The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

March 14, 2014

No simple task in creating budget

By Scott Levine
Herald Associate Editor

---- — Sometimes moving forward hurts.

With the Clinton City Council’s approval Thursday of the budget, some families in the area are hurting with the loss of jobs, hours and an amenity. It could have been worse, but in the end, city officials made a decision and stuck with it, despite a few pleas to reconsider.

Clinton needed to do something. The city hasn’t been in the best financial health recently and representatives never said it would be easy. They have to make difficult decisions. That’s why voters elected them in November.

And Clinton isn’t the only city forced to make cuts. Fulton, Ill., representatives will discuss three options for making up a deficit at a meeting Monday. Camanche enacted a franchise fee, then retracted one and are now using reserve funds to submit a budget to the state of Iowa.

Those are just the area towns feeling the pinch. Cities all across Iowa, like Des Moines, Burlington, Sioux City and many more, have all had discussions about budget cuts.

This is a complicated process and it’s not simple, no matter how much some people want to make it.

The process of making budget cuts seemed a little too straightforward in two separate incidents during Tuesday’s Clinton City Council meeting.

During the audience comment, former councilwoman Bev Hermann decried the budget cuts, asking city leaders to reconsider their decisions. To pound home her point, she used a pizza as an example, saying the savings by residents through a property tax reduction resulted in less than the price of one pizza.

I get it. The example gives citizens a tangent element on how to understand taxes.

But it’s not that simple.

The city budget is projected to have approximately $47 million in expenditures. That’s a lot of pizzas. More than 3.6 million pizzas to be exact.

If we looked at each expenditure like a pizza, we’d have plenty of pepperonis to digest.

To isolate each cost into one example isn’t a true representation of what’s happening. Every few months there is a new pizza. It’s lowering tax rates today and next week Internal Operations Committee members will discuss solid waste rates. Sure, the lower tax rate may be the cost of a pizza, but how much will an increase in the solid waste rate be?

And what’s next?

In order to get that savings, City Council members should think about the consequences of their actions. Saving money for property owners is a good thing. Eliminating more services may not be a good thing down the road.

And ultimately these decisions rest in the City Council’s hands, no matter what officials say.

The cuts will shut down the Lyons branch of the Clinton Public Library. I wrote last week about my hope that city leaders wouldn’t always look to services as options to cut. It’s not that I entirely disagree with closing the branch, but as a member of the community, I want to keep as many activities available for my family and as a way to lure people to live in this area.

During Tuesday’s meeting, City Councilman Ed O’Neill referenced the Library Board as the culprit behind the branch’s closing. Technically, the Library Board did decide to close the branch.

However, the funding is provided by the City Council, meaning if the city provides the library with less money, there’s nothing the Library Board can do. The Library Board makes the decision of what to cut, but city officials directed library representatives to keep from eliminating staff. That doesn’t leave many options.

Managing a city and making it a desirable place to live, work and play is a complicated endeavor. The city better be ready for more development, especially as the Thomson, Ill., prison looks poised to open in the next few years and job opportunities are increasing in the area.

This isn’t a simple process. It takes time and ingenuity to market Clinton and the surrounding area.

Several people are involved in this process. But in the end, the final accolades or disdain rests on the shoulders of elected officials, no matter how you slice it.

Scott Levine is the Associate Editor of the Clinton Herald. He can be reached at scottlevine@clintonherald.com.