If the separate legal entity formed to bring and build a four-year university campus in Payson were a town, Mike Vogel would surely be its mayor. Vogel serves as the Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE board chair and in a “town” that does not yet have any residents, he is one of the only contact points for “town” updates. And right now, the town is working to buy land, work through a mountain of legal paperwork and start designs on a state-of-the-art campus that could one day have more than 6,000 in-town students and another 60,000 online. Vogel explained at Tuesday’s Star Valley council meeting that the SLE is just like any other public entity in Arizona and must file a budget, post notice of its board meetings, buy insurance and once the campus is built, hire everything from police protection to trash service. “We have to set up an identical government to what you have,” he said, referring to Star Valley’s incorporation in 2005.
In its first meeting of the new year, Star Valley has a packed agenda Tuesday. The council will discuss an agreement for a backup water supply with Payson, take a first look at a water ordinance establishing Star Valley’s water company and likely approve a measure that has Payson respond to after-hour water calls. Also on the agenda, the council could appoint a new member to the board tasked with bringing a four-year university to Payson. The 6:30 p.m. meeting is held at the Star Valley Town Hall on East Highway 260. “It is going to be a busy meeting,” said Town Manager and Attorney Tim Grier.
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.
With just a few coats of deck lacquer and new landscaping lights left to install, the Star Valley town hall is nearly fully open for business again. In November, construction workers took over the space, ripping out walls and decking to install an office ell, expand a bathroom for handicap accessibility and add a wheelchair lift. The $112,000 project has run smoothly and finished on time, a welcome relief for town staff, who have had to work at plastic-wrapped desks and maneuver around workers streaming in and out, said Town Manager and Attorney Tim Grier.
Every municipality collects taxes, but at least one Star Valley councilor believes the town should do away with a $50 “extortion” levy. Councilor George Binney proposed eliminating the cost to obtain a business license at a recent council meeting. This he said would send the message that Star Valley is a business-friendly town and may in turn attract a few more businesses in what is now a stale economy. But not every councilor was on board for the change. Some felt eliminating the fee may encourage businesses not to register their business with the town and may even attract unwanted enterprises.
As Star Valley’s staff rushes to finish taking over the local water company early next year, the council is busy deciding on a rate structure. The town plans to boost water rates roughly 20 percent. It has been 10 years since some 360 water customers have seen a rate increase under Brooke Utilities, but the private water company also hasn’t maintained and upgraded the system in that time, town officials say. At a recent town meeting, the council stood behind plans to raise rates, claiming the town would offer better customer service and infrastructure. “No one wants to see water rates go up,” said Tim Grier, town manager and attorney. “However, there must be a careful look at rates to determine if existing rates will support the investment that is critical to improve the reliability of the water system.” While the current water system is in good shape and the town has received few customer complaints, the aging system still needs an upgrade, Grier said.
Just as quick as one Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE board member resigned last week, the Star Valley Town Council put the kibosh on replacing her with a new member. At Star Valley’s Tuesday meeting, the council was expected to approve James Scott Scheidt as Suzanne Cummins’ replacement on the five-member board working to bring a four-year university to Payson. Cummins resigned from her post Dec. 15 after board chair Mike Vogel asked her to step down. Cummins said she felt uneasy serving on a board where she was kept in the dark on negotiations with Arizona State University and the identity of donors pledging millions to the project.
After a fight in a Star Valley gravel yard, officers arrested four men at gunpoint Wednesday afternoon and booked another after a three-hour search. The men and a female teen had reportedly met up at the D.D. Haught gravel pit in Star Valley when a fight broke out just after 3 p.m. After a scuffle, Richard Dabney, 21, of Payson, reportedly fired a shotgun, the shell striking the ground. Two men working in the area later told police they hadn’t noticed anything was going on until they heard the shot. When they looked over, they saw a fight in progress, said Gila County Sheriff’s Det. George Ratliff. Dabney, along with Raheem Royal, 19, Cody Harris, 18, and a 17-year-old female, all of Payson, jumped into 18-year-old Clayton Duhammell’s pickup and the group fled the scene, Ratliff said. The Gila County Sheriff’s Office got calls of shots fired in the area and officers from Payson, the Forest Service and the sheriff’s office began looking for Duhammell’s pickup.
After a fight in a Star Valley gravel yard, officers arrested four men at gunpoint Wednesday afternoon and booked another two after a three-hour search.
From waiving business license fees to enacting new water rates, the Star Valley Town Council will discuss a range of issues at a Tuesday meeting. Councilor George Binney has requested the town do away with a $50 business license fee. The fee brings in on average $5,400 a year for the town.
SV agrees to pay for part of water system with reserve funds
After building up the town’s rainy day fund for years, the Star Valley Town Council agreed to dip into the $1.2 million pool to help finance buying the area’s water company. Most of the council on Tuesday, Dec. 6 agreed to take $600,000 from the reserve fund. The town had considered a loan to fund the $850,000 purchase of Brooke Utilities in Star Valley, but decided against it because it could add as much as $600,000 to the cost. The town plans to combine money from the general and rainy day funds to buy the 350- hook-up water system in January if a judge approves the deal.
Everyone must be content with the job Payson and Star Valley Town Councils are doing because no one is running against the incumbents in next year’s election. In Star Valley, current Councilors George Binney, Barbara Hartwell and Gary Coon are the only ones to file paperwork to run in the March primary. In Payson, Councilors John Wilson, Rick Croy and Michael Hughes are running unopposed along with Mayor Kenny Evans. The news stunned Binney and Hartwell who said they had heard several people were interested in running.
It has been 10 years since Star Valley water customers have seen a rate increase under Brooke Utilities. But when the town takes over the system in January, customers could see their bills increase 20 percent or more and the local fire district could face new fees. That is because the town says it plans to upgrade and maintain the system, something it claims Brooke has not done in years. In addition, the town says new taxes are increasing water costs everywhere. The town has not set a final rate structure and the public still has time to comment at several upcoming public readings. The rates could go into effect as early as mid-January 2012 if the sale is finalized by that time.
On the heels of purchasing the Payson Water Company from Brooke Utilities, the Star Valley council will address how it will fund the $775,000 expenditure at a Tuesday council meeting. The deal is one of the most important purchases the town has made since incorporating in 2007. With the water company comes 360 local customers, but more importantly, water rights that let the town pursue a sustainable water source. The town is already considering acquiring a share of Blue Ridge water and hooking new wells into the system.
The Arizona Corporation Commission continues to investigate five complaints against Brooke Utilities filed by residents of Mesa del Caballo, commission spokeswoman Rebecca Wilder said this week. However, the commission has settled the bulk of complaints against the private water company, which focused on whether the company had properly assessed a water hauling charge this summer.