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Payson council votes to support reliable broadband

The Payson Town Council Thursday unanimously voted to reserve $90,000 in its budget to support the building of reliable internet.

The unanimous vote reversed the split vote on the same motion two weeks earlier after members of the Broadband Consortium, the MHA Foundation and Cable One first sought support.

So, what changed?


After that first meeting, the volunteer Broadband Consortium met with the mayor, two other council members, town staff, business owners and concerned citizens. The consortium has been working on finding a solution to Payson’s broadband issues for some five years.

Nick Robinson, a consultant with the broadband industry, along with Mac Feezor, a retired engineer and Greg Friestad, a retired broadband engineer, made a presentation at a June 7 meeting on why reliability matters more than speed.

“Today it is not about capacity, it’s about redundancy and resiliency,” said Robinson. “I could get a 1 gig fiber circuit from CenturyLink, but if it’s not resilient, it has much less value.”

That June 7 meeting changed the minds

of the mayor and the other councilors who had voted against the $90,000 placeholder on May 30.

“All of my questions were answered last Friday,” said Mayor Tom Morrissey.

Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian agreed.

“I would like to thank the gentlemen from the Broadband Consortium who were there last week for answering questions ... to clarify a lot of things above my pay grade,” she said. “I’m just not personally going to make a decision on something I am not clear on.”

The vote two weeks ago spawned comments from the audience during the June 13 meeting.

Maia Crespin, executive director for the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, spoke on behalf of the businesses in town.

“As the executive director, I am speaking on behalf of my members — for them the internet is vitally important,” she said. “Even if it is out for only an hour, it is thousands of dollars in lost revenue.”

Jolynn Schinstock, a contractor with U.S. defense agencies, had a hard time explaining to the government why she could not be reached either by email or phone when Rim Country experienced internet outages.

“I am just this little bitty person working and the internet is super important,” she said.

With a catch in her throat, Councilor Barbara Underwood explained why she supported the proposal.

“For me the biggest thing is there was actually a death,” she said. “He lost his life when he went down to communicate for his job. When he had an accident, you couldn’t even communicate with emergency services. For me, it’s just a no-brainer to move forward.”

Consortium members said contributions by town and perhaps Gila County could trigger matching grants from the state as well.

Representatives from Cable One as well as MHA Foundation President Kenny Evans both attended the meeting to answer questions.

The MHA Foundation has pledged $2 million to help Cable One string a new broadband cable from Show Low to Payson. The additional money from Payson as well as hoped-for support from Gila County would create another high-speed, high-capacity line from Phoenix to Payson at an estimated cost of $8 million.

This would create a new, high-speed loop from Phoenix to Show Low and back to Phoenix again by a different loop. The new link to Phoenix could also eliminate the outages that have plagued communities in the White Mountains area.

If Cable One also strikes a deal to connect its loop to the existing CenturyLink trunk line from Camp Verde, it would provide a resilient system, while also boosting potential speed and capacity.

Putting in the two new lines would not immediately affect the speed or capacity of internet service for homeowners. Most get their service through Suddenlink, which has a contract with CenturyLink to tap into the existing line. Businesses along the route of the cable could contract for service with Cable One. But homeowners won’t see the benefit unless CenturyLink, Suddenlink and businesses like Verizon also contract with Cable One to tap into the new line.

Cable One has offered to provide the town with 2 gigabytes of high-speed, high-capacity, interruption proof internet service through the new line for the next 20 years, in return for $90,000 a year for the next 10 years.

The council’s action last week authorizes the town staff to negotiate that the council would still need to approve.

Broadband Consortium members have said that Gila County has also set aside $2 million to help resolve the region’s internet reliability problems.

Meanwhile, the federal government also recently announced it would spend $17 million to boost internet access for schools and libraries throughout the county.

It’s unclear how much of that grant could go to connecting Payson to Phoenix, since the E-rate grant rules require a strict separation between the money spent on schools and any other internet service. However, the E-rate grant adds to the complexity of the negotiations. Cable One is also the contractor for the E-rate expansion for schools.

In its motion, the council specifically did not indicate any particular company in order to keep options open.

“I just wanted to verify ... we were not committing to anyone at this time,” said Councilor Chris Higgins. “We were just committing to a placeholder to be used for a redundant internet system.”

“I would support that,” said Town Manager LaRon Garrett.

Group wants to bring live bull riding to bowling alley

Payson could soon have rodeo all year long if the partners of Bandits and Bulls cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s.

Aaron West and his partners Trudy and Jason Enyart and Jimmy and Katie Parks presented their concept for food, bowling and live bull riding at a June 12 Payson Community Development meeting.

The group is in the process of purchasing the Rim Country Bowl property. They said the bowling alley would remain open during any remodeling.

“This is an extremely important venture for all of us,” said West. “We would be the only live bull riding in northern Arizona.”

The Parks already run the Bandits Restaurant and Dirty Cowboy Saloon in Strawberry. Katie said she feels confident she can keep people coming back with “plenty of good food and drink.”

The group has a lot of enthusiasm for Payson.

“With the rodeo here, this town is the best place,” said West.

In their presentation, the partners quoted a Fox News report that “professional bull riding is becoming the fastest growing sport in America.”

Audiences to Professional Bull Riders events have increased from around 300,000 in 1995 to more than 3 million last year, they said.

Bull riding has even invaded New York City. PBR riders compete at Madison Square Garden.

Bandits and Bulls reported there are two other bull riding restaurants in Arizona — one in Apache Junction and one in Cave Creek — so they have an idea of what it takes to succeed.

