would pump water to Star Valley and respond to after-hours calls when Star Valley’s water operator is unavailable. Behind the scenes, Payson’s staff has also helped Star Valley work through the technicalities of establishing a water department.
Despite three years of turmoil and trauma, Payson’s economy this year has held its own, according to a year-end financial summary released this week. The summary shows town revenues have held surprisingly steady for the past three years, which is fortunate since the town has absorbed significant cuts in state-shared revenues from income taxes and gasoline taxes. Moreover, the town has given up on a federal grant for police officers and firefighters, leaving both departments staffed at well below levels envisioned when the council adopted its budget back in June. Fortunately, spending in most departments remains below projections — cushioning the decline in state-shared revenue.
The Payson Town Council last week agreed unanimously to provide water services in an emergency for neighboring Star Valley. The agreement would provide Star Valley backup should a well break down or a water pipe burst, now that Star Valley has entered into the water business by buying out Brooke Utilities. “I don’t think that Star Valley will ever necessarily use it — but they can call Payson as a last resort to provide backup services if they have a break in a water main or a well out of service. It’s like ‘hey, give us a call, we’ll help out,’” said Buzz Walker, Payson’s water director.
In a rare split vote, the Payson Town Council last week agreed to streamline the process of approving small subdivisions. The new rule will allow town staff to approve preliminary plat maps on subdivisions with less than 10 lots. The council will still approve the final map, but state law requires automatic approval so long as the final map is in “substantial compliance” with the preliminary map, according to Town Attorney Tim Wright. The new rules included other changes, but taking the council out of the process of approving the initial plan for the subdivision spurred the most debate.
ASU, Alliance put finishing touches on final IGA agreement
Plans for a university in Payson have made big strides in the past week, according to Payson Mayor Kenny Evans. Last week, backers finished drawing up the final “terms and conditions” for the key intergovernmental agreement with Arizona State University to build a 6,000-student campus here. “We’re basically down to a single issue and I think we have a solution,” said Evans of the end game on the three-year effort to strike a deal with ASU. “We’ve made great progress with the Forest Service, with the county, with ASU.” Hailing his “best week in 18 months” Evans said he’s still hoping to have the campus open by the fall of 2013. “It’s like putting a bullet train on the Durango to Silverton railroad line, but I think we can get it done,” said Evans. Last week the Educational Alliance and the U.S. Forest Service settled on a timeline for the direct purchase of a 260-acre parcel south of Highway 260 near the location of the Payson Ranger Station.
Law professor quits SLE board and complains of ‘opaque’ plans and financing
Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE board member Suzanne Cummins resigned Thursday in a dispute with board chairman Mike Vogel. Alliance chairman Vogel asked Cummins to resign and she complied, submitting a letter of resignation that cited concerns about the Alliance’s negotiations with Arizona State University on building a university in Payson. Cummins said Vogel approached her asserting he had heard from numerous sources that she did not believe in the project or trust Mayor Kenny Evans and Vogel. “I don’t believe it’s imminent. Every time I ask about when this project will be on the Board of Regents’ agenda, I hear it’s another two months out,” said Cummins.
Council agrees to take back airport, hire coordinator, revoke lease with independent group
The Payson Town Council Tuesday voted unanimously to revoke its lease with the Payson Regional Airport Authority (PRAA), appoint a new airport commission and hire a new airport coordinator. The special meeting set in motion the town’s resumption of control over the airport, after a roughly five-year experiment in relying on airport users to operate the facility. Several airport users made a last-ditch appeal to convince the town to make one more effort to iron out the financial problems that have beset the relationship with the PRAA. Jim Garner said the takeover will most certainly cost the town money. “I ask you to go back to the PRAA with a list of things to change and not cost the town money it can’t afford.”