Council won’t buy into pipeline and isn’t worried about groundwater contamination
Star Valley doesn’t need Blue Ridge water and doesn’t have a groundwater contamination issue, the town council decided during a two-hour meeting last week. After months of debate, the council decided it would not go after a share of Blue Ridge Reservoir water, unwilling to spend millions to secure rights to water the town may never need. But the back-and-forth debate about whether to pay for water now to avoid a problem later didn’t carry over to whether septic systems might eventually pollute the shallow water table. A water consultant had issued a sharp warning about septic tank leaks, but the council quickly agreed the town need not do anything now.
Star Valley has wrestled with one question since incorporation: is there enough drinkable water to last? Answers have proven elusive. The town could go after Blue Ridge water, test wells for contamination and further monitor well water levels. Now, Star Valley officials hope the council will finally make its mind up at Tuesday’s council meeting. “Right now they are as clear as mud,” said Town Manager Tim Grier.
Piling irony on top of surprise, Payson water czar Buzz Walker Tuesday told the Star Valley Town Council it probably doesn’t need water from the Blue Ridge pipeline, even though it meant Payson would lose a cost-sharing partner. Walker, Payson’s water superintendent, said contracting with the Salt River Project for Blue Ridge water would likely cost too much for the town of 2,300, which has plenty of water of its own. Walker said studies have shown Star Valley has enough groundwater to sustain an additional 5,700 residents, well beyond the town’s growth projections. “I just don’t think you would ever need it,” he said.
Now that Star Valley has gone into the water business, the council on Tuesday will get some answers from Payson water czar Buzz Walker on issues that could affect the town’s long-term development. Star Valley will take over the local water company in May from Brooke Utilities, which will make the town legally entitled to a share of water from the Blue Ridge pipeline.
Star Valley backs away from clearing creek
One homeowner’s threat has prompted Star Valley to drop plans to clear debris from a creek to prevent floods from damaging homes. Homeowner Dan Bowman inadvertently killed the flood relief plan when he told town officials he would sue if the project made flooding worse. He was one of a handful of Starlight Drive homeowners that originally demanded the town do something after a January 2010 storm nearly washed away several homes and porches.
Star Valley voters approved home rule by a wide margin, averting the threat of drastic cuts in the town’s budget.
Council decides $9 monthly average increase necessary to upgrade infrastructure
For the 360 water customers in Star Valley, the rate hike holiday is over. Water rates will jump 40 percent after the town takes over the water company May 1 from Brooke Utilities, the first time in 12 years. The council on Tuesday approved the sharp increase from about an average of about $24 a month to roughly $33 a month to cover the cost of capital improvements. The council agreed the current rates provided enough money to run the system, but not enough to replace aging meters, make emergency repairs or expand the system in the future. “The policy decision is whether you want to acquire debt when something breaks or if you want to put into place rates that will build a fund for when something breaks,” said Town Manager and Attorney Tim Grier.
Some Star Valley residents could soon be saving an average of 20 percent off costly prescription medications after the town signed up for the program last week. The town is working with the National League of Cities to offer free discount prescription drug cards to any area resident. The cards are designed to give residents without health insurance a pharmacy benefit plan or have prescriptions not covered by insurance at a savings. Anyone is eligible for a card since the program has no age, income or existing health coverage or ailments restrictions. The card is accepted at all major pharmacies, including those in Payson.
Star Valley will take another step forward in the purchase of a local water company Tuesday when it is expected the council will vote to set up a checking account for the new department.
With the pending purchase of a 360-hookup water system, Star Valley no longer needs to collect wells to defend its water supply or fight fires. On the heels of the water company transfer, the council Feb. 7 agreed to give back a 200-foot well. The Chris Benjamin family originally gave the town the well in 2007 to help provide fire protection. Since the town did not have the area’s water rights at the time, it could not distribute the water for drinking, but it could have pumped it to fight fires.
The Star Valley Town Council says it’s up to voters to keep spending decisions local and out of the hands of the state in the upcoming election. Star Valley is holding a primary election March 13, with ballots arriving in mailboxes soon. On the ballot are three councilors up for re-election and the Alternative Expenditure Limitation or “home rule” option. Under home rule, the town sets its spending limit, rather than the state for the next four years. Star Valley voters approved home rule in 2008. If home rule passes, Star Valley plans to spend $3.2 million next year. If it fails, the state-imposed limitation would cap spending at $2.6 million, $600,000 under what councilors say is needed to keep Star Valley running.
Halfway through the fiscal year, Star Valley’s budget remains largely on target despite an economy that has sunk most other town budgets. Star Valley, on the other hand, is charging ahead with a nearly million-dollar purchase of a water company in three months. With a little more than $3 million in the bank, the town has enough to buy the water company outright. But not everything is rosy. Town sales tax collections have fallen for the past five years along with photo enforcement fines, according to a year-end financial summary released Tuesday. Photo enforcement, however, is still expected to bring in nearly a million dollars this year. The financial summary shows town revenues have largely held steady for the past few years despite significant cuts in state-shared and sales tax revenues. Town staff said a combination of wise spending and saving has kept the town in the black. Chancy Nutt, town finance administrator, said staff successfully predicted a decrease in state-shared revenue, photo enforcement and city sales tax two years ago. The town adjusted its spending and has since retained a positive cash flow. Nutt cautioned that revenues should continue decreasing due to the lagging economy.
pour at least another $75,000 into start-up costs. With such large expenses on the books, the Star Valley Town Council will get an update on where town finances are at a meeting Tuesday. The 6:30 p.m. meeting will also include discussion on the March 13 home rule election, a proposed water ordinance and ending a well agreement with a family. The town plans to take over the Payson Water Company in Star Valley from Brooke Utilities on May 1 after paying outright for the 360-hookup system.
Star Valley decided to keep a $50 business license fee and also devise an economic development plan to kick-start local businesses at a meeting last week. Council members worried that eliminating the existing fee would make it easy for someone to set up shop, sell whatever they wanted and perhaps undercut established businesses. “I think what we are doing is opening the town up to become the largest park-and-swap in northern Arizona and I don’t want to be a part of that,” said Mayor Bill Rappaport. Councilor George Binney last month suggested the town do away with the fee. Conceding the fee is minimal, Binney, a small-business owner, said he was outraged by the idea of imposing that fee on the very businesses whose sales taxes support the town.
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.