Learn BEFORE you vote. (Not an official website of American Fork City.)

Tag: city taxes

They Want You to Think American Fork Has the Highest Property Tax Rate

What Utah Football Has to Do with It

Suppose you’re a University of Utah football fan (as I am, when they aren’t playing BYU, and I’m sad about the USC thing last week). But your grandfather is a died-in-the wool Cougar. You know the type. In his mind, it is a holy war, and you don’t remember the last time he was willing to concede that the Utes made a good play or got a good win. When the Utes beat the Cougars, as often happens, he blames the referees. If he cannot find the slightest cause to blame them for enforcing the rules unevenly or ignoring the rules when it’s to Utah’s advantage, he complains that the rules themselves are stupid and skewed, and blames the refs for enforcing bad rules.

Suppose that in a small fit of hubris and wrath, he said to you, “If the Utes are ever ranked first in the polls, I’ll give you $25,000.”

Fortunately, his eyesight is failing. So when the Utes were ranked #4 the other week, you dropped by (as you often do, because you’re a good, devoted grandchild). This time, you said, “Grandpa, I’m going to read to you from the college football poll in order, as usual. By the way, BYU got a few votes, but didn’t make the top 25. As always, I’ll start with the last of the ten on my list and work up, because I know you like the suspense.”

Conveniently — and so you couldn’t accused of lying — you had typed up a list with ten teams in order, starting with Utah at #4. You left off the top three, but you were careful to get the next ten in the right order, because accuracy matters. You started reading at the bottom, as you said, and you didn’t give their numerical rankings. You left him thinking that Utah was ranked #1.

“I guess I’d better write you a check,” he said, because his eyes are failing, but his memory’s fine. “Better yet, you write the check, and I’ll sign it.”

Grand Larceny

You would never try to put the wrong amount on the check — say, $125,000 — even though he’ll never notice. After all, you balance his checkbook too, and there’s plenty of money in his accounts. You could probably get away with it — and if he caught you, you could say it was a mistake, and he’d likely believe you. But you would never do any of that. It would be immoral. It would be criminal.

Come to think of it, you would never deceive Grandpa with bad data, so he’d give you $25,000 on a false pretense. Not only would that also be a felony. It would be piling a sin on top of a sin. (The one on the bottom is loving money so much you’re willing to deceive people to get more of it.)

property tax ratesHere’s my question. If you wouldn’t do any of those things, why in the world would you publish a flier with a graphic showing that American Fork has the highest property tax rate among Utah County cities, when three cities have higher rates?

You could protest that all the numbers you put in the graph are true. And you could point out that the graph would be unreadably crowded if it showed all 25 Utah cities. So you had to leave them out. And you could protest that you never actually said that American Fork’s rate was the highest. And all of that would be true.

Do you really expect me to believe that you left out all the cities with higher tax rates just for the sake of readability? It looks like you’re trying to fool the voters, tricking them with partial truths so they’ll give you political power. (I’m sure it’s for their own good.)

You might argue, even if you did skew the visual results, the higher point you’re making is God’s Honest Truth: our taxes are too high. So that justifies taking some liberties with your graphics.

So I guess I have two more questions.

First, if it’s God’s Honest Truth, why do you have to deceive people so they’ll agree with you?

Second, would you ever trust someone like you with political power, control over tens of millions of dollars of tax revenues, and your freedom?

So You’re Not Really One of Those People

Gentle reader, I assume you’re not one them. So what can you do to help? Post the graphic below (or this one) on Facebook or somewhere, or e-mail it to your friends and neighbors. Talk to your friends, in person and on social media. Tell them what you know. Some of them will listen. And if you want the raw data, it’s here at Utah.gov: 2015 Utah Tax Areas with Tax Rates.

Learn before you vote.

Meet the American Fork City Council Candidates (Parts 9-12)

On Saturday morning State Auditor John Dougall moderated a meet-the-candidates event at American Fork Hospital. It was part of their Pancakes and Politics series, which is sponsored by the American Fork Chamber of Commerce.

Kevin Barnes

Kevin Barnes

No one in the area has more credibility in the moderator’s role than John Dougall. And the free breakfast was good too. About 40 people attended, not counting the candidates and the moderator. The audience was noticeably older than Wednesday evening’s.

