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Friday, July 18, 2008
American Fork Tax Increase Update

14 percent is better than 50 percent, and 34 percent is better than 100 percent. And we may all have to live without two meals at Del Taco.

Yesterday afternoon's American Fork City Council work session introduced some sanity into the proposal the Council will present for public hearings and then eventually put to a vote. You'll have to decide for yourself whether it was enough sanity.

Here are the highlights. In offering them, I am relying on Caleb Warnock's article in today's Daily Herald and some quick conversation last evening with a City official. If I learn that any of this is erroneous, I'll correct it ASAP.

Proposed Tax Increase

The possible 50 percent increase, of which the City advised the County earlier this month, and which City officials plausibly deny was likely to happen, is now proposed at about 14 percent. Remember that only 10 percent of that, give or take, is really increase; the rest is breaking even, because of the perverse way Utah law calculates property tax rates.

Bond Issues

The possible bond issues that might have raised taxes approximately as much again, resulting in the doubling of City property taxes (when combined with that theoretical 50 percent increase), got some serious trimming, too.

  • The largest, mostly for roads, looks to be trimmed from $17 million to about $6 million -- about a $27 per year tax increase on the typical $220,000 home, lasting 20 years.
  • For $11 per year, we can vote to finish Art Dye Park ($2.4 million) and the road leading to it.
  • For $13 per year we can vote to expand the cemetery, which is reaching a crisis.
  • For about $1 per year, we can allow the City to purchase some open space which will be of considerable value in the future, for roads and other things.
  • A possible fifth bond, for expanding Fitness Center parking, will not be on the November ballot.

Each bond issue on the ballot will be a separate item, requiring a separate vote.

Put Them Together . . .

I don't yet have all the numbers I'd like to have, but here's how it looks right now. If the voters pass all of the bond issues, which I think very unlikely, and if the City Council gives us the proposed 14 percent tax increase next week, the total property tax increase will be about 33 percent. That still strikes me as excessive, but at least most of it would be increases the voters directly inflicted on themselves by approving bond issues. And it's a lot better than the worst-case scenario from the Council's earlier work session, a 100 percent increase.

What To Do Next

There's still time to write to the Mayor and Council, talk to them, or e-mail them and tell them what you think. You might try thanking them for trimming their proposals substantially, then tell them whether you think they trimmed them far enough, and how their vote on the tax increase might affect your future decisions in the voting booth.

In any case, you should direct your comments now to the 14 percent increase and the revised bond proposals, not to the worst-case scenario of 50 percent plus 50 percent.

Currently, there is no related item on Tuesday evening's agenda. (I link to the index page, not the agenda itself, because I don't want a link leading directly to the original, if a revised agenda is issued.) I mistakenly believed there would be something Tuesday.

Anytime an item is not on the agenda, it's fair game for the public comment period near the beginning of the meeting, where you get two minutes to tell the Council what you're thinking. That would be an excellent thing to do. Stick to the time limit, and don't try to interrogate the Council or the Mayor or expect a dialog; just speak your mind. I don't see why the Council shouldn't hear about this issue every time they meet in a regular session, until it actually comes to a vote. (When it's on the agenda, discussion comes later and is out of order for the public comment period.)

Then watch for the required public hearings and attend at least one of them. Speak your mind -- clearly, calmly, and concisely -- or just listen and watch things unfold, if you don't wish to speak. It can be instructive and motivating.

Eventually, there will be a vote by the Council. In theory, they could do some more trimming between the hearings and the vote. With the proper encouragement, perhaps they will. In any case, you could speak your mind in that meeting, too.

Bear in mind as you do all this that we really need an annual increase of a few percent (not 14 percent!) just to break even, because of the silly way Utah calculates property tax rates.

Miscellaneous Parting Thoughts

In no particular order:

  • One of the problems here is that the officials pushing the tax increase seem to want us to weigh it in isolation, not thinking of the possible tax increases in future years or of tax increases we may see this year from other jurisdictions, such as the Alpine School District.
  • Councilmember Sherry Kramer dismissed the proposed increase at the price of two meals at Del Taco for her family. If she can divide, we can multiply: If every American Fork household (roughly 6000) reduces its patronage of Del Taco by two meals per year, and the average household has four people eating, that's about 48,000 fewer meals Del Taco will sell in the year, or an average of more than 130 meals per day -- and that's just the impact of the American Fork increase. Could Del Taco stay open? Would it have to lay off some employees? What about the impact of this on the City's sales tax revenues? Would additional construction workers eat enough meals to make up the difference? Will we have to give up JCW's to pay for a school district property tax increase?
  • According to Caleb Warnock's article (link above), the increase is partly because of the need to patch up roads dug up for the pressurized irrigation project. I guess I'm a little naive; I expected those funds to come from the bond issue for the project, which we gave them two years ago.
  • I had expected that the possible failure of a vote on a general obligation bond issue to expand the American Fork Cemetery would lead the City to fund that expansion with a more expensive revenue bond issue, which requires a Council vote, not a public vote. I was told yesterday that a revenue bond would not work for the cemetery.
  • In my letter this week, I said that if the tax increase exceeds ten percent, I will not vote for any bond issues in November, and I won't vote for any City incumbents in the future who don't vote against this increase (if it's more than 10 percent). It is conceivable that I could be persuaded that 14 percent is close enough to 10 percent, in light of urgent, unavoidable needs, but we're definitely not there yet.

More when there is more.

Heidi Rodeback comments (7/18/08):

To be fair to Council Member Kramer, it should be noted that she posted the cost of two meals against one of the smaller bonds -- either that for the cemetery or that for Art Dye. Either of those would cost taxpayers approximately $15 per year (both would cost $30). I did not hear her suggest that residents could absorb the entire package by foregoing those two meals.

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