West assured the assembled department heads the bulls would only be housed “on a temporary basis” at the bowling alley location.

The partners have explored insurance.

“Did you know it’s more expensive to insure a mechanical bull than a real bull?” said West. “We’re going to have mechanical bulls inside.”

From their presentation, there will be live bull riding a couple days a week.

Depending on the experience of the rider, Bandits and Bulls would offer bulls for the novice to advanced rider.

“We are teaming up with Spear J Cattle Company,” according to information the group provided the town. “Spear J has all needed waivers and insurance for this type of entertainment. The insurance covers all spectators as well. All protective gear is provided. No person is allowed on any animal if alcoholic beverages have been consumed.”

The group plans on expanding the current kitchen so they can serve dinners.

“The food will be absolutely primary to us,” said Dunn.

The arcade will remain not only open, but get an overhaul.

“There’s different activities these kids haven’t been able to do,” said West.

In addition to bull riding, Bandits and Bulls will offer mutton bustin’ for the kids and goat roping.

“We’re basically trying to figure out a way to bring crazy awesome family entertainment to Payson,” said West.

The group hopes to open by next spring if everything lines up right.

“If the live bull riding is not approved, we risk our establishment being bowling focused which is great, but not the entertainment the community and AZ is thirsting for,” according to the group’s application.

Bear at Payson Boy Scout camp euthanized

The Arizona Game and Fish Department euthanized a 3-year-old female bear at Camp Geronimo Wednesday.

This is the second bear this year to be lethally removed from the Payson area after exhibiting habituation and no fear of humans, according to Game and Fish.

The most recent bear killed reportedly entered empty tents and raided garbage cans over a two-week period at the camp. Attempts to scare it off were unsuccessful.

AZGFD reported when they arrived on scene to set a trap, the bear was found at the camp for the third time that day. The bear was rummaging through a vacant tent and eating food found in a Boy Scout’s suitcase.

Attempts to scare the bear away from the tent with hazing methods including a Taser, were unsuccessful.

The bear was deemed an immediate threat to the safety of the more than 900 Scouts (ages 14-17) at the camp and was euthanized.

“Habituated bears that have become accustomed to human food and water sources, including trash and bird feeders, pose a safety risk to the public and will likely end in the removal of the bear, sometimes by lethal means,” said Wildlife Supervisor Jarrod McFarlin.

Under the department’s human-wildlife conflict policy, wildlife officers consider the bear’s behavior, age, sex and whether it’s a threat to human safety when determining when to relocate or lethally remove a bear.

AZGFD each year removes or relocates bears to minimize the risk to people and avoid euthanasia.

This is not always successful. Some 50 percent of all relocated bears return to the area they were captured, regardless of the distance.

According to a Gila County ordinance, it is unlawful to feed a bear or attract bears by “intentionally, negligently or recklessly placing water, garbage, refuse, human or animal food, or edibles in a place that is physically accessible to bears.”

Tips to reduce bear contact

• Keep all trash inside a secured area until collection day. If that’s not possible, keep food waste in a bag in the freezer and place those in the trash as close to collection time as possible.

• If you’ll be out of town or are a weekend visitor, ask a neighbor to place your trash out on collection day.

• Take bird feeders down at night.

• Keep pet food inside or remove all uneaten food.

For more information, visit

Payson selects new police chief

Fifty-three applications and months later, the long search for a new police chief ended with the hiring of Ronald J. Tischer from La Crosse, Wis., a 25-year law enforcement veteran.

Tischer started as chief in Wisconsin in 2012. Before that, Tischer served in the Waukesha police force from 1996 until 2012 rising to the level of captain.

Soon to retire Payson Police Chief Don Engler started as chief in Payson on July 1, 2007. Prior to that, he served on the force under former Chief Gordy Gartner. Engler graduated from the Payson Police Academy in May 1984 in the same class as now Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd.

During his time as Payson’s police chief, Engler added the No. 2 deputy town manager position to his list of duties.

Engler gave the town plenty of time to prepare for his retirement.

“Approximately five years ago, Payson Police Chief Donald Engler announced that he was entering the DROPS retirement program,” wrote Town Manager LaRon Garrett in a press release. “An employee can only be in this program for five years and they must retire.”

Engler’s last day is July 26.

The town hired the professional recruiting firm, Public Sector Search and Consulting, in January to conduct a nationwide search for a new chief.

Law enforcement personnel, town councilors, citizens and town staff then spent two days interviewing finalists before picking Tischer.

Tischer’s resumé includes responsibility for the patrol division operations, commander of the tactical unit, development of policies and procedures, internal investigations, and administering all aspects of the hiring process. He also served as an instructor in the use of force, firearms and professional communications skills. Tischer has a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering technology from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy Session 247, according to the town press release.

Tischer took advantage of writing editorials for the La Crosse Tribune.

In October of 2017, he penned an op-ed to support of Marsy’s Law, a victims’ rights measure.

“Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin would place additional victims’ rights in the state Constitution and strengthen the rights that are already in it, so that victims’ rights are not automatically trumped in the courtroom by those of their attackers,” he wrote. “Every day I vow to keep the La Crosse community safe. I recognize that supporting Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin is going to truly impact our communities and the state.”

The town council expects to welcome Tischer on July 29.

The only local candidate to put in for Engler’s position was Lt. Jason Hazelo. Engler publicly endorsed Hazelo and often had Hazelo sit in for him at recent town council meetings.