Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sewer Rate Increase: Year Two

It's bad news, folks.

Sewer rates are going up yet again, meaning still higher utility bills for American Fork residents.

We knew this was coming. Last year, the Timpanogos Special Service District (TSSD) raised rates by 26 percent and the City had no choice but to pass along the increase to residents. The district warned us, at the time, that it would be making another increase this year, which it did. Once again, the City has no choice but to pass the increase along to the users.

Please know that the City Council is grumbling about this louder than anybody. We have no control over these rates. We do not set them. We only collect them and turn them in. The City does this as a courtesy to the TSSD and receives no compensation for its billing expenses.

Yet the complaints will be addressed to us in City Council meetings, not to the TSSD at its board meetings.

Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Fellow grumblers, you can see that your complaints do some good by directing them to the TSSD. Its meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at 6:00 p.m. in the board room at the sewer plant, 6400 North 5050 West, Utah County, 84003. Written concerns may be sent to that same address in care of Tracy Wallace, Chairman of the Board.

I blogged about sewer rates last summer from a different angle; you can read that post here.

But before you complain too loudly, bear one thing in mind. These rate increases will go a long way toward mitigating the odor that has been so deleterious to economic development in American Fork and Pleasant Grove. The TSSD has bonded for new technology slated to be implemented next year, and payments on the bond are coming due.

It would appear that the TSSD can't really win with American Fork. Either it does nothing, and we complain about the odor; or it does something, and we complain about the cost.

That's politics.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Computer Access at the AF Library

How important are the library's computers to American Fork's residents? Do the residents support the use of public funds for this purpose?

These and other questions were answered in a recent study, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, conducted by the University of Washington and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This is the first large-scale study of who uses public computers and Internet access in public libraries, the ways library patrons use this free technology service, and how it affects their lives.

Below are excerpts from the AF library's report of its own participation in the study.

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Nearly one-third of Americans age 14 or older -- roughly 77 million people -- used a public library computer or wireless network to connect to the Internet in the past year. Forty percent of these users were seeking help with career or employment needs, 42 percent used the computers to further their educational goals, and 37 percent sought assistance for their health and wellness needs.

The American Fork Library began offering public access computers in 2000 and, thanks to funding from Friends of the American Fork Library, the Gates Foundation, state and federal funding sources, has 12 computers available for public use. The American Fork Library also provides one-on-one help and training classes. Last year patrons logged 14,824 sessions at the library's computers.

One of these users recently shared how he appreciated the opportunity to use the American Fork Library computer system. He said there are usually computers available to use, the staff is pleasant to work with and helpful, the computer room is clean and comfortable, and he can usually utilize the system for as long as he needs.

In American Fork, the report showed that 58 percent of the respondents were seeking help with career or employment needs, 50 percent used the computers to further their educational goals, and 46 percent sought assistance for their health and wellness needs. 83 percent of the respondents said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their library and access to public computing services.

Respondents were also given an opportunity to write in suggestions for improving library computing services and resources. The most frequent recommendations for improvement were: upgrade computers, improve computer security, don't filter computers, enforce noise and behavior standards, more staff, more library hours.

Survey respondents were asked how they access library resources available through the library Web site. About 83 percent of respondents used the computers in the library to access online resources such as the catalog, placing holds, or to access the library's subscription databases. Over 28 percent of respondents accessed library resources remotely through the library's Web site from the outside the library (e.g. from home, school, or work).

All respondents were asked about the importance of free computer access for themselves and their community. Seventy-two percent of respondents reported that public computing resources are important or very important to themselves, personally; however, even more (83 percent) felt that these resources are important or very important to have available for others in the community.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Budget 2011

American Fork's fiscal year begins on July 1 and the city council will soon vote on the budget. The public hearing took place last Tuesday. The vote will take place next Tuesday, June 15, at 7 pm in City Hall.

