Friday, May 17, 2013

Announcing My Decision Not to Seek Re-election

From earliest childhood, I have harbored grand ambitions, but none of them are political.
No one was more astonished than I to learn there was a place for me in politics. Ten years ago, I was as frustrated as I have ever been, home-bound with a handful of young children, too busy and too poor to pursue my dreams and stuck, as I felt at the time, in a community where I couldn’t even provide for my children’s needs. There was no playground to take them to, no park to which they could ride on their bikes, not even a safe sidewalk for a walk.
One day a kindly neighbor suggested I would be happier if I joined efforts to make a difference. I accepted his invitation to attend American Fork Neighbors in Action, and one thing led to another. We formed the Greenwood Neighbors Initiative, I got involved in the parks upgrade, joined the board of Downtown American Fork, Inc., and now, unbelievably, I find myself looking back on two terms of service on the city council.
The work has been extremely rewarding. I’ve seen the community improve and I’ve worked with caring, committed people. In eight years, with the help of dozens of volunteers and a hard-working city staff, I’ve accomplished everything I set out to do. I’ve grown personally and professionally, and now it’s time to move on.
During the next six months, when I’m not working on the final issues of my term, I’ll be launching my own business as a freelance commercial writer. I also plan to continue working as a pianist, teaching and accompanying, and I envision a more modest role for myself in public service. In particular, I will continue volunteering with the Timpanogos Symphony Orchestra and, if God is gracious, I will work to bring about a county library system.
If there’s a common thread in these plans, it’s arts and letters. This is where my true ambition lies. As I am now staring down mid-life, I’ve decided it’s time to get to work.
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With three weeks remaining before the filing deadline (the window is June 3-7), I wish to make a special plea to American Fork’s leaders, any and all of them, to consider a bid for office.
But I will make a special pitch to women. There are three reasons why I hope a few good women will take a look at the city council.
Women Have Important Perspective
When I first ran for office, I would have been offended by any suggestion that I deserved the vote because I was a woman. I had a resume! And qualifications! However, the longer I serve, the more I appreciate that women are essential to the mix of representative government.
In saying so, I mean no disrespect to my male colleagues, who have always listened when I have led on issues pertinent to children and families. But the mere fact of our population base underscores the need for full and diverse representation. According to the 2009 census, 40 percent of American Fork’s residents are under the age of 19. The business of raising families and building homes is our community’s highest endeavor. We need mothers’ voices on our city council.
Community Service is Compatible with Motherhood
The first time I ran, I faced the decision with great trepidation. My youngest was a babe in arms, and I worried that I would miss his childhood. I resisted until the last possible minute, when I realized I would be giving up an opportunity to learn from the likes of Heber Thompson and Dale Gunther. Fifteen minutes before the deadline, I threw the baby in his car seat and raced to the recorder’s office, dragging my husband along to block any escape route.
My fears were unfounded.  City council work is highly flexible and most of it is done from the computer in the comfort of the home.  Each month, there are two required evening meetings and two required afternoon meetings. In a typical week, I attend two or three additional meetings, and the bulk of these can be calendared to fit my schedule, with the result that my piano-practicing, chore-doing, home-working children see far more of me than they wish to.
Public Service Will Bless the Family
As a family, we have learned that support is a two-way street. My husband has been a constant and reliable support, and my kids see this. They also see that, even as Mom supports the kids in all they do, they, in turn, must support Mom. My children have achieved greater development by taking on additional responsibilities, including cooking the occasional evening meal, babysitting each other, and giving homework help when I’m not home. This has been beautiful to watch.
My public service has also opened up meaningful opportunities for my children. I hoped they would learn through my example not only to value community service, but also to look for opportunities and persist through challenges. It was extremely gratifying to watch my daughter choose to serve first on the youth city council, then as youth mayor, and to watch my son volunteer with the American Fork Police Department, cleaning up nuisance violations under the authority of a law I helped to pass.
But the most meaningful blessing is the ability to see that, working together with my colleagues and my many good neighbors, I have indeed made American Fork a better place for my children. It’s not just the parks, or the sidewalks, or the books in the library. It’s also the financial security that comes from enacting long-range plans and the peace of mind that comes from seeing the City, its public works, its administration, and its public safety held securely in good hands.

