Thursday, July 27, 2006

Taxes and Town Meetings

It's all about accountability.

I hope you got your letter from Mayor Thompson reporting highlights of the City budget and inviting residents to one of three meetings to learn more.

We just finished up with the town meetings -- they were tonight and yesterday evening. I'm sorry I didn't see more of you there. Aside from the Council and City staff, I counted about ten residents in attendance each night.

This is a pity, because the evenings were hugely informative. Mayor Thompson gave a comprehensive overview of the City's mission statement and budgeting priorities. He provided exhaustive detail on the City's revenue sources and the allocation of precious budget dollars. Then -- the icing on the cake -- he sat down and took questions.

My favorite thing about Mayor Thompson is his courtesy as a listener. Residents were heard and treated with respect.

Their points were well taken. The three I have taken most to heart are these:

1. Has the City undertaken an actual, scientific marketing survey to determine the level of need for City programs? Should it not?

Answer: No, and Yes. (This question was aimed at the various recreation, arts, and other quality of life programs offered by the City, with special concern for the needs of seniors who need more and different programs.)

2. This property tax is all about homes. Families can't live without homes. Whether they pay rent or mortgage, the property tax is passed on to them, and they can't choose not to pay -- except by choosing not to live in a home. Increasing tax burdens are placing undue stress on families, forcing many to seek second incomes.

Thanks to Harold Smith for a stirring speech to this effect. He is right. But this is not a tax-and-spend Council. We are motivated entirely by the need to provide basic services -- services such as police, fire, ambulance, parks, safe routes to school -- services which are also basic to families. If we don't provide responsibly for these needs now, our City will continue to deteriorate and costs will continue to rise -- and that's not good for families, either.

3. Truth in Taxation, according to candidate Kenneth Sumsion, is less about revenue caps than about accountability. (Mr. Sumsion is the Republican nominee for the House in district 56.) The need to keep pace with inflation is there, he concedes. But by requiring local governments to jump through these hoops, the law guarantees that governments will be answerable to their constituencies for their actions.
While focusing on inflationary trends and the law's penalizing effect on well-meaning governments, I had missed this point. It can't hurt governments to develop a habit of communication with their constituents.

Under the provisions of Truth in Taxation, only the notices in the newspaper and the August 8 hearing are required. But we wanted to do more, so we sent out the letter and hosted the town meetings. I personally wanted to do more, because I need to be able to explain to my neighbors why the increase is necessary and how it will benefit their families. They don't make any more money than I do, after all.

If you weren't at one of the town meetings, I'm sorry you missed out. I hope you'll come to the hearing on August 8 -- at 6:00 in the Library.

Monday, July 17, 2006

News from the Library Board

What is life's purpose? My opinion: It's to get the day's work done so I can get back to whatever book I've been reading. This is why I'm so excited about what's happening at our library.

Earlier this summer, the new automation system went live. Designed and installed by SirsiDynix and funded by a Library Services and Technology grant, this system not only allows users to access the stacks from home; it also makes American Fork's software compatible with that used by libraries in Lehi, Pleasant Grove, and Eagle Mountain.

When the stable fiber connection is laid (this will be authorized in the 2006 - 2007 budget), the system will be better than in place; it will be reliable.

In June, the City Council approved a slight fee increase to bring AF's out-of-town user fees in line with those collected in Lehi, Pleasant Grove, and Eagle Mountain.

Now add the talks which, at the request of the mayors, have been taking place between librarians and boards of the four above-named cities, and it means that the groundwork is nearly complete for reciprocal borrowing agreements with our sister libraries in the north county.

This is a great day for American Fork readers, many of whom have been asking for a wider range of resources than we have in our own library. Partnering with other cities will do more than provide AF residents access to more libraries; it will also draw readers from cities who don't presently operate libraries: Highland, Alpine, Cedar Hills, Saratoga Springs. With these users will come more funds -- whether assessed through individual user fees or by annual sums from their city budgets.

Either way, it adds up to more funding for more books -- in glorious fulfillment of life's purpose.

[Read more in last Friday's Daily Herald.]

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Moratorium for Downtown?

Two historic homes on Main Street, near 350 West, have gone down. The homes were demolished to make way for a Good Earth store -- a good addition to our community, to be sure. But will the gain be worth the loss of a piece of our historic identity?

This question was asked by members of the Historic Preservation Committee when developer Danny Richards applied for the demolition permit. But according to American Fork's Historic Landmark Ordinance, applicants to demolish a historic building need only take ninety days to compile a history of the building -- photographs, dates, little more. They are then free to demolish.

In the application for the zone change associated with the development, Mr. Richards was required to state how the change would promote the "health, safety, morals, convenience, or general welfare of the public." He stated that the downtown area has "changed from a residential climate to a higher commercial climate." Homes, by that reasoning, are out of place here.

My neighbors and I dispute the claim that the downtown area has "changed from a residential climate." (On this subject, I have never heard a public comment so masterful as this one made by my neighbor, Ken Draper.)

The Historic Preservation Committee disputes whether the new commercial climate is, in fact, "higher." They, like the members of the board of Downtown American Fork, Inc., envision a downtown that preserves its historic character while promoting smaller, niche-market businesses.

But Mr. Richards complied fully with existing ordinances, so the City Council had no choice but to approve the demolition and new development.

The unmistakable lesson here is that our ordinances are not sufficient to enact the vision embodied in our general plan, which states:

While designated as commercial, the west Main Street area (150 West to 500 West) contains numerous dwellings of historical significance. Current ordinances applicable in this area (CC-2 Zone) provide incentives to preserve the existing structures, including the mixed use of the structures.

