Monday, November 4, 2013

The Turning Point: Why I Voted to Place the Bond on the Ballot

Last May, I blogged about road funding, explaining that the council was "torn between the horns of the dilemma" of bonding vs. incremental tax increases. At the time of the blog post, I was leaning toward the tax increases.

Six months have passed, and tomorrow is election day. Voters will decide on a $20 million bond to reconstruct the first $20 million of failing roads, a bond that will increase property taxes at the average American Fork home, valued at $191,000, by $80 per year, or $7 per month.

What happened to change my mind, and why did I join in a unanimous vote to place the bond on the ballot?

The answer stems from what I articulated in that post:
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.
The turning point came when, seeking better information, I consulted with former American Fork planning commissioner Scott Okelberry, who works in road construction bidding large-scale road projects for W. W. Clyde & Co. He sent me an email articulating four points which I shared with the council. This email marked the turning point in the debate.

With his permission, I now quote from that email:
1. The points you make about construction costs and inflation are valid.  I personally think they may be conservative.  I say this from the perspective of bidding on road construction projects every week (generally we don't do local city work, but more of the large highway and freeway work).  I believe that construction prices are currently at least five percent lower than a "normal market," meaning that as the industry continues to emerge from the recession and more work load becomes available, that prices will continue to increase at least five percent.  I think this is in addition to inflationary increases, which you cite at three percent and CPI at seven percent.  I recently had a conversation with a UDOT official who also estimated that construction costs will rise at a rate several percent higher than overall market inflation.  I also agree that oil prices can be very volatile, and can be the largest component of the overall cost of city road maintenance.
2. My own observation is that the city is significantly "behind" on regular maintenance.  You already know this.  One of the biggest factors in road degradation is water getting into and under the pavement.  Currently our roads have significant cracking (there are several "categories" of cracking, and we have them all in various parts of the city).  I also observe that everywhere the irrigation was installed has cracks at the joints where the pavement was replaced.  These are all letting water into the pavement structure.  My point here is that we need to "catch up," and this may take a larger investment in the near-term than the inflationary tax increase may be able to fund.
3. You may already have seen this, but just in case. . . . UDOT has a blog post which summarizes a principle of road maintenance they try to follow.  It's called "good roads cost less." Here's a link:  It makes the point that initial construction (or reconstruction) requires a large investment up front, but that investment must be maintained to get the most out of it. When roads get too bad, they require complete reconstruction rather than simple maintenance solutions.  I believe that if we don't catch up on the road maintenance that is needed, we will face exponentially higher costs in the not-so-distant future.
4. I agree with Mayor Curtis that ongoing needs cannot be effectively addressed with "one-time" funding solutions.  UDOT generally follows this model by funding the capacity improvement and reconstruction projects (I-15 Core, Pioneer Crossing, Geneva Road, etc.) with State funds (bond funds), and almost entirely funds their pavement preservation and maintenance with ongoing funding from the federal government.
Framed in this light, the decision becomes clear: bond today and approve a modest tax increase, or procrastinate and watch City streets end up in the same train wreck as pressurized irrigation.

The decision is in your hands. Please take time to research the facts presented at the City Web site or at my husband's blog, LocalCommentary.

If you find you still have questions, I'm happy to help! You can reach me through the comment section here at the blog, by commenting at my Facebook page, or sending me a personal email at If you leave me a phone number, I'll be happy to give you a call.

Then, please VOTE! I'll see you at the polls.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home