City Council Candidates Q&A – Part 2

Eight city council candidates will be on the August 15 primary ballot. Each voter may choose two, and the four with the most votes will advance to the November general election, where again each voter may choose two. The two winners get the seats.

Here candidates answer questions about taxes, water rates, impact fees, and roads. (Last time, they answered questions about experience and qualifications, goals, and motivations for running.)

The following candidates have sent responses so far, and they are published below:

  • Kyle Barratt
  • Staci Carroll
  • Barbara Christiansen
  • Doug Richards

The following candidates have not yet responded, but their answers will be posted when they do. Until then, because there are so many candidates, their names are omitted below to reduce clutter..

  • Aaron Clegg
  • Bill Houlin
  • Ernie John
  • Jeffrey Shorter

Note: The questions in the post were sent to all three candidates by e-mail on Tuesday, July 18. Candidate responses are ordered alphabetically by surname. Responses may be slightly edited for grammar, punctuation, and format.

  • Published: 25 July 2017
  • Updated: 28 July 2017

Taxes, Utility Rates, and Fees

If elected, how will you decide what the proper level is for each of these?

  • The City’s portion of our property taxes.
  • Culinary and pressurized irrigation water rates.
  • Impact fees.

Kyle Barratt

Kyle Barratt

I would most likely analyze data from 6-10 other cities statewide.

Staci Carroll

Staci Carroll

The challenge with property taxes is that several entities levy taxes on our properties. The city is one of the entities with the authority to levy property taxes. Other entities that levy property taxes include the county, the school district, and special service districts. Understanding this is important because, although the city can set its own levy within allowed maximum amounts, the city does not function in a vacuum. Any changes to the City’s portion of property taxes must be weighed against other taxes and fees levied. My approach would be to consider the overall tax burden picture for our residents and businesses. In general, I would attempt to maintain overall levels currently in place. See my response to the road question below for a specific example.

I support a graduated model for water use. I do believe if you use more water, you should pay for more water. This incentivizes users to manage their own water use. Within this construct, I believe services provided by the city should be self-sustaining. The fees collected for culinary water and pressurized irrigation must cover at the very least maintenance and operation costs. Ideally, fees should also cover the debt service for bonds incurred for capital improvements. Providing self-sustaining services also requires the city to be frugal and efficient so that fees are competitive.

Impact fees should be based on the cost the city incurs to provide the services. This allows the city to recoup the expenses undertaken by the city to accommodate more residents and businesses. Sometimes, costs used to define impact fees have to be forecasted into the future. Whether based on past or forecasted expenses, impact fees must be based on concrete justification. The level of impact fees need to also remain competitive with surrounding communities.

Barbara Christiansen

Barbara Christiansen

Property taxes must cover much of the city’s necessary expenses that its residents need. That determines the amount of tax. I favor working to reduce our debt, while maintaining those services. The city’s portion is not the largest part of our property tax bill, however.

Rates for both of our water systems have to cover the costs involved. It was publicized before the vote on the secondary water project that the rates would increase. However, many people did not realize that and have been disappointed.

Similarly, impact fees must be calculated to cover the costs of the impact any new development has, in order to not place an increased burden on existing residents. Those fees need to be evaluated periodically.

Doug Richards

The demographics of American Fork are ever changing, and the application and use of taxes needs to constantly be adjusted to best suit the people of American Fork. Also American Fork should look at ways to cooperate with the surrounding cities to best utilize the resources we have, be it infrastructure, equipment, facilities such as the library or administrative functions.

I proposed a pressurized irrigation system while I was a director of the irrigation company years before it came to fruition. The vision I had applied to agricultural and domestic purposes. It would have been much less expensive at that time. As a farmer, the current system and management of the system has been disastrous at times.

My understanding is that American Fork has one of the highest impact fee structures in the county. My concern is that impact fees are used to gain revenue to cover other expenses not related to development in the city.

Roads and the 2013 Road Bond Issue Proposal

In the 1990s, to balance the budget, the City drastically reduced road maintenance budgets, in effect borrowing millions of dollars per year from our infrastructure, without calling it borrowing. This shortfall became the norm until it was corrected about a decade later; by then we were already tens of millions of dollars behind – and it costs more to rebuild a failing road that to maintain it properly. This has led to much discuss and controversy, including a failed bond issue proposal in 2013.

Did you support or oppose that bond issue in 2013? Why? Have you had second thoughts?

How do you propose to help us address our road needs, if elected? Where will we find the funding to catch up?

