By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
After learning about the severity of the city’s sewer and solid waste fund debt, two Clinton City Council members have requested a re-audit of city finances by the state of Iowa.
Councilmen John Rowland, at-large, and Paul Gassman, Ward 4, stated in their letter to the State Auditor’s office that among the numerous financial woes compelling them to request the audit from the state was the presentation by Public Financial Management in which they were informed the city would need to raise sewer bills by nearly 40 percent in order to maintain current debt levels.
PFM director Jenny Blankenship informed the City Council on Sept. 25 that if sewer rates are not raised by 25 percent in January 2013, the city will be unable to make a $2.1 million payment to the DOT for Liberty Avenue and will have a $4 million negative balance in the sewer fund by the end of the year.
“Once I heard those laid out, it just seemed prudent to get the State Auditor’s Office in,” Rowland said.
Gassman said he has heard from a number of residents who are concerned about the strain the rate increases will have on their budgets, many of them elderly citizens who will be unable to pay if monthly sewer bills reach the $94.08 an average a residential bill is projected to be by July 2013.
Gassman said many residents also have asked that he request the state audit.
“It’s time to get the balance sheet balanced. Let’s get this all straightened and climb out of the hole we’re in,” Gassman said.
The letter and attachments, which were submitted to the Auditor’s office Tuesday, detail problems in the sewer and solid waste billing dating to 2005. According to the councilmen, this has led the city to be in a position in which it is “drowning in debt.”
“I think it’s just out of control. Nobody’s been steering the ship,” Gassman said of the city’s finances.
The submitted information also mentions the new $60 million waste water treatment plant and the $100 million or more stormwater and sewer separation program the city is mandated to complete.
“The vast majority of citizens have lost total confidence in the ability of Clinton city hall to solve local problems. The taxpayers want answers to the billing problems, revenue collections, excessive rate increases, costly operating expenses and the excessive amount of money that is being written off as bad debt or is not being collected through these programs,” Rowland and Gassman wrote.
The city is required by Iowa Code to undergo an audit every year. The fiscal year 2011 audit, which was performed by a local outside agency, was approved by the council on May 8. Rowland and Gassman feel a second opinion is needed.
“We just found out all this information from PFM last week and we had an audit not too long ago that showed none of these problems as far as I know,” Rowland said.
According to the information that was provided by the State Auditor’s office in August of last year, the State Auditor’s office is not required to perform the re-audit simply because one was requested.
If a re-audit is performed, there is no direct cost to the city or the citizens, according to information from the Auditor’s office.