David Rodeback's Blog

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Thursday, February 12, 2009
Reduce! Replace! Recycle! (Notes about Town)

The local weekly newspaper's disappearance, cost-cutting measures at American Fork City, the beginning of work to replace the Main Street interchange, and the new "opt-out" recycling program.


News broke last week that the Daily Herald is suspending print publication of five of its weeklies in northern Utah County, including the American Fork Citizen. Here are Herald, Deseret News, and Salt Lake Tribune stories. This is a cost-cutting move by the parent corporation, where, as the Tribune article notes, further cost-cutting measures are already in place:

Lee Enterprises, the Iowa-based chain that owns the Herald, imposed a companywide pay freeze and halted company contributions to 401(k) retirement plans last month.

Newspapers are in decline nationwide, and have been since well before the current recession began. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Christian Science Monitor are among the most prominent examples. The major culprit appears to be the Internet. I am unsurprised; I get the vast majority of my news from the Internet, not from newsprint.

By most measures, and in comparison to other local weeklies I have seen, the American Fork Citizen has been excellent. I will miss it. The Herald's own article about the suspension promises new and cool stuff on the Web to help replace the print edition:

The company will introduce innovative online tools for the people of North County to connect them more closely to their communities.

We'll see. Meanwhile, if anyone finds the comma that fell out of that sentence, please return it to the Daily Herald, where they will gratefully reward you with . . . Oh, who am I kidding? They'll reward you with a puzzled stare, because who turns in a lost comma these days, anyway?

Reduce! Redux

There's just a whole lot of reducin' going on -- everywhere except Washington, DC, it seems. The American Fork Library has reduced the number of hours it's open per week from 72 to 52, as a cost-cutting measure. The unfortunate thing is that this comes despite the fact that library usage is up sharply with the recession, a known and very predictable phenomenon. The simple fact is that the Library's budget is not in any significant way tied directly to its use.

There are cost-cutting measures City-wide, responding to decreased sales tax revenues and, in some measure, to delinquent taxes and fees.


(Sorry, I didn't have a Reuse!)

Not too many months ago we heard that the replacement of the current I-15 interchange at American Fork's Main Street was on hold for fiscal reasons. Now we're seeing that it's under way. Obvious work at the interchange began a few weeks ago, when I wasn't blogging much. Gotta love that diverging diamond. (Here's a story from a few weeks ago about the project getting under way.)

The larger I-15 project in Utah County may also be begin construction soon, after some money-related delays, according to this report. But it's still unclear -- based on other accounts I've seen -- which part of the project will be first, if they can't fund it all at once.


After discussing it off and on for some months, the American Fork City Council voted three-to-two to adopt a major change in its recycling program. Instead of calling up the City to sign up for recycling pickup for $4.50 per month, soon you will have to call up the City to tell them you don't want to participate, or you'll be billed for it. And if you don't call soon enough, you'll have to pay a $50 fee to opt out.

. . . Except that calling actually won't work. Apparently, all the "opt-outs" have to be in writing. (Since the City's incentive here is against residents opting out, because it gets more money if you don't opt out, I suggest you take a reasonable precaution. If you send the City an opt-out letter, keep a copy, then check with the City a week or two later to make sure they received it and processed it correctly.)

Here's an article from the Herald about Tuesday evening's discussion and vote. It doesn't say when they start counting the 60-day opt-out period, after which you'll have to pay $50 to opt out. Nor does it say what happens to people who move into a place where the previous resident was opted out (or in), and the new folks want it the other way around. It does say the opt-out notice has to be in writing. And it mentions that the City is raising the monthly rate by 20 percent and taking the difference for an administration fee. That's okay, I guess; administration really does have its costs. But shouldn't vastly-increased participation lower the monthly cost per household? And at some level wasn't that the point?

The two nays in the three-to-two vote were MFCC, who thought we could do better than what I have just described, and Councilman Shirl LeBaron, who, according to the article, apparently wanted a full-fledged mandatory recycling program. Truth be told, I have no serious objections to mandatory recycling, which is stronger than American Fork's new approach. I was content when it was mandatory in my previous hometown.