Presenting the budget to the public, Mayor Hadfield characterized it as "a bare bones budget" riddled with drastic cuts. The economy continues poor, with sales tax down ten percent over last year (American Fork is currently down $750,000 in receipts) and costs, especially medical premiums, still climbing. Sensitive to the economy and the needs of all who struggle with it, the City has made a concerted effort not to raise property taxes. This has been accomplished by using reserves, making cuts in operations, and putting off capital expenses.

The total $41 million budget is almost $5 million lower than last year's.

The city's residents, who don their taxpayer hats in June for the the budget vote and again in November when the taxes come due, will applaud this effort. But we council members will bear the brunt of their complaints during the rest of the year, when the residents trade their taxpayer hats for their consumer hats.
  • Road maintenance will continue to be underfunded.
  • Library collections will continue to lag below the basic level.
  • Parks maintenance will suffer as maintenance funds have been slashed and properties to maintain have been increased. (The City has new trails and will soon begin to maintain two new freeway interchanges.)
  • Sidewalks will continue in poor condition, in many places forcing pedestrians into the streets.
  • The Steel Days celebration has been scaled down.
  • The purchase of new cemetery land will be postponed indefinitely.
  • Police wages in particular remain low and employees city-wide will see no cost of living increase.
Please give us your patience with these cuts as we make this effort to keep your property taxes low.

There are, however, a few bright spots in the budget. A fire truck lease was paid off this year, and the funds which supported that payment will be diverted to the purchase of two new ambulances. The library's operating hours will be restored. And, through the strategic use of reserves, the RDA bond for public infrastructure at the Meadows year was retired a year early this year, freeing up future sales tax revenue for the general fund.

Gentle readers, please ask yourselves what you can do to improve the City's financial condition, and then listen to the answer Council Member Dale Gunther gave at council meeting: "If you would recognize that when you buy in American Fork, especially the big ticket items, that increases the sales tax revenue in American Fork and that's a big help to our budget."

In other words, buy local.

For more information on the budget, follow this link to read about Mayor Hadfield's interview with the Daily Herald.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Concerts in the Park and NEW! Arts Market

It gives me great pleasure to announce the 2010 line-up for Concerts in the Park. Please join us on Monday nights for fun, free family entertainment in the American Fork Amphitheater at Quail Cove, 851 East 700 North. All concerts begin at 7 p.m.

June 7: Timpanogos Chorale
June 14: Joshua Creek
June 21: Utah Premiere Brass
June 28: Wasatch Winds and the AFHS Band
July 5: Little Big Band
July 7: American Fork Symphony (special Wednesday performance)
July 12: Prairie Dogs
July 19: Temple Hill Symphony
July 26: Broadway Nights
August 2: Cold Creek
August 9: Utah Valley Skyline Chorus
August 16: Dyer Highway
August 23: American Irish Duo
August 30: Sam Payne

In a new twist this year, families can browse through the Arts Market just prior to the concerts on the amphitheater grounds. Featuring good food and the work of fine local artisans and craftsmen, the market will run from 5 until 7 pm on Monday evenings. Food, music, fun, and a chance to support the work of local artists -- truly, this is one of American Fork's best things.

Special thanks to the Arts Council's many fine volunteer organizers and to Doug Smith Autoplex, sponsor, for making the series possible.

Related news: When you visit the grounds, please take note of two recently completed upgrades to the amphitheater. The first is the light and sound booth, which was completed in time for last year's concert season, and allows the Arts Council to program events after dark. Finished in rock that closely matches that of the existing construction, the building blends (almost) seamlessly into the amphitheater's beautiful 1930s architecture. Second is a pair of signs to help visitors find the amphitheater. These, too, were built of complementary stone, and, we hope, will make the amphitheater more easily accessible by out-of-town artists, visitors, and wedding guests. Built out of the last of the RDA funds that funded the skate park, the leisure pool, and the City Hall remodel, these upgrades are helping the amphitheater achieve a grand status as a summer-time arts center.