Labor Day horse racing in Payson has come to a halt this year - possibly forever.
Earlier this month, the Payson Horse Racing Association's board of directors notified city officials that they were no longer willing to participate in Labor Day races - despite members of the City Council deciding to fund the races this year at the last moment.The association's board members told city leaders - first through a letter to the editor published in the weekly Payson Chronicle and then in person - that they felt some members of the council had suspicious motives and that the organization had been treated poorly by the city after putting considerable time and money into improvements at the Payson Downs Racetrack.
Also, association members said they didn't have nearly enough time to schedule quality racing and that expectations by the council to be reimbursed from gate receipts for the $4,000 appropriated for racing were unrealistic at best.
Consequently, the council - with no other groups stepping forward to organize last-minute racing efforts - opted to cancel the races altogether.
"This doesn't mean anything else except there won't be races this year," Mayor Russ Hillman said. "It would be impossible for the city to run races by itself, especially at the last minute."
During this year's city budgeting process, council members did not include funding for the races. Kirk Mittelman, one of two councilmen who voted against funding the races when the issue was raised in July, said he was under the impression that last year's races would be the last.
Actions made by the council this summer concerning racing and Payson Downs have come under fire from residents and local horsemen.
In late July, Payson city crews demolished the Payson Downs Racetrack grandstands, despite pleas from racing and other groups and historical preservation organizations.
The council, in a split vote, authorized crews to raze the 75-year-old grandstands, which were damaged in this summer's mi-cro-burst windstorms and were judged to be unsafe by the city's building inspector. The grandstands were given a temporary reprieve while architects studied the feasibility of restoration.
Opponents of the council's actions, including angry residents as well as members of the horse racing association, have charged that the grandstand demolition is just the first move by the council and other city officials to close Payson Downs.
However, Hillman said no one's mind is made up. The City Council has created a 12-member group to study the best uses of the track.