The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

March 12, 2014

Cuts bother residents

By Brenden West Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON -- Bev Hermann illustrated her point with food. The taste is bitter.

During Tuesday’s public hearing of the City of Clinton’s budget -- which, if finalized, will decrease this year’s tax levy from $16.71 in 2014 to $16.32 in 2015 -- ex-councilwoman Hermann held a box of pizza as she spoke.

The City Council has chosen to lower taxes by eliminating the emergency levy, resulting in a 30-cent reduction to the originally proposed rate. This decreases city spending by $260,161. It will also mean eliminating five positions from Clinton’s sewer department and closing the Lyons library branch.

All so the average citizen can afford a large thin crust, said Hermann, and so newly elected officials can say they listened to voters last November.

“For people whose homes are valued at $50,000 and assessed at $25,000, they can’t even buy half a pizza with their big $6.64 tax saving,” she said. “You have three days before this budget goes to the state... Please use some common sense, for the community’s good, instead of trying to fulfill unrealistic campaign rhetoric.”

Hermann wasn’t alone in her critique. In all, four private citizens and a department head spoke against the decision.

Nonetheless, the hearing closed by a 6-1 vote, moving Clinton one step closer to finalization. But it’s already too late, according to no-voting councilman Paul Gassman. He said the city won’t change course now with Thursday’s special budget meeting up next.

Gassman has voted against the current budget since it was contrived in mid-February. He said the city is losing too much while giving citizens a small return.

“My vote wouldn’t make any difference,” Gassman said following the meeting. “I’m upset that they closed the library and I think they’re going to have to face the music on the true cost of eliminating some of these services.

“I understand why the council voted the way they did, but I don’t think closing a library is the way to go.”

People attached to the library blamed council members for the upcoming closure. Councilman Ed O’Neill turned the focus on the Clinton Public Library board of directors.

“They’re a totally autonomous body,” O’Neill added. “The library board is the one that made the decision to close the library, not this body here. If you want to address that you need to go to the library board.”

Library director Amy Birtell shed more light on the matter, stating her board reacted first to the council’s decision to make major budget cuts. The board made its decision to avoid staff cuts.

“It was the council that approved the budget cut for us,” Birtell said. “That was something the council made clear, that they didn’t want to cut staff. We worked and worked and worked on it. It came down to Lyons.

“Most of my part-time staff are losing hours because we cut hours of operation. For part-time staff, that was a lot of hours,” she continued. “It’s an unfortunate thing, and I would hope in the future you would consider the services we offer and the things that we do for this community.”

The council will reconvene at 7 p.m. Thursday to finalize the budget. It will then be sent for state approval in order to meet the March 17 deadline.

As Gassman sympathized with the frustration, he wondered if it sets a precedent for more service cuts down the road.

“Is there anybody in this community that wants to give up their library for $13?” he said. “Maybe we should sell Eagle Point Park next. Nobody wants those kinds of things, but maybe that’s the next suggestion. I don’t know. I would vote no for those kinds of things.”