PROVO — Mailboxes have been flooded in Provo with so-called "misinformation alerts" and "fact-or-fiction" fliers from the two candidates for mayor.

Incumbent Lewis Billings and challenger Dave Bailey are spending their record-setting campaign treasures to send out the information.

So what's a resident to believe?

Which claims are true and which ones are false?

A look at bits of information put out by the campaigns — plus some from an anti-establishment third party that is interjecting itself into Provo races — shows how voters could become confused.

For example, here's a claim by the Bailey campaign: "Provo's violent crime up 27 percent from last year. (See 2005 FBI report.)"

First, the math is wrong. The FBI's annual Crime in the United States report showed violent crime in Provo rose 32 percent from 2003 to '04. The Bailey campaign, like the Deseret Morning News in June, reported that number without checking the math.

Of course, an increase of 32 percent instead of 27 percent appears to bolster Bailey's argument that Provo needs more police officers and to pay them better, but there is a larger story here. First, violent crime is actually down 6 percent since the last time Bailey ran against Billings:

• 2001 — 159 violent crimes were reported

• 2002 — 165

• 2003 — 114

• 2004 — 150

And, as the Deseret Morning News pointed out in June, the FBI's reported increase in violent crimes was already misleading because Provo loosened its definition of aggravated assaults in 2004: In '03, a simple fistfight was listed as an assault. In '04, it was upgraded to an aggravated assault, which previously included only assaults involving the use of a weapon.

Provo resisted changing its definition, but was forced to follow other cities because it installed a new computer system that uses definitions set by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Finally, according to the FBI reports, overall crime in Provo fell 4 percent between 2003 and 2004.

Here's another Bailey campaign claim: "911 24-hour 7-day Call Center with only (15) trained staff . . . ." And here's a claim on the same topic by the Billings campaign: "The 911 Emergency Dispatch Center currently has 31 trained staff authorized."

This response from Billings came in a campaign flyer titled "Fiction has its place. But not in the race for mayor." However, this is a case of candidates and campaigns comparing apples to oranges, making it difficult for voters to determine which is correct. The answer here, strictly speaking, is neither.

First, it's important to understand that dispatcher training takes six months.

As to the claims: Billings correctly states the city has authorized 31 trained dispatcher positions, including full-time and reserve or part-time dispatchers, but not all of those positions are currently filled and not all of Provo's dispatchers have completed training.

Bailey is right when he says the city doesn't have that many trained dispatchers on duty, but he doesn't point out that he was talking only about full-time dispatchers.

To strip the arguments down to an apples-to-apples comparison, start with the fact Provo has 21 full-time regular dispatcher positions. One of those positions is open. Bottom line— of the 20 full-time dispatchers on staff, 16 have completed training.

The Billings campaign also spread this message: "Provo's total fund balance is at a historic high "with more than $65 million currently in reserve."

This may be the most confusing topic addressed during the campaign, with the candidates ridiculing each other about it during televised debates.

Boiled down, total fund balance can be a good measuring stick of a city's overall fiscal health, Provo finance director John Borget said. However, both sides probably should be careful when they use the term "rainy-day funds" to refer to that $65 million, which is actually split between a large number of very different funds.

Many of these assets — the balance includes expected short-term income and inventory — are being held back in case of an economic downturn, so "rainy day" applies in that sense. But much of it is also earmarked for future projects and some of it is untouchable. For example, tax dollars raised specifically for the library cannot legally be transferred to another budget area or for any project unrelated to the library.

Transferring money between these funds can be problematic. Some transfers are possible but might delay planned projects or destabilize the affected funds.

Here is a piece of information put out by the third-party group, Utahns for a Better Future: "Your City Council has provided . . . Multiple Cover-ups of City Failures."

This claim comes from an unknown group that lists only a post office box for an address. It makes three claims on a postcard sent out to only a portion of Provo, and two of the claims take liberties with newspaper articles or editorials.

The first is a repeat offense on the misleading 27 percent increase in violent crime. Instead of citing the FBI report, it cites the June Deseret Morning News article which showed the statistic they cite is misleading.

The other claim of "multiple cover-ups of city failures" refers to a Sept. 23 article about iProvo in the Deseret Morning News and a May 23 Daily Herald editorial about the death of Scott Aston. Neither paper used the word "cover-up" or "failure."

Here's tthe link to the Deseret Morning News story: deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,615152419,00.html.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com