Community center / park plan moving forward | Local News


Payson can afford to take over the operations of a proposed new park and community center without raising taxes – and without signing a deal that would require voter approval, Payson chief executive Troy Smith told the council at the meeting. the last meeting on the ambitious project.

Contract Town attorney Justin Pierce agreed as council listened to the August 3 working study, which brought the project closer to reality.

Assurances appeared to impress board members at the joint meeting, which included board members and staff from the three groups working on the construction of a park near Granite Dells Road as well as a community center and a swimming center near highway 260.

The meeting revealed a host of still unresolved details, but focused on some of the main concerns raised by councilors.

The park and community center would be built with MHA Foundation money on land originally purchased for a university site. The negotiations involve two spin-off nonprofits – one created jointly by Payson and Star Valley (the Rim Country Educational Alliance – RCEA) and the other created by members of the community interested in attracting a university to the area.

The park would cost around $ 3 million and would include playgrounds, a playground, hiking trails, a small lake and a man-made stream, all on land owned by the Alliance and leased by Rim Country Educational. Foundation (RCEF). The MHA would finance the construction and the Town of Payson would take charge of the operations, according to the current proposal.

This week’s meeting at the Payson Public Library involved RCEA and MHA board members, as well as city council and staff. The public has been invited, but has not been allowed to comment.

The discussion revolved around what it will cost to build and then maintain the park, whether the city should raise taxes, and whether a deal would require voter approval, under the terms of several voter-approved initiatives.

The RCEF has been seeking advice from the city and the public on the plan for months. The original plan proposed a park with playgrounds and a community center with an indoor pool for the elderly, said RCEF president Jennifer Smith.

However, the city’s contribution prompted the RCEF to develop a new plan that doubled the size of the community center to serve all ages. This necessitated the relocation of the proposed community center site, which widened the park’s footprint.

The RCEF has announced that it will build the park and community center, but hopes the city will take over operation and maintenance. If the city decides not to partner, the RCEF will go ahead with the $ 3 million park, but will likely seek other partners and a redesign for the much more expensive community center and indoor pool, said Troy Smith.

The big change at this week’s meeting came when Troy Smith and Pierce agreed the city could afford to move forward with the amended plan without raising taxes – and without triggering Proposals 401 and 402, that require voter approval for projects and contracts costing over $ 1 million. annual or long-term leases.

Jennifer Smith’s presentation made it clear that the MHA Foundation will fund the project. The RCEF owns the land and leases it to RCEF, a limited liability company. This arrangement would continue after the construction of the park and community center.

Kenny Evans, chairman of the MHA Foundation, said the organization had enough money to build the entire project, but would seek partners to help cover construction costs.

The plan offers a lot to the city, said Troy Smith.

“If the city wanted to own these facilities, it would have to pay both the capital construction and the operating costs,” he said.

Plus, any deal would allow the city to opt out of the deal to maintain the facilities – protecting the city from future trouble, Pierce said.

Right now, the city doesn’t have an additional $ 30 million to pay for the construction of a new park and community center, Troy Smith said.

“We will have to go to voters for funding,” he said.

This is something Mayor Tom Morrissey wants to avoid.

“The concern I’m hearing is, will this end in a financial state that will cost the city money that will need to be addressed by raising taxes? ” He asked.

Troy Smith explained, given the city’s current income, “I think… the city would be able to function within its means. “

Additionally, he said a maintenance deal between the city and the RCEA would not exceed the $ 1 million threshold determined by Proposals 401 and 402, which voters approved in 2018. Pierce informed council that he believed the proposals violated Arizona’s Constitution and State Law. However, only the courts – not the council – can overturn a measure approved by voters.

Transparent Payson, trained to adopt the proposals, threatened to sue the city if it violates the proposals, now enshrined in the city code.

However, Troy Smith said he believes the proposals do not come into play in this project.

“A vote would not be necessary or permitted given the construction of how this facility would operate,” he said.

Board member Jolynn Schinstock insisted on a completion date, especially for the community center and indoor pool. The issue of a municipal swimming pool has taken on particular intensity as the city closed its Taylor swimming pool this year for safety reasons.

“How many summers without a swimming pool?” ” she asked.

Jennifer Smith said the RCEF plans to complete the park in 18 months.

However, the organization does not have a timeline to complete the pool and community center, given the state of discussions with the city. If the city decides not to partner, the RCEF will likely seek other partners and perhaps redesign the project accordingly. However, if the city and the RCEF strike a deal, construction of the community center could begin before the park ends, said Jennifer Smith.

Council member Scott Nossek was concerned about the town’s resources. “I have heard a lot of people say that we are having difficulty maintaining the parks that we have now,” he said.

He wondered what additional sources of income in addition to taxes would finance the maintenance of the park.

Troy explained that the city, with its pay-per-use philosophy, has focused its resources for years on the CC Cragin project, to the detriment of its streets, parks and other assets.

Payson has spent years building the $ 50 million CC Cragin project, relying on a combination of water impact fees on new developments, an increase in city water tariffs and a low-cost public infrastructure loan – much of it forgivable. The 2008 recession also weighed on the city’s income for years, prompting the city to stop even routine road maintenance for almost seven years.

Things are different now that CC Cragin is done, roughly doubling the city’s long-term water supply in the face of an epic drought. The city is now free to play a “proactive” role in assessing needs and finding sources of funding to meet those needs, said the city manager. Even so – the city probably couldn’t afford to build the Granite Dells Park complex on its own – let alone the community center, said Troy Smith.

“If the city wanted to own these facilities… in order to finance the construction, we don’t have the financial capacity,” he said.

The city is expected to find another partner or voter approval for a bond issue.

In contrast, with the proposed deal, “we’re only talking about operating costs, day-to-day operations and maintenance,” he said.

It’s still a long way to determine full costs, however. Troy Smith convened a working group to go into specifics, such as the type of turf that will be on the playing fields, the programs and services offered and the resulting staffing needs.

“Our challenge is to make sense of this long term,” Evans said.

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