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Reducing impact fees – will it spur growth?

Love ’em.

Or hate ’em.

Either way — they’re just about gone.

Once upon a time, Payson figured newcomers should buy into the town’s infrastructure, so developers and new businesses paid thousands in impact fees for parks, police, water, roads — you name it.

It could run a new business $50,000 or more to hook up to town water and the Northern Gila County Sanitary District.

Payson’s biggest impact fee, water, was intended to help pay for the C.C. Cragin pipeline.

But that was then — when Payson’s wells were dropping and the town was approving 200 new homes every year. Impact fees piled on then.

Then along came the recession and new construction dried up.

The town council worried more about scaring business away than bulking up the town’s infrastructure.

Then, the Arizona Legislature put all kinds of restrictions on town impact fees. The town dropped most of them, except for the water impact fee that rose to more than $7,000. Now that fee is seeing its demise.

Last week started the town’s water impact fee drip, drip, dripping toward nothing.

The council took another step toward cutting the water impact fee in half.

The process won’t take effect until Dec. 11, at the earliest.

Not many people attending the council meeting seemed like they were going to miss the fees.

“Several years ago, a business was going to get charged $60,000 in impact fees and the business turned around and walked away,” said a Payson resident during the July 25 council meeting. “We’re trying to attract business and you hit somebody with a $50,000 bill, they’re going to walk away.”

Well, a consultant agreed, recommending big cuts in the last impact fee — now that water’s flowing through the C.C. Cragin pipeline.

Town Attorney Hector Figueroa said the water fee would go from $6,592 to $3,400.

The state required the change, said Sheila DeSchaaf, assistant town manager and public works director.

Several years ago the state passed new rules requiring elaborate justification for any impact fee — which had to go strictly to the cost of infrastructure required by the new business or development. For some reason, lawmakers decided to exempt sewer districts. So the Northern Gila County Sanitary District’s impact fee remains — although the district just paid for a near-doubling of the system’s capacity — mostly with saved up cash.

DeSchaaf noted, “The first step in that process ... to take a look and review our land consumption and growth rate ... as well as our infrastructure plan.”

Next, the town has to hold public hearings and publish a draft of the changes. Already, the town has hosted two public hearings.

But why does Payson have water development impact fees in the first place?

Water Department Director Tanner Henry said the town first needed money to upgrade the whole system — then to pay for the $52 million pipeline. “We’re the only community anywhere in the desert Southwest United States — anywhere, that has an adequate water supply,” he said. “The problem is, how do you pay for it?”

Payson first imposed fees in 1986 to upgrade its newly purchased, undersized system. “Back in the ’80s when the water system was purchased, we had like three little wells and they were all disconnected ... it was very unreliable,” he said.

The impact fees helped pay for studies, new wells and storage.

But the studies also showed the town’s aquifer had a limit.

“Back in the 2000s, they finally figured out the amount of water we can take out of the ground is capped,” he said.

The town’s granite-based aquifer can only store 2,520 acre-feet of the rain and snowmelt that seeps into the underground water table. But thanks to years of water conservation measures, the town uses an average of about 1,700 acre-feet annually. Still, that makes water managers like Henry nervous.

“We only have about an 800-acre-foot cushion,” he said.

And that meant the town could never get bigger without outgrowing the water supply.

The solution?

“Get a surface water right by congressional act,” said Henry. “I think we’re at four congressional acts currently to tap into the Blue Ridge or C.C. Cragin Reservoir project.”

But the town then had to fund a 15-mile, $20 million pipeline plus a $14 million water treatment plant.

Initially, the town hoped to cover most of the cost of the new system with impact fees. But then the housing market collapsed. So the town council ended up approving big increases in water rates to provide the revenue needed to get the loans that paid for the system — in addition to the impact fees.

Until the upfront costs to hook into the C.C. Cragin pipeline are under control, Henry will use “the water development fee so that way each and every person who hooks onto that line ... will buy their itty bitty little piece of that line.”


Excitement rules the day as schools welcome students back

Stan Rentz walked up to the Rim Country Middle School student holding a sign that read: “Are you lost?”

“Yeah, I’m lost,” Rentz told her.

The Payson Unified School District’s new superintendent wasn’t alone. Several new students at the middle school wandered around trying to figure out where to go on the first day of a new school year Monday morning.

So Rentz appreciated the seventh- and eighth-grade students offering guidance.

“She was very helpful,” Rentz said. “It’s great to see our upperclassmen at the middle school helping out like this.”

Although he needed directions himself, Rentz was still offering help to students who looked lost like him.

“You look in their face and see that they’re lost and try to help them and build a relationship there real quick,” he said.

