CLINTON — At-large Councilman Bill Schemers and newcomer Samuel Peters traded rebuttals on the issue of homelessness in Clinton during a public forum Thursday.
Both are seeking to fill the Clinton Ward 1 seat that will be decided at the Nov. 2 election. That seat currently is filled by Corey Robinson, who was appointed to the seat in June and is not running in the November election.
Moderator David Pillers asked the candidates if Clinton has a homelessness problem and, if so, how they propose to solve it.
“I guess it’s based on what everybody would perceive is a problem,” said Schemers. “If you have one person is that the same as 100 homeless people?” he asked. It’s subjective.
Many people who are homeless are also mentally ill, Schemers said. Homelessness is not a police issue or just a city issue. It’s a citizen issue, a skilled labor issue, a mental health issue.
“Everybody’s got to get involved to solve that,” said Schemers.
“This is something that a community has to resolve. To sit up here and say I’m a councilmember, I can solve it, I think is quite absurd. I don’t think a government entity can solve it. It takes an entire community to solve it,” said Schemers.
“I’m a little appalled by that answer,” said Peters. Homelessness isn’t simply a mental health issue, he said.
“Forty percent of Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless,” Peters said. “So with businesses closing down and people moving away from this town, it could be just random luck that puts somebody on the street. And we’re not doing enough to make sure that we have a safety net for our citizens in case something like that does happen.”
“Mental health does encapsulate a lot of that,” Schemers said. “There are a lot of people one paycheck away.” But the government can’t solve the problem, he said. It’s a community issue.
“Every individual homeless person has their own story to tell, and it’s that story that you’ve got to work on,” said Schemers.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the money that we allocate toward these things,” said Peters. Instead of giving tax breaks to corporations in town, Clinton should be paying for services to support the citizens, he said.
“Our responsibility has been taking care of our citizens since there has been government established,” said Peters. “That was the point of government was to take care of citizens,” he said.
“But we’ve been taking the money that should be taking care of our citizens and allocating it towards things that aren’t taking care of our citizens. They’re taking care of the specific needs of certain people, and it’s not bettering the whole,” Peters said.
“A tax break to a major corporation has nothing to do with monies allocated to mental health or homelessness,” said Schemers. “There’s no money coming out of the city for that. They’re just not paying the taxes,” he said.
If people are willing to pay higher taxes, the city can allocate more money to services for the homeless, Schemers said.
Concerning Clinton’s population decline, Peters said the city should bring in more tourism. “I think we need to take advantage of the beautiful scenery that we have, the river view that most of us take for granted, he said.
The exercise equipment and sand volleyball area are great, Peters said, but the city can do more. “I would like to see something more along the lines of bringing in things for people away from here and not just things for people that already live here,” Peters said.
“I think the biggest issue that we have here is lack of housing,” said Schemers. “We have 9,000 people that commute to work in Clinton every day. ... We aren’t capturing any of these people.”
New housing developments have filled up and have waiting lists, Schemers said. Another 300-unit development is being built now. “We have the people that are coming in to the City of Clinton and we need to keep them here.”
When faced with cutting services or raising taxes, Peters said it depends on what services are being considered.
“I’m all for making positive changes and making sure that the people that work hard in this community are being served by the decisions that I make,” said Peters.
“Personally I don’t see that we can cut any more,” said Schemers. Clinton’s tax levy has stayed flat for 12 years, he said.
Right now the City has a $15.63 tax levy with a 12-year average of $15.93. “Cutting back more would be devastating,” Schemers said.
As far as the tax levy goes and keeping taxes flat for 12 years: “That’s a phenomenal feat,” said Schemers. Clinton is the 25th largest city in Iowa but ranks about 160th in taxes.
“Do you think we don’t have room to grow with our taxes? I think we do,” Schemers said.
“I think one of the things we need to grow on is mental health issues,” said Peters. The city should allocate money to have mental health professionals assist police and fire departments.
“That would be one of the biggest changes that we could make as far as allocating new money toward services,” Peters said.
Schemers agreed. Some of the biggest challenges for law enforcement is having to deal with mental health. Three days a week mental health professionals ride with Clinton police, said Schemers. That program needs to expand.
Another question posed was has the current City Council been deficient in its obligations and duties to the taxpayers?
“I don’t know that we’ve been deficient,” said Schemers.
“I do think we have areas of communications that have been challenging,” he said. “There are people that just don’t know what’s going on in the city,” he said, but the city has resources out there.
The city recently received an award for its iCompass website, Schemers said. There’s nothing about the city and City Council that residents can’t find on the website, he said.
“I would say if it wasn’t deficient, we wouldn’t be losing population, and businesses wouldn’t be closing and people wouldn’t be shopping outside of Clinton,” said Peters.
“If things were being done correctly before I got here, there wouldn’t have been a need for me to be here,” said Peters.
“Obviously, there’s definite problems on the way things have been handled as far as money allocations and the route that we’ve taken for the decisions of this town and I think that it’s time to make some dramatic changes on how we’re dealing with those problems,” Peters said.
“I want to be the voice for the people that haven’t been listened to for a very long time,” Peters said.
Ron Mussmann, candidate for the 3rd Ward, was not present. Moderator David Pillers read a statement from the incumbent.
Councilman Cody Seeley, for the 2nd Ward, and Nancy Witt and Eartha Davis, running at large, are uncontested and read statements before the 1st Ward candidates answered questions.