CLINTON — The city of Clinton is “unacceptable,” stated one government official this week. Council members have made a “disappointing” decision on how to apportion new road-use tax dollars, said another Tuesday.

After the council voted 5-2 last week to use some of its anticipated $470,000 in new gas tax revenues toward hiring three new street department equipment operators, members of the Iowa House and the Department of Transportation have stated their dismay. Those new dollars come by way of a 10-cent per gallon gas tax increase, and the “legislative intent” of the gas tax is to directly fix roads and bridges.

Except for the fact that road-use funds — in Clinton and elsewhere in Iowa — have been used to finance city employee wages for years.

Read what DOT director Paul Trambino had to say Tuesday about how the gas tax funds are to be used: http://www.clintonherald.com/news/local_news/trombino-city-should-follow-state-s-intent/article_b2ce15b5-c1bd-530c-9f3c-9dfd5623b08a.html

The (new) gas tax tone seems to be city officials shouldn’t use those revenues for something they have always used them for.

“As the chairman of the Iowa House Transportation Committee, it was never my intention to have these funds used on salaries,” State Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, said in a press release issued on Tuesday. He later added: “This money is for infrastructure, period. I am absolutely dumbfounded that a group of elected officials would take it any other way.”

But under the subsection titled “Limitation on Use of Funds,” Iowa Code Chapter 312 states: “Funds received by municipal corporations from the road use tax fund shall be used for any purpose relating to the construction, maintenance and supervision of the public streets.”

It certainly didn’t occur to city finance director Anita Dalton that the additional “road use tax funds” weren’t going to be same as the current budgeted “road use tax funds” for Fiscal Year 2016. The council submitted its budget to the state mid-March. The portion that specifies Clinton’s road use tax fund activities has more than $374,000 blocked off just for full-time street maintenance wages.

It also didn’t occur to Dalton that the council’s tentative approval (since no formal actions could be taken during the council’s April 7 Committee of the Whole discussion on the gas tax) of the proposed use of those new revenues were an “abuse.” However, that was the word Byrnes used to characterize Clinton’s elected officials, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

“The road use tax fund is where street maintenance activities are paid out of,” Dalton said Tuesday. “In street maintenance — activity 521 — are wages and salaries for people who perform street maintenance duties. That includes cleaning streets, fixing potholes, there’s a snow removal activity.”

City officials are now left to wonder: What’s the difference between the former and the imminent dollars that both go by the name “road use tax fund?”

“Anything to maintain the streets of Clinton is paid out of the road use tax fund,” Dalton said. “It includes six hourly people right now, and there are some other salary allocations for other personnel.”

Fortunately for the council, there are several reasons why there is time to get on board with the state. For one, city officials haven’t ratified their proposed budget amendment for the road use tax fund. The new budget won’t kick in until July 1.

DOT director Paul Trombino on Tuesday said he believes cities throughout the state will meet the expectations of legislators such as Byrnes. The bill approved by the Iowa Senate does state under “legislative intent” that “one hundred percent of the revenue produced” from the road use tax “shall be used exclusively for critical road and bridge construction projects...”

“(Cities) have to work within the confines of what the bill says,” Trombino said, adding that new Clinton street employees don’t fall under his definition for improved infrastructure. “I think the communities understand the responsibility. My belief is, in the end, the vast majority will make those good decisions.”

Assistant Editor Brenden West can be contacted at brendenwest@clintonherald.com

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