My household and several others on my block have participated happily and voluntarily in the recycling program for a long time. I have observed that between 25 and 35 percent of our waste that would otherwise go out as garbage winds up in the recycling bin instead. So I reason, recycling on a much wider scale in the city should reduce the City's costs for hauling and dumping garbage. Will we see proportionate reductions in our garbage fees?

If you see said reductions before I do, please let me know.

Some (Blogger) Crankiness (Barely) Averted in the (Tangential) End

I suppose that particular blessing -- lower garbage rates -- might have to wait until the current garbage contract ends. When is that? you wonder.

Funny you should ask.

A member of the City Council asked that very question in Thursday evening's meeting. Neither the representative from the garbage company (Allied/BFI) nor the City staff present knew the answer.

I'd love to expatiate on that, but in this post I already picked on a good writer's missing comma, and I'm trying not to be too much of a curmudgeon today. You see, I want to be in a sunny mood this evening, when MFCC and I slip away for a quiet Valentine's Day dinner, followed by a brief, romantic interlude of . . .

. . . shopping for a new microwave oven. (Don't worry. If you happen to see us at Best Buy tonight, it's still okay to say hello.)

Wow, did this post get off track at the end! Better luck next time, perhaps?

Jon Rodeback (who edits for a living) comments (2/13/09):

I'm curious. In yesterday's blog entry, you indicated that the following sentence needs a comma:

"The company will introduce innovative online tools for the people of North County to connect them more closely to their communities."

If I were editing it, I can see possibly two places I might leave a comma (out of deference to the writer), but none where I would insert one because it is required. Where would you insert the missing comma?

David Rodeback comments (2/13/09):

In my opinion, after "North County." With a comma it reads a lot less ambiguously than without, at the first reading -- which is all one expects in a newspaper anyway. Without a comma, the brain tries to interpret "for the people of North County to connect . . ." as a continuous thought. This makes the antecedent of "them" and "their" a little fuzzy at first. The meaning is clear once you stop and realize that the first way you try to parse it doesn't make sense, but you shouldn't have to stop that way. A comma breaks up that initial parsing of "for the people of North County to connect," so the reader goes more readily to the intended structure and meaning.

The real question is, what is doing the connecting? The tools or the people? If you change "them" to "themselves," it's clearly the people, and no comma is wanted. But I don't think that's the intent here -- or if it is, it is ambiguously executed.

I would actually prefer to rewrite the sentence: "The company will introduce innovative online tools to connect the people of North County more closely with their communities." Or if the intent is the other alternative, "The company will introduce innovative online tools to allow the people of North County to connect more closely with their communities."

Does that make any sense to your editor's brain?

Jon Rodeback comments (2/13/09):

Makes perfect sense. And I concur.

Leo Tornow comments (2/16/09):

It often feels like your wife Heidi is the only city council member that appreciates the view of the 80% or more who aren't upper-income citizens in American Fork.

I just received a letter from the mayor in response to opting out of the recycling program saying, "I'm sorry you don't see that you have a role in protecting our environment."

We opted out because we can't afford it after my good job went to India, then a traumatic brain injury limited me to Social Security Disability Income, and my wife is now getting less paid hours. (Obviously she doesn't have a government job.)

Although if the $60,000 reduction in landfill cost had gone to put the program at $3 like Salt Lake City, instead of raising the cost with the ordinance, we would have joined. But with the recycling we already do it takes 2-3 weeks to fill our garbage can half full. So in the cold months most weeks we don't put it out for pickup either. And my preference would be for a few neighborhood recycling cans picked up full each week rather than 5-10 times that in mostly empty cans for pickup. I'm sure our block captain would do it, and at the other end of the block, we would.

Bottom line:

The mayor's scolding led me to search for background on Google and I found your blog. Thank you for the information. Before I only saw the consequences of ordinances, like calling to opt out and being told I had to do so in writing, and that I had to get an approved city form to do that, and that there would be a $50 penalty if I didn't do so before a deadline.

Thank you, and please give my thanks to your wife.

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