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Saturday, August 2, 2008
The Article, The Notice, and The Explanation

Three items in Thursday's American Fork Citizen, about the proposed American Fork property tax increase. Where did that 46 come from?

The soup thickens as the August 5 hearing on a proposed American Fork property tax increase approaches. No comment seemed necessary as I began this blog post, just a little boldface type added to the following excerpts by your (humble) blogger . . . until I saw a problem, cornered a City official, and begged for further clarification. But first the excerpts, then my observations.

The Excerpts

Item: News article in Thursday's American Fork Citizen, front page, above the fold. "A.F. clarifies tax increase," says the headline. The article begins:

Don't panic.

That's the message from American Fork City officials, who say the increase in city taxes listed in the tax notifications received in the mail last week are not accurate.

Those figures are based on a 46 percent increase which the city submitted to the county in time to make a printing deadline, and represented a worst-case scenario.

The actual increase will be closer to 14 percent.

Item: Legally mandated notice in the same paper, page 9, half a page high and four columns wide: "NOTICE OF PROPOSED TAX INCREASE." It begins:

American Fork City is proposing to increase its property tax revenue

If the proposed budget is approved, this would be an increase of 62.76% above the American Fork property tax budgeted revenue for the prior year.

Item: Another notice next to the previous item, also half a page high, but only two columns wide and with smaller type. This is the Explanation. An excerpt:

American Fork City is required to publish the above mentioned notice. Please note, however, that since the time the notice requirement was reported to the County, the American Fork City Council has decreased the proposed tax increase. This means that instead of the 62.76 percent increase above the American Fork City property tax budgeted revenue over the prior year's revenue as shown in the notice of proposed tax increase; the proposed percentage will be a 27.06 percent increase in total revenue to the City, including new growth.

What this means to you, as a property owner: The tax rate referred to in the Notice of Proposed Tax Increase would have reflected a 46 percent increase in taxes over the prior year. This has been reduced to a 14 percent increase over the prior year, on a personal residence, if there is no change in the property owner's market value.

My Observations

First, I have erroneously reported a few times lately that the 62.76 percent rate increase refers to the certified tax rate. It actually refers to the budget instead and includes taxes on new growth that are irrelevant to the rate calculations. The proposed tax rate increase associated with that budget increase would be 46 percent. Yes, that smaller number is still . . .

Irresponsible. Extravagant. Utterly politically tone-deaf.

The 14 percent really is a proposed tax rate increase; the associated budget increase is the aforementioned 27.06 percent.

The numbers that matter in discussing the tax increase as such are 46 percent and 14 percent, mostly the latter. The former is a public relations gaffe; the latter is the actual proposal.

I regret my inaccurate earlier reports, but my regret is mixed with frustration. On one hand, I am just an inquisitive blogger, not an elected official. On the other hand, I am a voter, to whom those officials are responsible -- and a fairly attentive voter at that. What if my confusion is a symptom of their confusion? I would like to believe that City staff provided our elected decision makers as a body with a clear, accurate, reasonably precise understanding of these numbers at the beginning of the Council discussions  . . . or at any time since then.

Second, as an unreformed college writing instructor, I can explain why the published Explanation might compel you to say, "Huh?" -- but you don't need my explanation. Your less technical response is quite adequate and (pardon the possible pun) right on the money.

Is this a bad time to echo the truism, "Sloppy writing is a symptom of sloppy thinking"?

Third, both the legally required NOTICE and the practically necessary Explanation end with this helpful line:

To obtain more information regarding the tax increase, citizens may contact American Fork City at 763-3000.

Good luck with that.

Fourth, My Favorite City Councilor has lately blogged about the proposed increase, the budget, and how she intends to vote on the proposed increase.

Fifth, an interested reader who prefers to remain anonymous sent this link to a delightful Saturday Night Live skit starring Steve Martin. I'm not saying this little video applies directly to today's topic, but it is a nice piece of tragicomedy about money, budgets, and humans.

Finally, there's still time to write to the Mayor and City Council. If you do write, remember that the significant number is the proposed tax increase,  14 percent. At this point, the other numbers are just distractions.


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