The format was a bit different from Wednesday evening, and some of the questions seemed a bit redundant, but there was more discussion of some key issues, as well as some treatment of issues which didn’t arise on Wednesday evening.

All four candidates were there: incumbents Brad Frost and Rob Shelton, and challengers Allen Simpson and Kevin Barnes.

My audio recording of this event is not of professional quality (that’s no surprise), and there’s a fair amount of background noise. But it’s easy to follow. I’ve broken it up into four segments of about 20 minutes each. For each segment, I’ll list the topics and the order in which the candidates responded.

First Segment

Audio link: 2015_Saturday_1

Brad Frost

Councilman Brad Frost

Opening Statements (3 minutes each; Frost – Shelton – Simpson – Barnes)

  • Brad Frost: “Let me see the facts, and I will make a decision.”
  • Robert Shelton: “We were able to find over the last three years $1.8 million in budget cuts. . . . We were able to do more with less.”
  • Allen Simpson: “I’ve been successful at leading teams of people who were not used to following.”
  • Kevin Barnes: “I’m not mad at anybody. I’m not after anybody’s throat. I just want to serve.”

Questions (one-minute responses):

  • water rates (Shelton – Simpson – Barnes – Frost)
  • experience (Simpson – Barnes – Frost – Shelton)
  • more experience (Barnes – Frost – Shelton – Simpson)

Second Segment

Audio link: 2015_Saturday_2


  • property and sales taxes, tax cuts (Frost – Shelton – Simpson – Barnes)
  • developers vs. residents (Shelton – Simpson – Barnes – Frost)
  • why running, what do you what to accomplish (Simpson – Barnes – Frost – Shelton)
  • top two priorities for City’s limited resources (Barnes – Frost – Shelton – Simpson)

Third Segment

Allen Simpson

Allen Simpson

Audio link: 2015_Saturday_3


  • police questioning of people who haven’t broken the law (Frost – Shelton – Simpson – Barnes)
  • the study saying American Fork is the 4th or 5th most-taxes city in Utah (Shelton – Simpson – Barnes – Frost)
  • areas of City government that need changes (Simpson – Barnes – Frost – Shelton)
  • roads (Barnes – Frost – Shelton – Simpson)

Fourth Segment

Rob Shelton

Councilman Rob Shelton

Audio link: 2015_Saturday_4


  • building department (Frost – Shelton – Simpson – Barnes)
  • what to cut in the budget (Shelton – Simpson – Barnes – Frost)
  • off-street parking and snow removal (Simpson – Barnes – Frost – Shelton)

Closing Statements (two minutes each; Barnes – Frost – Shelton – Simpson)

You may also enjoy notes and audio from the Wednesday evening candidates event.

Meet the American Fork City Council Candidates (Part 2)


Here’s a link to audio of the first candidate segment of last Wednesday evening’s meet-the-candidate event at American Fork Library:


Questions in this Segment

  1. Who are you, and why do you want to be on the American Fork City Council? (Order: Frost – Shelton – Barnes – Simpson.)
  2. What service to the City or other experience makes you well qualified to serve on the city council? (Order: Shelton – Barnes – Simpson – Frost.)
  3. Lots of candidates and officials say they’re for lower taxes, but what is the proper level of city taxes for residents? Is it more or less than we’re presently taxed, or about the same? (Order: Barnes – Simpson – Frost – Shelton)


Each candidate had one minute for each response. Note the response order above with each question, because candidates aren’t named before every response.


Brad Frost is a lifelong resident of American Fork, who wants to give back. In his first four years he’s seen how complex an operation the city government is. There are projects he’d like to see through to completion, like the planned Memorial Garden at the cemetery. He wants to see American Fork prosper, and he works hard to monitor and advance the city’s image. He runs a business, is a blue collar guy. He’s a good listener. He listens to people’s problems large and small, then goes to work for them.

Rob Shelton has learned in his first four years how hard it is for one person to change the City, but he ran for office because he thought he could help, especially with his financial expertise. You need a good relationship with other city councilors to be effective. The City has managed to cut costs and reallocate resources (preventing tax increases) in many ways in recent years. He’s always been involved in the community, from coaching soccer to serving on the library board and the Utah Valley Policy Committee.

Kevin Barnes has lived in American Fork since 1979 and raised his children here. He doesn’t have a particular agenda or an ax to grind. He just wants to serve. He’s been very involved in the community, including serving in Scouting and on the American Fork Planning Commission.

