On Aug. 29, candidates can file papers to run for the November Clinton City Council election. The biggest problem facing the city of Clinton is the overwhelming budget problems.
Obviously, poor decisions from elected and appointed officials have caused this self-inflicted problem. Many citizens are now starting to realize this election will probably be the most important election this community has faced in modern times.
I have already taken out papers and plan to run. I would like to encourage other serious candidates to step forward and also run in this election. Candidates will need to give careful thought to the financial mess they are walking into. Because the winners of this election will find little cause to celebrate.
The city currently has $91.8 million dollars of debt on the books. This is a ridiculous amount of debt for a community of this size. Debt payment of principal, interest, and fees are $5,260,140 this year. Plus, the city owes the federal government $4.5 million relating to the EMS settlement. This self-inflicted council mistake is costing taxpayers $450,000 annually. Today, almost $6 million of your money goes to debt payments before city hall can even open the door for daily business.
Compounding the problem of $91.8 million of debt on the books are two more issues facing the city of Clinton. First is the federal mandate from the EPA concerning stormwater / sewer separation which will kick in sometime soon and cost about $65 million. The second is the railpark agreement which is already signed and is spinning out of control. Now estimated at $50 million for completion. These two pending projects total $115 million.
When you add the current debt of $91.8 million with the pending debt of $115 million, you will find the city of Clinton’s future mortgaged to the hilt with $206.8 million of debt.
The budget which the City Council passed in March 2011 now has to be amended because they have an $800,000 short fall. In order to correct this problem City Administrator Jeff Horne has proposed new reductions in the General Fund totaling $1,111,887. The city administrator also stated “the Capital Projects account needs $5 million to get back to even.” Led by the drain from the Rail Park and the Marina Projects.
In all fairness City Administrator Jeff Horne inherited a bad situation. He has the potential to be a good city administrator. Here is one of his comments to the council about the debt. “Moody’s has given a notice that without a five-year debt plan the city of Clinton’s bond rating will likely be junk bond status and even with a five-year debt plan it still won't be rated very good.”
There is a desperate need for important financial decisions, financial projects, and decisions regarding what items to fund, should move through a sound business vetting system. This is not happening and needs to be corrected.
In order to stop the financial bleeding, a 3 percent franchise tax has been proposed on Alliant Energy bills. One percent of this tax would yield $820,000 dollars annually. At 3 percent it would net the city $2,460,000 yearly. In March city hall was crowing about not raising taxes. Now it is suggested the mayor and four sacrificial lambs raise $2,460,000 more in taxes right before an election. You have to love this strategy for a re-election campaign!
Some comments I have heard about the 3 percent franchise tax include the following. It would be a serious disadvantage in attracting new businesses into our community and place an unfair burden on local businesses. It would hurt low-income people, and fixed-income people. People that own less energy friendly older homes will also suffer. The franchise fee needs a lot more community input. Plus, it will probably never stand a voter petition and referendum vote. The $4.5 million EMS settlement continues to haunt city hall and was wrong. The Iowa Open Meetings law was repeatedly discarded during the EMS process and this was wrong. Closed city council meetings suggest a cover up mentality. The non-disclosure clause in the settlement agreement only adds to this perception. The closed meetings need to be challenged in a court of law.
The secret agreement to hide finance department problems was wrong. The fact that they thumbed their nose at the voters’ referendum wishes in regards to fire station improvements was wrong. Now less than a year later they want to lay off firefighters and this is wrong. The new garbage system expenditures should not have been approved. Why? Because the city is broke. All of the items mentioned above show a constant pattern of very poor decisions coming from this City Council.
I spent three terms on the Clinton City Council. I know we can do better. Therefore, I have placed my name on the ballot to offer you, the voter, a choice.
I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss the financial problems facing our community with any groups or organizations that are interested.