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Biggest issue in American Fork race? Water supply

Police salaries, city's struggling finances among other battles

AMERICAN FORK — Ask a candidate for city office in American Fork what is the city's biggest issue, and somewhere near the top of the list, you're likely to hear water.

"As I knock on doors, the No. 1 capital-improvement issue we have in this city is water," city council candidate Terry Fox said. "We've done a lot in this city, and I think we've lost sight of essential services. If we don't provide a drink of water for our children and grandchildren, we failed."

Incumbent councilman Jimmie Cates said the city is considering one of three options to improve the city's long-term water supply: drilling more wells, building a treatment plant or installing a pressurized secondary system to meet the increased demand.

"It is one of the most important issues we have," Cates said.

But at a pair of meet-the-candidates nights held at the American Fork Senior Citizens' Center in recent weeks, candidates used the opportunity to address a range of issues.

Fox said elected officials need to establish a strong road map, one that involves elected officials making plans, department heads executing those plans with the city council's support, and city attorneys upholding those plans.

"If we keep communicating in the same way, we're going to keep going in circles and stubbing our toes," he said.

Both mayoral candidates used a night devoted entirely to them to lay forth those plans.

For Shirl LeBaron, that means a focus on improving essential city services, like the underpaid police department, which he said would need about $600,000 to bring it up to competitive wages.

"If people don't feel safe, we've failed as a city," he said.

For Heber Thompson, it means improving the city's struggling finances (the city has $37 million in outstanding bonds, and its credit rating has slightly slipped in recent years) by an aggressive, pro-business stance.

"We'd like to earn a reputation as a business-friendly community," he said. "Many have told me that we don't come across that way."

Dale Gunther, also running for city council, said city plans need to do a better job of addressing two city projects that are losing money — the recreation center and the broadband network.

"Philosophically, I don't think government ought to get involved in business, but since we're in there, we need to do everything we can to make it work," Gunther said.

Gunther cited his years of experience as a banker, saying in issuing loans he has learned how businesses work, and said his financial expertise, combined with better marketing, could turn those two projects around.

Council candidate Marc J. Ellison said city plans should work with existing community members to maximize city efficiency. That includes working with local charities and churches to prepare for an emergency, and finding businesses to endow local arts, he explained.

Ellison also said it was important to set funding priorities and work within a tight budget to keep taxes down.

"I have received no candidate contributions from anyone," he said. "Being someone who struggles month to month to make sure the bills are met, I don't want my taxes to be raised."

Heidi Rodeback focused her remarks on improving the quality of life in American Fork neighborhoods. In the four years since she started the Greenwood Neighbors Initiative, she said, that group has started neighborhood-watch programs, started neighborhood surveys, and pushed for parks throughout the city.

But, she said, it needs better support from the city in order to spread to other neighborhoods.

"Since this has made such a dramatic impact in our neighborhood, and since other neighborhoods are facing the same thing, this is important for the city," she said.

Incumbent councilwoman Juel Belmont also addressed city-improvement issues, saying she voted against the broadband project and the $5 million bond the city issued to build up the infrastructure around The Meadows development, saying that money would be better spent on parks and Main Street rehabilitation.

"It is wrong to give large companies infrastructure while small businesses on Main Street get nothing," she said.