Kyle Barratt

I was opposed to the bond. I was not pleased with the way the bond was presented nor the lack of other options considered. I wish it would’ve been presented differently. In 2013, it would’ve been a fabulous year to perform construction projects. Bond rates were low, construction companies were hungry for work, and material costs were low. I wish it would’ve passed on different terms.

[I would address road needs through] budget priority, excessive sales tax funds, and excessive utility costs (when applicable).

Staci Carroll

In 2013, I did not support the road bond because, based on the information I had at the time, I believed the bond was proposed to cover ongoing maintenance of roads. From my perspective, the bond seemed like a band-aid without a sustainable plan to cover ongoing maintenance needs of the future. I do believe bonds can play an important a role in financing our city, but generally as a last resort and never to cover ongoing maintenance and operating costs. Covering maintenance with debt would be unsustainable and akin to living off credit card debt.

Yes, since the bond failed in 2013, I have had second thoughts about my decision. I have come to understand some of the road needs extend beyond ongoing maintenance and because of past neglect are more akin to capital improvements. I am still hopeful that we can find ways to address our road needs without debt.

If funding the roads were simple, the city council would have already done it. I envision a multi-pronged approach that will help identify creative and sustainable solutions to fund our roads. Here are a few elements to my approach.

  • Best Practices: Cities throughout the state are operating with many of the same constraints we have. A best-practices approach prescribes that we look at how other cities are tackling the same issue. It might also help to look far beyond our neighboring cities.
  • Maintenance Prevention: While we are rebuilding or resurfacing some roads, we can take steps to keep other roads in better shape. Here are some examples: we can require utilities to pave across the whole road instead of patching a trench; we can require boring instead of patching, where appropriate; we can require private roads which might be annexed into the city to have the same standards as public roads; and we can increase or enforce compaction requirements.
  • B & C Road Funds: Because the state legislature reconfigured the formulation of the gas tax, the city’s portion of the B & C road fund has been, and will likely continue, to increase. The city’s portion this year was $1.3 million. The increase will ease the burden a little bit. But the B & C fund was never intended to be the sole source of funding and needs to be supplemented from other sources.
  • Transportation Utility Fee: The approximately $2 million allocated to roads in this year’s budget, included $500,000 from property taxes. Because not all properties in our city pay property taxes, only some of us are carrying the load to maintain our roads. One promising idea for funding over the long term is to add a utility fee which would be combined with an equivalent reduction in property taxes for taxpayers. The utility fee would be added to everyone including those that do not pay property taxes. This would need to be done with careful consideration so that not too much of the burden is placed on tax-exempt entities. However, I do like the concept of everyone helping to pay for a service that everyone uses.

Barbara Christiansen

The road bond proposed in 2013 was a start, but not necessarily a good one. The problem with it was that there was not a complete plan in place to complete the project. I propose a series of informational meetings to have the residents be involved and develop a more complete understanding of the new 10-year plan. This should be like the bond proposals for the library, fire station, police and courts building, and the purchase of property for Art Dye Park. Those issues were supported by the voters and the results have enhanced our community.

Doug Richards

I supported the road bond proposal. Over the years I have lived in five cities in three states. Having said this, I returned to American Fork almost every weekend, every holiday, and every vacation and have maintained a residence in American Fork. American Fork has in my opinion some of the worst roads, curbs and gutters of any of those cities. On one occasion I had people visit American Fork who commented about the lack of curbs, gutters and sidewalks particularly along 100 West.

A study suggested that roads have a typical life of 7.2 years; this was based upon normal or average use. The population of American Fork has significantly increased, leading to increased traffic; however, the roads have for the most part remained the same or gotten worse and in some cases, such as 600 North, become restricted. In an ideal situation the people who use the roads should pay for the roads they use via an increase in tax on gas or tolls. I am familiar with one area in Las Vegas where the people who live in the area pay a utility tax to maintain the roads they use.

Regarding the bond, nowadays there are more people in American Fork, such that the burden of a bond will be shared by more people and not as onerous as previously roposed, albeit keep in mind the cost of infrastructure repairs has also risen, and the roads have progressively gotten worse since the original proposal.

At my home I have an abandoned irrigation ditch in front which serves as the curb and gutter. I’ve worked with the city for a solution to remove the ditch without the assistance of the city. I encourage other citizens address similar concerns and take responsibility for their problems and not depend on the government, be it city, state or national.

More questions and answers will follow soon. If you’re a candidate whose answers do not yet appear here, it’s not too late to send them. If you support a candidate whose information isn’t here, it’s a great chance to offer that candidate some help.

For candidate contact information, see American Fork City Council Candidates Contact Info.

A similar sequence of questions and answers from the mayoral candidates begins here.

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