The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

March 13, 2014

UPDATE: City Council passes the budget

By Brenden West
Assistant Editor

CLINTON — For nearly three months, city finances have been likened to things like “pizza” or “cheap beer.” Those metaphors portray what the average Clinton citizen will save based on lower property taxes.

The City Council on Thursday finalized its budget, where it will be held up against past and looming decisions. Council members voted 5-1 on a $16.32 property tax rate, 39 cents lower than the current fiscal year. Councilwoman Lynn McGraw was the lone “no” vote; councilman Paul Gassman was absent from the meeting.

By lowering taxes, council members achieved what they set out to do during November elections. The cut, though, will have repercussions. Major changes will come to the city’s sewer department — called to eliminate five positions — and by closing the Clinton Public Library branch in Lyons.

Before voting, another private citizen urged the city to reconsider its stance.

“You don’t make Clinton a more appealing place to move to, work in and to raise a family by rejecting the things that raise the quality of life in this community,” said Brad Wiles, a Main Avenue resident up the street from the library. “You can’t cut your way to prosperity, and you can’t nickel and dime your way out of debt.”

McGraw agreed, stating the city is losing “a lot” by defunding certain services.

“If I look at my property taxes on a half year basis, I look at $6 and it’s not going to make that much difference to me,” she said.

She’s also concerned with projects coming to the Lyons District.

“I think it’s a shame we’re going to be doing those things and we’re going to have another closed building up there,” McGraw said.

Regardless of their stances, At-Large Councilman John Rowland commended his colleagues for their diligence early in their new terms. As a senior member, Rowland said this council is “the best” he’s worked with.

As for his vote, Rowland said constraints on the city like lost lawsuits, “mind-boggling” expenses, airtight personnel expenses, have forced the council’s hand into making this decision.

“I can assure you that we know what we’re doing,” he said. “Sometimes if you just dig a little further, and look into the facts, you’ll find there’s more to the story than what people come flying up here with.”

City leaders, he said, deserved praise for their work.

Ward 1 Councilwoman Julie Alessee compared this year’s process to past budget-making decisions. While she has only been through one other workshop, Alessee said the sessions this year were open.

“(Before) we had no money,” she said. “We’re just trying to come to some grips. It’s a balance. We talked out a lot of things (this year) that we hadn’t talked about before. I think we’re moving forward.”

She reiterated the bind placed upon the council by previous city leaders, and she agreed that losing services is not the route Clinton wants to take.

To the public, Alessee said, “bear with us.”

“We’re in a cash position where we’ve got to stop, get our budget righted, get our bonds in order so that we have payments that we can make,” she said. “So that in the long-term, we can move forward with improving the quality of life.”

Like Alessee, others on the council are looking to move forward.