Saturday, February 23, 2008

Heidi's Goals for 2008

1. Sponsor a nuisance abatement ordinance with teeth in it.

2. Ditto for a rental licensing ordinance.

3. Create a targeted housing program similar to the Neighborhood Housing Services of Provo. (We have to start small, but we have to start!)

4. Put the poor downtown trees out of their misery. Replace them with healthy trees in such a manner as not to interfere with the merchants' signage. While we're at it, amend the City sign ordinance to allow blade signs and sandwich boards in the downtown area (aka the central commercial district).

[Goals one through four are about cleaning up the downtown neighborhoods. I campaigned strongly on these points, and it's time to get busy.]

5. Redesign the City Website. Even now, the City is in contract negotiations with a design firm. I'll be pushing for a great product -- something user-friendly that projects a positive image.

6. Create a user-friendly interface for the annual budget document. Two years ago, Mayor Thompson created a user-friendly format for Council meeting agendas. It's time to do the same for the budget document.

7. Establish a systematic program for connecting volunteers with volunteer projects and for honoring those who give extraordinary service.

[Goals five, six and seven are communications goals, an important thing for American Fork.]

8. Finish paving the gol-darn parks! Not having paving has made Art Dye, Hunter, Miller, Hindley, and Val Vista parks nuisances, not assets, to their neighborhoods. We encountered red tape with the funding which was earmarked for these projects, but the issue is nearly resolved, and I have good reason to hope parking lots will be finished in 2008.

9. Honor the Council's promise to give part-time employees a long-overdue wage increase.

10. Create landscape standards to be added to the City's development code for subdivisions and large-scale developments. This is about trees. When the City Council adopted the tree ordinance last November, we were advised to create standards to preserve trees in the path of development and to ensure that trees planted are right for their conditions. That's this year's project.

[Goals eight through ten are about follow-through, another good thing for American Fork.]


Many of my gentle readers are asking themselves, "Why did Heidi wait until February to set goals, giving herself a two-month handicap?" Others are asking, "Where is the promised goal having to do with library funding?"

The answer to both questions is the same. I have been pondering the impact that a significant budget increase will have on the taxpayer. The City raised taxes significantly two years ago. Some residents will see their water bills go up this year when the pressurized irrigation system comes to their neighborhoods. Some say signs point to a troubled economy.

My conclusion is that now is the wrong time to impose a significant tax increase on residents. Accordingly, not wanting to set goals I can't accomplish, I have devised a list that does not depend on a significant budget increase. (Where goals do depend on budget, funds already exist.)

This doesn't mean I'm giving up on the library. A modest property tax increase of fifteen to thirty dollars per year on the average house would provide amply for library books, and this is what I want to try for. My gut tells me residents are willing to pay this much for library books. If I'm wrong, however, the public will be sure to clamor -- and I'll be sure to listen.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thought for the Day

When you start talking about government as "we" instead of "they," you have been in office too long.

Ronald Reagan

City Council Retreat

On a Monday evening in January, the City Council held a short evening retreat to flesh out goals for the coming year.

At the retreat, we created a list of the City's most pressing needs as we see them. We then assigned dollar values to each item -- dollar values informed by recent studies.

The exercise was informative to us, and I felt it would be to you as well. Here's the list:
  • Install and repair sidewalks throughout town ($2K per year or $2 million over 10 years)
  • Complete upgrades to 1120 North, 900 West, and 700 North ($5 million)
  • Open up the railroad crossing at 560 West ($500,000)
  • Install traffic signal at 1100 East 50 South ($125,000)
  • Install traffic calming devices in streets that serve elementary schools ($200,000)
  • Increase City library fund to raise much-needed funds for books, computers ($200,000)
  • Purchase land for expansion of cemetery ($3.5 million)
  • Purchase land for expansion of public works operations -- and put an end to dumping of street debris at Art Dye Park (!) ($500,000)
  • Complete parks and trails, including widening the access to Art Dye and installing parking lots, picnic pavillions, restrooms, and swingsets throughout the City ($6K per year or $6 million over 10 years)

[A few additional items made the list, but we lacked sufficient information to assign price tags. They were: Transition to a full-time fire department, hiring of a grant-writer, and purchase and refurbishment of the Harrington School building for City use.]

Taken together, these fairly basic priorities add up to more than $18 million over and above the existing budget. For a City whose annual budget figures around $40 million, that's a lot of money.

Revenue off the Meadows -- revenue not already committed to infrastructure bonds -- increases at approximately $500,000 per year. Not much relief from that quarter. And if, as we hope, subsequent development at the Meadows accelerates sales tax receipts, those revenues will be needed to offset the City's operating costs, which accelerate with growth.

The property tax increase of two years ago -- the increase that so pained the public -- raised $1 million per year. Conceivably, we could raise taxes again and then complete these projects over the next several years. However, that's a little rich for my blood. Residents can't afford another large tax increase -- especially not during time of economic recession.

The challenge we face is this: How to provide for basic needs with a small tax base and an income that (because of Truth in Taxation) declines steadily in proportion to costs?

Truly, the situation is not so different from what most of us face at home with our household budgets. It's a challenge faced by lawmakers and homemakers everywhere. So if you have any suggestions for me, I'm all ears.