Allen Simpson moved to American Fork 20 years ago and says he’s been attending city council meetings every since. He said, “I can’t complain if I don’t come.” His specialty is risk and finance, and he believes his views on these subjects would be a big help to the city. He has been active in his political party, volunteers at the library, and serves on the American Fork Arts Council.

Allen Simpson

American Fork City Council candidate Allen Simpson after October 21, 2013, meet-the-candidates event

Kevin Barnes says the proper level of taxation in the city depends on what the people want. A number of people during the campaign have told him they voted against the road bond issue two years ago and now regret that vote. They’d much rather be paying a little more money and have better roads. Small city government is about taking care of basic needs, fire, police, water, sewer, roads. He thinks our level of taxation is about right for what we get.

Allen Simpson says we have enough money. Says budget has increased $10 million in the past few years; we have enough money. Our roads have actually had a $450 million cut. [Councilman Shelton later corrected him; that’s several times more than the whole city budget, $59 million. Simpson said he meant $450,000.] So where did that new $10 million go, if we didn’t spend it on the roads?

[This is a good time to point out that for the moment I’m just reporting what they said, not evaluating the accuracy of it. — DR ]

Brad Frost looks through this lens: He thinks of people on fixed incomes, but he also thinks of our children and grandchildren. If we put some things off that we should do now, it will cost them a lot more later. A balance is needed.

Rob Shelton says in the past four years the City has made $1.8 million in cuts and reallocated those funds to other needs, such as two new detectives devoted to drug cases. We need to continue to look for ways to be more efficient with the resources we have.

Here’s a link to the next segment.

Do American Forkers Really Have the 4th or 5th Highest City Taxes in Utah?

The short answer is no.

Yes, there’s a study that came out this summer, saying that the municipal tax burden on American Fork residents is the fourth or fifth highest in Utah. It used two different methodologies, which is why there are two different answers. Yes, AFCitizens and candidate Allen Simpson are passing out fliers around town touting that study.

But no, the study’s methodology is fatally flawed. And no, it’s not hard to explain.

American Fork tax burden deception

In this section of the AFCitizens flier Allen Simpson is distributing, the thought bubble cites the bad study.

The study calculated the tax burden on residents of various cities by adding the total property and sales tax revenues in the city, then dividing that amount by the number of residents in the city. See the problem? Among other things, it assumes that the bulk of sales tax revenue collected in American Fork is paid by residents of American Fork. A little common sense should be enough to make us reject those results. Why it wasn’t enough to make the folks who are quoting it in the current city council campaign reject the study is a fair question.

I’ve talked with American Fork City and Utah State officials, and none of them knows of a credible recent study of these things, but it is widely estimated that well more than half of the sales tax revenue collected in American Fork comes from shoppers who live elsewhere. The City’s largest single source of sales tax revenue, a large auto dealership — which collects customer addresses — has reported that about 90 percent of the sales tax it collects in American Fork comes from nonresidents.

This means at least two things: The study has grossly overreported American Fork residents’ tax burden. — unless, of course, you believe that American Forkers pay as much sales tax in other cities as nonresidents pay in ours. And the candidate who is passing out the flier, Allen Simpson, either doesn’t care about the facts (because the falsehood serves his political purposes) or is not disposed to dive deeply enough into them to understand them. Either way, we have here a temperament that may be poorly suited to service on the city council.

And this isn’t even one of the hard ones.

If you have a few minutes, read the study yourself, and decide for yourself. It’s a lot longer than this post, but it’s still not long.

There’s another problem with this part of the AFCitizens flier. It’s more technical. They’re mixing numbers from two studies — adding them together — and we have no way of knowing (did they check?) whether the two studies used compatible methodologies, similar definitions, the same time frame, etc. This is almost certain to lead to unreliable results.

I agree that some things are more costly in American Fork than they should be — water rates, for one thing. We’ll talk about those, and one faction’s misrepresentation of them, very soon.

Oh, and one more thing. If you’re so inclined, please post this graphic on Facebook or link to it on Twitter. Or e-mail it to your friends in American Fork. Or all of the above.

Help us spread the word. Because good people with bad data make bad decisions.

Learn before you vote.

Learn before you vote.