Friday, May 10, 2013

To Bond or Not to Bond: Please Weigh In

American Fork’s administration has proposed a budget for 2014 which addresses, at a cost of $350,000, the mandate of bringing public safety staffing into compliance with the Affordable Care Act. To do so, it must neglect five of my top priorities:
  1. Two narcotics detectives
  2. A $30,000 increase to library collections (half that amount was awarded)
  3. Ongoing tree planting and pruning funds (deficient by $14,000)
  4. A full-time economic development director
  5. Road maintenance
Road maintenance is the lion’s share of the problem. Now funded at $500,000 per year, the roads accrual account is an eighth to a half of what it should be (depending on the estimate) to keep pace with needs.
Even as American Fork’s roads deteriorate, maintenance costs continue to escalate. This leaves us facing a situation perilously close to what we saw with pressurized irrigation, where costs originally estimated at $8 million had risen to $48 million by the time the system was approved.
At work session yesterday, I learned that I am not alone in my concerns. But while the council agrees with most of my priorities, the difficulty is in finding the funding.
We debated two options and are torn between the horns of the dilemma.  I’m interested to know how my constituents feel about the choice, so I’ll summarize the two options here. If you have insight for me, please weigh in!
Option 1:  Road bond    
Used appropriately, a municipal bond is a powerful financial tool.  In this case, $20 million borrowed would enable American Fork to jump-start road maintenance at interest rates of 2 percent or better. With inflation rising at a minimum of 3 percent, the consumer price index rising at 7 percent, and oil rising steadily and unpredictably, a bond would be a great bargain.  Setting the bond at $20 million would not solve the entire problem, but would have the added advantage of leaving funds in the budget for ongoing maintenance. (One mistake communities often make is to sink the entire fund into debt service, preventing ongoing work from taking place until the bonds are retired.)
American Fork’s credit rating is the best possible and, even including the PI bonds, the City’s debt load is below half of its debt limit.
If approved by the voters on the November ballot, this bond would raise property taxes by 18 percent. But it would do nothing for other priorities: narcotics detectives, libraries, or parks and trees.
Option 2: Incremental, inflationary property tax adjustments
Utah’s system of Truth in Taxation is a base, rather than a rate system, meaning that the City collects the same, flat amount in property taxes each year. If property values increase, the county decreases the certified tax rate correspondingly; but if property values decrease, the county raises the rate. The result is that, unless the City adopts a program of regular, inflationary adjustments to the property tax rate, the City’s revenue remains flat. Adjusted for inflation, American Fork’s property taxes today have the same buying power they did in 1989, but prices have gone up.
From the time I took office in 2006, I have advocated a discipline of incremental property tax increases to offset this loss, but I have not yet prevailed. Sometimes the City feels it’s too difficult to go through the process of Truth in Taxation, but other times there is bigger game afoot, and the council has favored either a large tax increase or a bond.
Nevertheless, others have been well served by the incremental approach.  Provo has vowed not to borrow money to pay for roads, opting instead to find funding from a variety of sources, including cuts to other budgets and regular property tax increases. Provo’s philosophy, as Mayor Curtis told us when he visited American Fork last winter, is that bonding makes use of one-time money for an ongoing problem. An ongoing stream of money, he said, is the only real solution to road maintenance.
If American Fork were to begin, this year, a course of regular 3 percent property tax increases, families could budget more comfortably than they could on a diet of 20 to 30 percent increases every five or ten years. Over time, the deficiency in the road maintenance fund would be cured, and the financial discipline enabled by this approach could pay big dividends in years to come.
Using this approach, the council could also respond better to other needs such as narcotics detectives, library funding,  and parks and trees. But we would continue, for many years, to take complaints about the slow pace of road maintenance in American Fork.
That’s the state of the debate. Gentle readers, I’m curious to know how you would call it. Given the necessity of better funding, would you support a large bond with an 18 percent tax increase, or a regular diet of small tax increases set against the risk of a punishing inflationary environment?