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Tuesday, July 22, 2008
(Another) American Fork Property Tax Increase Update

The key word was "approximate." Don't be alarmed by the number in the published notice. The dates of the votes.

Some Numbers Are More Approximate than Others

That "approximately . . . 50 percent [property] tax increase" the American Fork City Council discussed in its June 26 work session, which the local press reported, and about which I blogged at some length (see several previous posts), turns out to have been very approximate, if that expression makes any sense at all. It was only a ballpark figure, as we say. The ballpark in this case was sized for the major leagues.

This (approximately) 50 percent was the amount we understood to have been reported to the County, which means that the City Council can adopt a tax increase this year of that size or smaller, or no increase at all, but cannot exceed that number.

The actual number the City sent to the County turns out to have been 62.76 percent. The same official minutes which record City staff describing to the Council an "approximately . . . 50 percent increase" say nothing of this higher number. So it seems reasonable to assume that the Mayor and City Council also thought the number was close to 50 percent during their deliberations.

Bad PR, but not a Conspiracy

We will see the higher number very soon in the newspaper notice Utah's truth-in-taxation laws require. As it turns out, the City must publish the number it sent to the County, even if it is actually contemplating a much smaller increase, about 14 percent. This seems to have been news this week to people far more important to American Fork City government than your humble, voting blogger. Anyone at the City with the public relations sensibility of the average fence post must be writhing over this one.

Not all voters are as intelligent as my readers. There will be somebody somewhere who believes that the real meaning of the extra 12.76 percent is that there is a conspiracy to keep either the City Council or the public in the dark. But the truth is much more mundane than that, as it usually is. If any bureaucratic head rolls over this -- which is not likely to happen in the current administration -- it won't be because anyone had any malicious or deceptive intent.

Damage Control

Meanwhile, the City will do what other municipalities have done before: It will run the notice required by law, with the 62.76 percent. Right next to that notice, it will run another notice describing the increase the Council is actually contemplating. It's embarrassing, perhaps, and might be confusing to some readers, but it is reasonable damage control.

The Hearing and the Votes

Note: This section is revised to reflect the final dates and times. Those reported earlier were preliminary and have been changed somewhat.

The City reportedly wanted to have two or three meetings or hearings, instead of the required one; recall that two years ago they had two town meetings and an official hearing. But apparently there is time to schedule only the one hearing on the tax increase, at 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 5 at City Hall. A separate hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for Tuesday, August 12, at 7:00 p.m., prior to that evening's regular City Council meeting. Votes on both the tax increase and the budget will occur in the regular meeting on Tuesday, August 12. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m., but neither item will be first on the agenda. All of the above will occur at historic City Hall.

When You Write

Anytime between now and Monday, August 11, is a good time for the Mayor and City Council to receive your letter or other comment. See earlier posts for contact information and some tips (the latter near the end of a long post).

When you write your letter or make your public comment, don't get caught up in the 62.76 percent, or the 50 percent either. There's no point to attacking a proposal that isn't being considered. Give your views on the likely 14 percent increase instead.

This Could Be Fun to Watch

The vote on August 12 may not be simply an up-or-down vote on a 14 percent increase. City staff prepares the wording of Council motions, but the City Councilor making the motion sometimes does his or her own thing. Whether this is good, bad, or completely off the wall in a given instance, it is nearly always a possibility. So it is possible -- I'm not saying it's likely -- that the initial motion will be for a smaller increase than the planned 14 percent, or that part of the Council will attempt to amend (change) a motion for a 14 percent increase by lowering (or raising) the number. It could happen.

Don't forget to write . . .

David Rodeback comments (7/22/08 and 7/24/08):

I have revised some of the dates and times of meetings above, in response to more recent information.

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