The Payson Town Council this week moved money around to add $560,000 for a splash pad and other capital projects to the town’s budget for 2019.

The council voted 4 to 3 to add a $260,000 splash pad in Green Valley Park to the proposed budget for fiscal 2019-20. The money for that project will come from a delay in the purchase of a new fire truck.

The council also added $90,000 to do a study of a new road connecting Main Street to the event center. The town will transfer money for that study out of the roads budget.

The town’s general fund operating budget will increase by 9 percent to about $18 million when compared to the estimated year-end spending of $16 million.

However, the budget will barely budge when compared to last year’s adopted $18 million general fund operating budget, according to an email from Deborah Barber, the town’s chief financial officer.

The council will vote on whether to adopt the preliminary budget on June 13.

The draft budget features a big increase in the reserves, broad pay raises, partial repayment of a water department loan and a big increase in police and fire retirement contributions.

The town budget has jumped in the past several years, spurred by a $3 million increase in the town sales tax in fiscal year 2017-18. Sales tax revenue rose by $400,000 in the current fiscal year, said Barber.

The discussion at a May 16 council budget session focused on capital projects, like a splash pad at Green Valley Park and a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study on the extension of Green Valley Parkway.

During the May 30 meeting, the council not only added the splash pad and NEPA study to the upcoming budget, but $100,000 for streets, $80,000 for new restrooms in Rumsey Park and $60,000 in operating expenses. Shifting money from other budget categories will cover most of that cost, with $200,000 in additional spending.

The NEPA study would lay the groundwork for extending Green Valley Parkway from Main Street to the Payson Event Center.

Supporters said it will provide an emergency evacuation route.

The splash pad would provide a new amenity for tourists and visitors in Green Valley Park. Several council members supported a splash pad in part because they’re afraid Payson can’t afford to upgrade the aging Tyler Pool.

Mayor Tom Morrissey did not take any public comments during the special budget meeting garnering Facebook comments from Councilors Chris Higgins and Steve Smith after the meeting.

“At last night’s town council meeting, the public was not allowed to make comments or talk to the town council. Last I heard we work for you??? Not according to our mayor last night,” wrote Smith.

Higgins expressed disappointment the public could not speak about a request to include a line item placeholder to help provide redundant internet service to the community.

“If you believe we need redundant internet in Payson you need to come to this (June 13) meeting. Hopefully, the mayor will allow comments from the public at this meeting. They were not allowed at last night’s meeting,” wrote Higgins.

Morrissey had the authority to decide whether to open the meeting to comments from the public or not.

“The public does not have a right to speak or disrupt the meeting; however, the public body may allow comment from the public via a call to the public,” according to the Arizona Ombudsman Open Meeting Law booklet.

Mostly, councilors struggled with the capital budget.

“The wish list and the priorities of these departments” should be taken into account first, said Councilor Barbara Underwood.

Councilor Jim Ferris advocated for both the NEPA study along with the splash pad.

“Regarding the NEPA study ... we are looking at an ingress-egress road. If we have a wildfire, everything else we talk about is moot,” he said. “It also provides a catalyst for what Main Street could be.”

He also supported the splash pad.

“With the splash pad, if the pool does go down, having another water feature would be great,” said Ferris. “I wouldn’t want to put hundreds of thousands of dollars in an old pool that will not last long.”

Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian advocated for the splash pad.

“We have to listen to our taxpayers. They are screaming they want something positive,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of things for little kids.”

Higgins said they need to prioritize.

He agreed the splash pad would be a great addition to Payson, but he also advocated spending an extra $100,000 to fix up streets.

The council will meet at 3 p.m. on June 13 to discuss adding a placeholder line item for broadband as well as possibly approving the preliminary budget.

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(2) comments

Jack Hastings

Our Mayor can't properly read or follow the agenda at town council meetings. How can he possibly make financial decisions for our town without leaning on the Tea Party for ideas and help! God save us all. It's becoming apparent that he is not so transparent! as promised.

Mike White

Do we still need the tax increase that was not voted on because it was justified as an "emergency" to quickly add to public workers retirement funds rather than wait for a public vote? There has been a $3 million increase in the town sales tax in fiscal year 2017-18. So, given that there is no emergency still in effect (if it ever really was), then let's revert back to town laws (and former Mayor's promises) requiring public votes to approve tax increases.

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