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Am.F. officials fear bond vote may fail

Some residents still opposed despite changes

SHARE Am.F. officials fear bond vote may fail

AMERICAN FORK — Those familiar with the facts behind the city's proposal to build a new police and courts complex and new fire and ambulance facilities say next month's bond election is a "no-brainer."

City officials say they need the facilities desperately, the construction plans and costs have been scaled back significantly and financing the project through a general obligation bond saves the city thousands of dollars. Most importantly, city officials say they can repay the bonds without a tax increase and the State Court Administrator's Office is willing to fund about half the expense of the police and courts building.

"As a private investor, this is a deal I would do," said Dale Gunther, a member of a citizens committee on city buildings and president of Bank of American Fork.

However, city leaders fear many residents will not educate themselves on the facts behind the Aug. 8 bond election. They believe many simply oppose the two bond proposals because voters rejected a bond issue last year to construct city buildings. Some are asking city leaders "how many times do we have to say no?"

City officials respond by saying this bond proposal is different — mainly in that it is less costly and would not require a tax increase. However, city leaders are frustrated that many residents apparently won't listen.

"We can make that statement, but what do we do if they don't believe it?" Mayor Ted Barratt said.

The bond issue will ask voters to approve bonding for up to $8 million for the police and courts building and up to $2.5 million for the fire and ambulance facilities. The 48,000-square-foot police and courts building would be constructed on the east side of Church Street, across from the current facility. Officials would either construct a new fire and ambulance building at 300 East and Main or remodel the current police building to house the emergency services.

State court officials have committed to covering, through a 20-year lease, the costs of the court's portion of the new building, which would be about half of the space. The court's share of the $8 million project is estimated to be about $4 million. If the city doesn't act soon to begin construction, however, court officials say they will build a new courts building in another city.

Combining the buildings into one complex would save the city several hundred thousand dollars in construction costs, architects say. Police Chief Terry Fox said a joint facility would also save his department about $80,000 annually in operating expenses. Not participating with the state in constructing a new police building would be much more costly for the city.

"The city will build a police station. We don't have a choice," Barratt said.

Even though the bond issue sets a budget for the fire and ambulance complex at $2.5 million, the actual costs of a 11,000-square-foot facility are estimated to be about $1.7 million.

Combined, city officials and architects say both projects can be done for just under $10 million. With the state covering about $4 million of that bond expense, the city would have to fund about $6 million in bonding. Officials say they have the resources to bond for up to $8 million without increasing taxes. The money will come from budget shifts, selling city assets and freeing up contingency funds.

"There is a viable plan before the public where we can do this without a tax increase," Councilman Keith Blake said.

Perhaps the biggest difference in this bond election is the choice voters have. Last year's proposal was an "all or nothing" deal. This bond issue puts the proposals on the ballot separately, giving voters the choice to decide if they want one or the other, both or neither.

Some who attended a public meeting on the bond proposals Thursday night said residents should "bite the bullet" and would be making a big mistake if they passed on this opportunity.

"If they don't wake up and smell the coffee, their kids will be paying more in the future for what we need today," one resident said.

Most of last night's meeting was more of a strategy session on how to educate voters than it was informational. Those in attendance took turns on the soapbox, most using the meeting to criticize city leaders for the methods and process used to prepare for the bond election. City leaders directing the hearing never did give a formal presentation on the bond proposals.

"You're just spinning your wheels," said one frustrated resident as he left the meeting early.

Another public hearing on the bond proposals is scheduled for Thursday, July 27, at 6 p.m at the American Fork Junior High School.

E-MAIL: jimr@desnews.com