RCMS was the third of four stops for Rentz as school began for more than 2,000 students in the district. He spent a few minutes at Payson Elementary then Julia Randall Elementary before moving over to RCMS. He planned to finish up a busy morning at the high school.

He wanted to be in as many places as he could on this big day.

“Today’s always a special day, especially this time of the morning,” he said just after 8 a.m. “In about an hour or so everything’s going to be settled in. I’m going to try to walk through the schools at that point. But I certainly wanted to be out and just catch all the excitement of the first day of school.”

He’d love to bottle that excitement.

“I was telling our administrators the other day, ‘I know you can’t always be at that level, but if we can hold onto that enthusiasm and excitement and still feel the same way in November, it’s going to be a great year,’” Rentz said.

The PUSD superintendent was on hand as RCMS staff kicked off the year in a festive way with teachers, staff, Payson police officers, Payson firefighters and other community members gathering in two lines, with the approximately 600 students walking between the lines giving high fives and fist bumps to everyone as they made their way into an assembly in the gym.

“This is our second year with the back-to-school gauntlet,” said RCMS Principal Jennifer White. “Mr. (Trevor) Creighton, our counselor, and I had seen a commercial for Walmart where students and parents had lined up with new backpacks. We thought it would be a great idea if we could bring community members into the gauntlet as well. We received overwhelming support from the community. I love our community — they are amazing.”

Rentz noticed police officers at all the schools he visited on Monday.

“What I’ve really been impressed with is our law enforcement presence out this morning greeting our kids, making their presence known and helping and directing traffic and also helping parents,” Rentz said. “It’s been very impressive.

“What that tells me is we’ve got a community that pulls together and cares about the same things. And I think it reassures our parents that our law enforcement officers are behind us 100 percent.”

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Artist brings humane society walls to life with colorful mural

Standing next to the mural he painted on the Humane Society of Central Arizona’s Resale Store, Tom Arndt points out the story he imagined behind each cat and dog, and why some look happy or sad.

The animals in the Adopt Us cart are all dogs except for a ginger cat with large, sad eyes waiting to be adopted.

Arndt explained the golden retriever laying underneath the cart is the mother of the three puppies to the right of the cart.

Arndt painted rocks and wooden fence posts and signage showing the way to the store’s receiving area.

Several dogs and three cats scamper along the wall.

“I’d love to see them do more artwork along Main Street,” Arndt said. “Some of the buildings would be hard because they don’t have much wall space.”

Arndt worked as a mechanical design engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company (now Raytheon) in California and Tucson for many years before retiring and focusing on his art.

“I was in the advanced development area. Our job was to build state-of-the-art missiles, better than the ones currently used. When our group finished our work, it would be five years before the designs would be built. It was all classified then. I couldn’t let my wife or kids know what I was doing.”

The classification has since been lifted.

Arndt and his wife Pat, who was a real estate agent, moved to Payson in 2011.

Arndt started drawing in the mid 1970s. He developed an interest in oil painting and other mediums including charcoal, pastels and ink.

He taught sketching at the junior college level in 1990 and then taught a private group at a retirement home in Green Valley for five years.

“I’ve had several one-man shows and been successful,” said Arndt. “I’ve probably painted over 1,000 paintings, mostly Southwest scenes. I like people and landscapes.

Arndt just recently started painting animals, including elk and the rodeo scene.

The past couple of years he branched out to murals and painted the walls of the cat rooms at the Humane Society of Central Arizona and the HSCAZ Thrift Store.

Arndt’s granddaughter is married to DJ Palmer, co-executive director of the HSCAZ with Annie Benedict. Arndt and Pat are the reason DJ and Jessica Palmer moved to Payson.

“They’re the reason we found Payson,” said DJ Palmer. “Jessica and I came up here on our honeymoon, then quit our jobs and moved here.”

Arndt first met DJ when he was in high school, working at the nursery his mother owned.

“I bought a desert willow,” Arndt said. “It was a 24-inch box-cubed multi-trunk tree, exactly what I wanted.”

Neither knew at the time the important role each would play in the other’s life.

DJ and Jessica met some years later when they both worked at a veterinary clinic in Green Valley. They married in 2013 and have two children.

Arndt volunteered to paint the murals in the cat rooms. Each has a different theme, with dedication plaques on the glass doors.

The Pine Room was inspired by Arndt’s visit to third crossing along the East Verde River.

The Birch Room was inspired by a birch forest Arndt saw in the fall in Colorado. It is dedicated to Benedict’s mother, Diane Bamber.

The Underwater Room was painted according to Benedict’s idea of being inside a fish tank. Arndt painted crappies, trout and sharks on the walls. He added a sunken ship at the bottom to give the impression of being inside the fish tank.

“Those three rooms, my wife Pat probably painted as much as I did,” said Arndt. “She’s got a great eye.”