Preservation of these structures is a significant planning goal. Accordingly, the Plan recommends a continuation of the policy of preserving the historical residential structures in this area, and of promoting an environment which is compatible with the continued use of these structures for residential purposes.

Fortunately, help is on the way. Mayor Thompson has instructed City Attorney Kevin Bennett to draft an ordinance that will protect our downtown's historic character. But I personally worry that, during the lengthy process of writing and approving such an ordinance, more historic buildings will be lost.

Enter the moratorium. According to the Utah League of Cities and Towns,

A city or town may, without prior consideration, enact an ordinance establishing a temporary land-use regulation within any part or all of the area within a city or town. This is what is commonly called a moratorium. [A moratorium] cannot last longer than six months. . . . Before enacting a moratorium, the . . . council must make one of two findings. It must either find that there is a compelling public interest in doing so (an important reason) or that the area is currently unregulated.

Moratoriums are effective for limited purposes. They do not stop development, they only delay it. They do allow a city or town time to catch up on modernizing their ordinances. (Powers and Duties: A Guide for Utah Municipal Officials, Twelfth Edition, p. 123)

Draper City is in the midst of this process right now. (See Tribune article here.) I think it's a good thing for American Fork, too.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Paving Art Dye Park

With Steel Days upon us, friends have been asking why so many of the events were moved to Art Dye park. There are two reasons: First, the park is a great setting -- even if it is a diamond still in the rough. Second, the high school, wanting to protect its newly refinished track, no longer felt right about hosting the Big Show.

So, in order to provide a positive experience for Steel Days, as well as to continue needed upgrades to Art Dye Park, the City awarded a bid to Geneva Rock to complete the paving of the parking lot and access road. This is the most urgent of many needed upgrades recommended by the Parks Task Force for Art Dye park. Paving here and also at Hunter Park were to have been completed by July 1 of this year.

Unfortunately, a fly fell into the ointment. Owing to an unprecedented and unforeseen shortage in the supply of liquid asphalt oil (see Tribune article here), Geneva was unable to complete the paving in time for Steel Days.

Fortunately, Geneva Rock is committed to mitigating the effects of the delay without compromising the final product. Engineering and grading at Art Dye will be complete before Steel Days. Road base will be complete or mostly complete before Steel Days. (If it is only mostly complete, care will be taken to assure a smooth transition between the completed section and the remainder.)

Road base will be a much nicer surface for parking and walking than the present surface, but it will still be dusty. Fortunately, the firm has also agreed to water the road base on a regular basis during Steel Days. This will help quite a bit.

Asphalting and installation of curb and gutter will be delayed until Steel Days is over. This will help assure the quality of the end product. Rushing the process is not only impractical at this point; it could also compromise the quality of the end result.

Art Dye park is seen as the jewel of our park system. It will provide for the active and passive recreational needs of our community for years to come. It is a magnificent setting for Steel Days. Taking time to complete the paving properly will help Art Dye live up to its promise.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

We the People Bookshelf

Earlier this year, American Fork children's librarian Vicki Turner applied for and received the We the People Bookshelf grant on the theme of Becoming American.

The We the People initiative, a collaboration between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association, is a program that encourages young people to read classic books and explore themes in American history, culture, and ideas.

When the library received the grant -- copies of fifteen classic titles valued at $2,000 -- I challenged myself to read or re-read all fifteen. Here are the titles:

Kindergarten to Grade 3
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland
Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson
Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say

Grades 4 to 6
Immigrant Kids by Russell Freedman
The People Could Fly: The Picture Book by Virginia Hamilton
Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord

Grades 7 to 8

Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

Grades 9 to 12
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Barrio Boy by Ernesto Galarza
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, edited by Louis P. Masur
Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie by Ole Edvart Rølvaag

The project is well underway, and the reading is richly rewarding. So rewarding, in fact, that I've decided to take it as my next challenge to challenge all the rest of you to join me. Accordingly, with the goal of enticing more readers to these books, I'll be posting reviews here as I finish each title.

We'll call it my way of turning the Fourth of July into a year-long event.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Two Great Ladies

American Fork lost two great ladies last month.

The first was Lois Peters Andersen, a fifth-generation direct descendant of Steven Chipman (founder of American Fork), first president of the American Fork High School PTA, and 1992 Grand Marshall of the Steel Days parade. She was also a card-carrying member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I did not know her well -- I only met her once or twice -- but I had great respect for her because she was also Juel Belmont's mother. She instilled the love of American Fork's history in her daughter, and her daughter, in turn, has infected many others with that love. It was noteworthy to me that, even while she served on the City Council, Juel reserved her evenings for her mother.

The second was Eileen Glathar. A founder of the Central Utah Center for Independent Living in Provo and recipient of the Governor's Silver Bowl for her volunteer work, Eileen was a tireless advocate for the needs of the disabled. Even at meet-the-candidates events here in American Fork, she and her husband Ralph always found a way to put in a reminder about these needs.

"You can't fight city hall if you can't get inside the building," said a recent article in the Tribune, citing a suit filed against Highland City over the main entrance to its City Hall. When I read this article, I thought of Eileen and other disabled residents and businessmen we work with here in AF, and of how basic it is to their constitutional rights that we provide them access to our meetings -- whether that's physical access or access through an oral interpreter.

My brother is profoundly deaf. When he was born in 1971, he faced a future of ostracism because of his disability. But now, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, millions of people like him have better chances for holding jobs, raising families, and participating in public life.

It can't have been easy to fight through disabilities for these rights. But Eileen was one who did, and we are all indebted to her.

Or perhaps I should say -- as did Representative Jim Ferrin -- that she didn't fight so much as work for these rights. And, he added, it was a pleasure to work with her.