Here are American Fork City Council candidate Austin Duke‘s answers to the questions I sent to all the candidates. His answers are presented here unedited, except for two surnames added for clarity, and without comment.
Qualifications, Platform, and Workload
Q: Please summarize your preparation and qualifications to serve on the American Fork City Council.
A: I am a financial advisor by trade, and my initial thought when I saw that Rob [Shelton] and Kevin [Barnes] were not running for re-election was we should have someone with a risk mitigation/financial mindset serve on the Council to help provide diversity of thought when considering issues, especially fiscal issues. I’ve worked in the financial sector for nearly 20 years in banking, mortgage servicing, and financial advising/investment management. I also really enjoyed the Citizenship in the Community merit badge while working toward obtaining my Eagle Scout award back in the day.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish, if elected? Are there programs and other measures you would promote? Are there others you would oppose or dismantle? Why?
A: I think American Fork is destined for further growth, because of its proximity to I-15. As a council member, I would insist on discussions about a vision for what we want that growth to look like, how to manage it, and make sure we keep our streets and neighborhoods safe. I would prefer to attract businesses and residents who will maintain and improve their property and keep the city looking nice, and a place people want to live and shop. I also would hope to see more projects that we can come together and work on as residents to be more engaged and foster that sense of community that most of us have enjoyed and continue to want for our kids. I don’t have any programs or measures on my mind at this moment that I would either promote or dismantle. I don’t proclaim to have any specific agenda. I want to get in and give everything a set of fresh eyes to see what’s working, what’s not working, and how can we improve.
Q: Are you able and committed to spend the time necessary from week to week to do well as a member of the city council? (Experienced city councilors have placed this in a range of 10-20 hours for a typical week.)
A: Yes; I’m self-employed and set my own schedule at work. I can be available almost anytime.
Q: Utah’s Truth in Taxation law, as intentionally crafted by the legislature, slowly strangles local government budgets by ignoring inflation in calculating certified tax rates. Unless a local government implements regular small property tax increases (as the law requires them to be called, even if the tax rate decreases from year to year), it can’t even break even from year to year in real, inflation-adjusted dollars. (Such regular, small increases have been the common practice of the Alpine School District.) When a strangling city finally cannot wait anymore, has to adopt a large tax increase just to catch up. Is Truth in Taxation, as structured, a good thing? Would annual, small, so-called tax increases be wise for American Fork, to keep up with inflation? Would you support and advocate the legislature amending the law to index certified tax rates for inflation, to reduce or remove the problem?
A: I would favor small, annual increases over large, infrequent ones. But I am interested in analyzing the annual budget to ensure we can justify those increases. I’m open to understanding what we pay for, why we’re paying for it, etc., and ultimately decide if and how much taxes should be raised.
Q: If you were a resident of American Fork at the last such vote, what was your vote on renewing the PARC tax? Why?
A: Yes; ideally, as an investment professional, I would love to see private donors establish foundations and endowments to fund arts/cultural programs. I think that is a fantastic way for people to show their love for the arts and perpetuate those programs to younger generations. I think the reality is there are only so many generous, wealthy individuals out there and an infinite amount of causes to donate to. I think the PARC tax has been a big benefit to keeping American Fork looking good and providing resources for citizens. It’s a very small sales tax, and I don’t think most people notice it when they’re out shopping. Plus, a lot of that revenue comes from big ticket items that people from out of town come to shop for in American Fork.
Q: What is your position on the City’s citywide fiber optic project? Why?
A: For; similar to the PARC tax, I think the fiber optic project fills a need. There are households that do no have high speed internet access. Yes, it would be nice for private companies to build out their networks to get high speed internet to all businesses and residences, but they aren’t always willing to cooperate. In this post-Covid world where we have people working from home, doing Zoom calls, and the schools opting for online learning days instead of just no school when winter storms roll through, we need to make sure everyone can have reliable internet access. I think there will also be positive residual benefits to the city in future years.
Q: What can the City do to promote civic engagement in the newer neighborhoods of the city, where most of the dwellings are multifamily and the turnover is relatively high?
A: Great question. I’m not sure I have a great answer. The church that I attend on Sundays was built by American Fork residents. People came together and built that church with their own bare hands. I’m sure it was a great activity for them to participate in and strengthened community ties. I know there are a lot of building codes and rules and regulations now that don’t allow us to do stuff like that, but I have to believe that we can come up with something to put our best efforts into and grow together. I’m open to considering ideas from anyone on this.
Q: Should a city’s budgeting and finances operate differently from a family’s? How and why (or why not)?
A: I think a family budget looks totally different from a city budget, but the principle of living within your means still applies. Having said that, I think most, if not all, of us have had reason to borrow money for a large expense with the intent to pay it off over time. The city should be fiscally responsible and should do its best to do more with less, and only borrow if it’s absolutely necessary. I view each tax dollar spent as an investment in the community. We should be maximizing those investments.
Two More Questions
Q: Describe a time you’ve been wrong about something in local politics. What was it? How did you come to decide you were wrong? What did you do in response?
A: Another great question that I’m not sure I have a good answer to. I honestly haven’t been super involved with politics, so nothing comes to mind. However, my wife and I don’t always see eye to eye on political issues. There have been many times we disagree on something, and I listen to what she has to say and try to understand her perspective. I don’t always change my opinion, but I leave those conversations feeling edified, more informed, and better prepared to make a decision and stand behind it.
Q: Does the proper role of local government differ in any substantial way from the proper role of the federal government? Please explain.
A: I think the federal government is too big, and is constantly trying to expand its reach and micromanage decisions that should be made at a local level. I think the needs of each municipality are unique, and we should be left to govern according to what we feel is best. I think it still comes down to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We want a good police force and first responders to help protect residents and their property. We want our residents to feel safe. We want to ensure they have their basic needs met, so they can have the confidence to get out there and do what makes them happy. But we also need residents to abide by the laws, respect other people and their property, and ultimately reduce the demand placed on the government and law enforcement.
Thanks, Mr. Duke!
Thanks to everyone for reading. If you’re a voter, you still have two weeks before your ballot has to be in the mail. Please Learn BEFORE You Vote.
Answers are also posted from Clark Taylor, Tim Holley, Elizabeth Gray, Christina Ballard, and Ken Sumsion. And don’t miss John Mulholland’s report of his interviews with most of the candidates.
Watch for answers from other candidates and more information and opinion coming soon. If you’re one of the candidates who hasn’t sent answers to the questions I sent, the invitation is still open.