BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – He called it standing eight count, but Fort Madison Mayor Brad Randolph hasn’t given up on relocating the Amtrak depot to the historic museum in Riverview Park.
Despite what amounted to a straw poll of the Fort Madison City Council Tuesday that indicated the council wouldn’t support continuing the depot project in light of critical budget constraints, Randolph said he and Councilman Chris Greenwald are not done looking for answers.
“I just don’t want people to think I was in favor of the project and then against it. After hearing Councilman (Chad) Cangas say he was ready to wash his hands of the depot and then (Councilman Matt) Mohrfeld say the council wouldn’t vote for it, I was very frustrated and said at that point maybe it was best to pull it,” Randolph said Saturday.
“But I took a standing eight count, I’ve brushed myself off, and now we’re going to look at see what’s out there.”
When Randolph polled the council during a budget workshop and the informal consensus was to pull funding for the remainder of the relocation, a cost estimated at about $280,000 of city funds, Greenwald said the council might as well board up the city.
Greenwald told the council that it isn’t necessarily the best option to shut all activity down and weather the storm.
He said if the city wasn’t going to continue to look to the future, then the council should just pull outside funding, including funding for the Old Fort, the historical society, the arts association, and all external support, and focus all revenues back to the general fund.
“Just shut her down, board her up,” he said.
Randolph said he’s been spearheading this project since 2012 and the city has spent countless hours and resources on the project, and if it wasn’t for the squeezing the budget has experienced in the last few fiscal years, the council would still support it.
City funding has dropped almost $330,000 in sales tax revenue alone, in addition to the city’s contribution from riverboat gambling ending several years ago.
Opponents of continuing to fund the depot say there has been no real commitment on the part of Amtrak to get the project moved. Amtrak has committed $150,000 to the project plus a $400 monthly rental on the property. However, the national rail service system has moved methodically slow in agreeing to submitted documentation.
At Tuesday’s meeting Cangas said he had no faith in Amtrak’s commitment to the city currently with the project, or in the future with maintaining the stop in Fort Madison.
Cangas also left the meeting early and wasn’t on hand when Randolph was doing the straw poll of the council, citing he had to travel the next day. Cangas’s departure left several tied issues with the six remaining councilman expressing their opinions.
Randolph said the project has taken close to two decades, a time frame that could ultimately be the reason for its demise.
“This project has taken way longer than anyone anticipated, and for reasons beyond our control, and that’s part of the problem here as well,” he said.
The city is planning on a vote to approve the next fiscal year budget, which begins on July 1, at the Feb. 19th meeting.
“We’re taking the information we have now and we are looking at all options and talking with a lot of people. And we hope to have something in front of the council on the 19th,” Randolph said.
He said he believes that if he can find a way to take most of the financial burden off the city, he can garner enough votes from the council to move forward with the project.