It’s free.

Well, kind of.

Hey, at least the pitch for a Payson community center, covered pool, new ballfields and parks was free for the skeptical members of the Payson Town Council on Wednesday.

The council on Aug. 28 sat down with the consultants designing the Rim Country Educational Foundation’s (RCEF) Multi-Generational Community Recreation and Aquatic Center. The meeting was billed as “an invitation to the Town of Payson to participate in a partnering role.”

Despite the growing tension spurred by the actions of the new council majority and a recall effort mounted by their critics, the meeting was a model of civility and cooperation.

When Morrissey and other members of the council majority campaigned they expressed concern over a similar plan to build a pool, ice rink and community center in Rumsey Park in partnership with the sports academy Varxity. They cited a variety of concerns, including a need for greater town oversight. The town and the sports academy paid the consultants $150,000 to develop those plans. The RCEF hired the same consultants to change the plans to fit on a portion of the 254 acres bought as the site for a hoped-for university in Payson.

Pitching the partnershipAt the meeting on Wednesday, consultant Lee Ploszaj, a managing partner for Community Center Partners, said the RCEF would welcome a “strategic partnership” with the town.

Payson’s Parks and Recreation Department could “work ... with elite programs and all the things this community has said they want,” said Ploszaj — things such as yoga classes, card rooms, meeting rooms, swim teams, tournaments, etc.

Payson would become one of a dozen partners in the project, which would include backers of an elite prep school. The lease agreements would make it possible for the backers to line up financing to build the facilities.

“In these next steps, we would ask that you would give us the opportunity to work with staff to understand the financial model of the town,” said Ploszaj.

The CCP would establish a lease agreement with the town to pay for parks and recreation to use the facilities.

The CCP-Payson partnership would then reduce fees for any Payson resident.

Councilor Barbara Underwood said that other cities have also relied on memberships to support community centers.

“Recently, my daughter moved into Anthem,” she said. “Their (community center) membership is $80 a month. They get all the amenities.”

She said she didn’t think Payson residents could afford Valley prices, though.

“Your estimate is $50 a month,” she said.

Ploszaj said if the town partners with CCP, the monthly price would drop to $30.

“We want accessibility by anybody and that is the primary reason to drive the price,” said Ploszaj.

He said the sports academy would open its training center to the town, if it partnered with CCP.

“Yes, we are privately financed, but in our proposed arrangement with the town we want the training center to be open to the public,” said Ploszaj.

Throughout the meeting, Ploszaj repeatedly said the town would not pay any construction costs.

“There is no special investment to the town. There is no requirement for debt or equity. We are not asking for guarantees,” said Ploszaj.

He did have one limitation — time. Because Varxity will build the private sports academy even if the town doesn’t participate, the backers need to know whether to include Payson.

“Time is of the essence. I don’t want to finish up the drawings if they are of something the town does not want,” said Ploszaj.

He then asked for questions.

The council weighs inVice Mayor Janell Sterner said her biggest concern “is the community.”

“I have friends that live down there. The first thing they did when they saw those trucks was call me and complain, ‘What is going on?’” she said. “Why didn’t you go out and say, ‘Hey this is coming?’”

Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian had the same concerns about “the trees that were cut down.”

“Just reach out and say, ‘Hey, welcome, this is who we are,’” she said.

Councilor Steve Smith agreed with Sterner and Tubbs-Avakian, but saw benefits to partnering.

“I’d like to support what council member Sterner said ... when we were going to develop anything, and it was going to be over a five-acre site, we had development meetings with the community. The value of that was we could help the community understand some of the conditions,” he said.

Smith offered suggestions on how the town and CCP could structure a deal.

“There are already some agreements with the Town of Payson now to provide police and fire ... such as we have with East Verde Estates,” he said. “There is a cost to providing services. Some of this (partnering cost) could be offset by the services we are providing.”

Councilor Jim Ferris foresaw troubles.

“We’re supposed to be involved (in RCEA),” he said. “The Town of Payson was to have three members on the board. (Instead) it has been that we don’t have any input or communication with the (RCEA) board ... we need to get involved.”

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I cover the Town of Payson, courts, wildfire, business, families, non-profits, the environment and investigative reporting

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(5) comments

Mike White

How can the town be a "partner" and not have some financial liability if the financial backers fall apart or go bankrupt, leaving suppliers and contractors looking for their money elsewhere, i.e., the Payson taxpayers?

John Hesterman

Didn't "we the people" vote this entire idea down? Why is this group still trying to sell it for the third time? And really, who will end up paying for it? Transparency, indeed.

Phil Mason

Maybe because they had an agreement with the other slate of candidates last year (under the influence of Evans/Swartwood, etc) to implement this scheme regardless of the vote of the citizens?? Again, who are the "financial backers" or should we say "financial beneficiaries" of the proposal??? "FOLLOW THE MONEY!!"

Paul Frommelt

One concern I still have here is this: For several years now this group has mentioned "financial backers." But to this date, they cannot give us any examples, other than the town itself, and RCEA, when it comes to funding these projects. I'd like to know whos some of these other interested parties really are. We know Varxity has no money.

Phil Mason

Exactly! TRANSPARENCY!! Does this group include members that are leading the Recall of the Mayor and Council? Seems curious - maybe special interests trying a "work-around" to deal with the loss at the polls by the former entities that controlled the town for decades.

Will any facility include the Silver Sneakers program. In communities I have lived in for many years now, the "community organizations and government entities" have included the Silver Sneakers program at no cost to the resident.

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