Arndt then moved on to the mural at HSCAZ’s Resale Store. He said some of the painting was a challenge due to the uneven surface of the bricks and navigating a ledge.

Arndt has painted a Bible stories mural geared to children in the children’s area at Mountain Bible Church.

He says his days of standing atop tall ladders are over.

“When I paint I’m focusing on painting, not on the fact I’m standing on a ladder,” he said, adding he is concerned about falling.

Arndt was a member of the Payson Art League for several years and participated in their Studio Tour. He also took a clay class at Gila Community College a few years ago. “I had a lot of fun with that,” he said.

For more information, visit or call 928-474-5590.

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Pia Wyer / Pia Wyer  

Horton Creek Trail

Senate race
Sen. Allen’s remarks branded “divisive” and “nativist”

The Arizona Senate race in Rim Country and the White Mountains is already heating up with the eruption of charges of racially tinged rhetoric and misleading statements.

The dustup involves the District 6 Senate seat, currently held by Sen. Sylvia Allen.

The first controversy involves remarks by Allen both in Payson and during a speech in Phoenix about the changing demographics of Arizona. Allen said whites were failing to “reproduce.” Her Democratic opponent Felicia French has decried those remarks as “nativist” and “divisive.”

Allen made roughly similar remarks in both Phoenix and Payson, citing statistics that the average age of Hispanics in Arizona is 27 compared to an average age of 44 for whites. She commented that, “We are not replacing ourselves. You’re going to see so many changes coming it will make your head spin.”

The Phoenix New Times released an audio recording of another speech she delivered in which she remarked that demographic changes will make the U.S. “look like South American countries very quickly.”

She based both speeches in part on demographics research by Dr. James Johnson, a business professor at the University of North Carolina. He has studied population growth in the South, interracial marriage trends, declining economic prospects for men, a rise in children living with grandparents and increased immigrations and what he calls the “browning of America.” However, he has argued that the changing demographics of the nation will actually give the U.S. an entry to global markets.

Allen said the nation must control immigration. “We can’t provide that when people are just flooding us and flooding us and flooding us and overwhelming us so we don’t have time to teach them the principles of our country any more than we’re teaching our children today,” according to the New Times audio recording of the meeting.

French blasted those comments saying, “I firmly believe that diversity is one of our country’s enduring strengths. I am proud to have served more than three decades with countless immigrants in the U.S. military and to have had a grandmother who immigrated from Mexico.

“I have traveled from one end of the district to the other, knocking on hundreds of doors. What I see are people of all backgrounds working side by side, to make this corner of Arizona a better place to raise their families.

“The fear and divisiveness Senator Allen is spreading does not align with the values of LD6.”

Meanwhile, another brush fire has erupted in the race — this one stoked by remarks by Wendy Rogers, also running in the Republican primary against both Allen and Rep. Bob Thorpe, who was term-limited out of his House seat and is now seeking to move to the Senate.

The Republican Party touched off this argument on July 24 when it put in its newsletter a claim that while campaigning in the district Rogers told people that neither Thorpe nor Allen were running, allegedly to get them to sign her nominating petitions. You can only sign one nominating petition in a given race.

The “alert” said “numerous reports from Navajo County have been received and confirmed by affidavit that candidate Wendy Rogers has been in Snowflake and Taylor going door-to-door asking registered voters to sign her petition. During this process, Rogers has told people that she is the only candidate running in 2020 for the LD6 state senate ... Rogers is fraudulently obtaining registered voter signatures.”

The notice went on to accuse Rogers of “smearing” and “lying” about candidates in past congressional races, including Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and State Sen. Steve Smith. The notice said Smith’s former employer is suing Rogers for defamation.

Rogers’ campaign maintained the “alert” was written by political operatives “who appear to be very upset by Wendy’s primary win last cycle and who appear to stop at nothing to take Wendy out.”

The campaign denied Rogers lied about other candidates in the senate race.

“Wendy didn’t know it was her job to promote other candidates when talking to voters. If asked who she is running against, she tells them every time. We find it bizarre that it is Wendy’s job to promote other candidates. If the other two people in this primary race are promoting Wendy, then great! But not recommended. We respectfully ask that you denounce the statement and correct the record that it is completely false and unsubstantiated. It is a complete smear job by some desperate people who are too afraid to put their name on it,” wrote Spence Rogers.

A retired Army colonel, Rogers is a fifth-generation military officer and one of the first women to earn her pilot’s wings. She flew transport jets and served as an instructor pilot. She retired in 1996 to start her own home inspection business. She holds degrees in social work as well as national security studies.

She has been development director of a charter school, a foster parent and a substitute teacher, according to her website.

The Rogers campaign was reacting to an unsigned email alert that went to Republicans.

