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Thursday, October 24, 2013
AF Road Bond: Pressurized Irrigation -- a Cautionary Tale?

What high water bills have to do with crumbling streets, and how we've met the enemy, and they are . . . well, you know.

This is the third in a series of eleven short posts on the proposed $20 million road bond in American Fork. The first is here.

Opponents of American Fork's proposed bond issue for road repair suggest that our experience with pressurized irrigation, for which we borrowed nearly $50 million, is a cautionary tale. They're right about that. They're just wrong about what it means.

One complaint is that we were promised our water bills would decrease with pressurized irrigation, but they increased dramatically. In fact, we were never promised this. We were told that our bills would increase, but that the pressurized irrigation system was cheaper than the alternatives, which it was -- and is.

Culinary water bills increased due to what I described last time: restoring sanity to the rates, so they cover the short-term cost of delivering the water and also the cost of maintaining the system in the long run. Some households were also affected by a restructuring of the culinary rates, with higher rates for heavier usage, to encourage people to water their lawns with more plentiful irrigation water.

Irrigation water bills increased, because a portion of the water bond was to be repaid with impact fees. When the economic downturn stopped housing construction, the impact fees dried up. The payments still had to be made, so users of the system paid higher rates.

Maybe the first moral of our cautionary tale is this: Don't believe every complaint you hear from people who are missing essential facts or failing to connect the dots.

The second theme of our tale takes us back -- again -- to the 1990s, when we also gutted our road budget. (See the previous post.) Had City leaders who considered the matter acted then, the irrigation system could have been built for about 80 percent less money. Imagine the effect on our water bills of 40 million fewer dollars to repay.

Had we acted more wisely in both matters then, our taxes would have gone a little higher, but we wouldn't need to bond for road repairs now. Our pressurized irrigation debt would be smaller; our water bills would be lower. Procrastinating something you know must be done eventually may sometimes be wise, I suppose, but tens of millions of dollars are a high price to pay for short-term political convenience. Small wonder our taxes and debt exceed those of some nearby cities!

Maybe the lesson here is, it's often much cheaper to do necessary things sooner than later.

I hear the same people you do, demanding there be no more borrowing and no more tax increases to pay for roads. Can you now see why I feel as if their attitudes (or principles) resemble the thinking that got us into these messes in the 1990s? The cure they prescribe is actually more of the disease.

Finally, bond opponents insist that our present predicament is not the people's fault. It is precisely the people's fault, including mine. For more than a decade we allowed our elected officials to continue to make short-sighted decisions, for which we're paying dearly now. I hope we've learned the right lessons.

Next in this series: Crack Seal, the Magic Miracle Cure!

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