The Roundup also received the alert in an email from Dwight Kadar. The email listed contact information for the Republican county chairs for all four counties in the district.

Rogers won the 1st Congressional District Republican primary in 2018, but lost to Democrat Tom O’Halleran. In 2016, she lost a primary battle in the same district against Paul Babeu, who O’Halleran then defeated.

Steven Slaton, who fought a bitter in-house Republican battle with Allen in Navajo County, wrote an email to the White Mountain Independent saying GOP “leaders” and “self-appointed kingmakers” have been working to support Sen. Allen and convince Rep. Thorpe not to run against her.

During her recent appearance in Payson, Allen said she decided to run again to make sure the Republican Party doesn’t lose the seat — since she considered Thorpe the weaker candidate.

French nearly beat Thorpe when she ran for a House seat in 2018.

The state’s voter approved term limits often prompt House and Senate incumbents to periodically change seats — with term-limited senators running for the House and vice versa. Incumbent Rep. Brenda Barton in 2018 tried to convince Allen to switch seats, but failed. A challenge to Barton’s nominating petition signatures forced her to drop out.

Following Allen’s remarks last week, the Arizona Education Association (AEA) called for the removal of Allen as chair of the Senate Education Committee.

“Arizona students deserve a chair of the Arizona State Senate Education Committee who recognizes and celebrates diversity, not one who uses children to spread fear and intolerance,” said AEA President Joe Thomas.

He continued, “We embrace our differences as a value in Arizona. Senator Allen has disqualified herself and we ask for her immediate removal.”

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More students walking to school

When school started Monday there were more students walking to class with two in-town bus routes axed due to a shortage of drivers.

Parent Brian Woodward was irate when he found out his daughter, who attends Rim Country Middle School, would have to walk to school after the district told them they live in the “walk zone.”

“I don’t let my daughter walk five houses down to a friend’s house without me so there is no way I am going to let her walk through the gantlet of cars, sex offenders and bullies and hope that she makes it to school,” he said.

Woodward lives near the bowling alley and said his daughter would have to cross State Route 87 and walk along the busy roadway to reach the middle school — a 1.5-mile journey. She would also pass at least one home where a sex offender lives.

Woodward worried his daughter might get hit by a vehicle as the neighborhood streets are narrow and lack sidewalks.

Mayor Tom Morrissey said he started receiving calls from parents last week upset about the bus route changes.

“It is the school board’s responsibility to provide transportation for all students,” he said. “So this cutback of two routes is clearly unfair.”

Morrissey said he was working with Gila County and the school district on solutions and was open to ideas on how to recruit more bus drivers.

“As mayor, I do not have the power to act on this and it is frustrating because the folks who are affected pay the same taxes as those who get the transportation. I am continuing to raise this issue with a school board member, but so far have been unsuccessful,” he said. “What I have been told is that this issue cannot be resolved until next year. We still need to find a short-term solution and prevent it from ever happening again. I am not done with this.”

The school board earlier this year canceled the two bus routes when they could not find enough drivers. The district says it has struggled to recruit and keep qualified drivers. Issues with the position range from low pay, a stressful work environment and working a split shift.

Stan Rentz, the school district’s new superintendent, said the decision to cut the two routes was made before he started.

Still, when he heard about the changes he met with the new transportation manager Mark Henning and discussed ways to bus elementary age students to school so they don’t have to cross the highways.

They looked at the walk zone for Payson Elementary School and found there were children, some as young as 5, having to cross the highway.

“I am not comfortable with that,” he said.

He said Henning did a fantastic job figuring out how to get those students to school and they “cut out walking for nearly all PES students.”

He said there are still some 10 students who have to walk, but none of those students cross 87.

No Julia Randall Elementary School students are crossing the highway either.

But that leaves middle and high school students. Rentz said there are students from both of these schools that still have to cross the highway. He said they are advising parents to have students cross the Beeline using the crosswalks and take a path that keeps them on the sidewalks — when possible.

Rentz said they faced similar driver shortages in Georgia where he worked before coming to Payson.

Rentz said he is not sure when the school board will evaluate reinstating the bus routes, but it might be a year.

Arizona school districts must provide transportation to elementary students living more than one-mile from school and to middle and high school students who live more than 1.5 miles away. Rentz said the Payson School Board is trying to keep the walk zones to a mile.

“Walk zones are not a great thing, but it’s one of the only things we can do,” he said.

RCMS Principal Jennifer White said she had not personally received any complaints from parents.

“The bus change does not concern me, but we are working on supporting children safety in the parent pickup line,” she said.

Woodward, meanwhile, said he studied the walk zone map and found his property straddles the boundary line. The district agreed that his daughter could ride the bus because their property is on the cusp.