Council reverses gear on depot project

It was standing room only as close to 50 people attended the Fort Madison City Council meeting Tuesday night, some with badges reading "Save the Depot". Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – After an informal vote last week to pass the Amtrak Depot relocation project by, the Fort Madison City Council has backed up on that decision.

In a 7-1 vote on Tuesday night, the council approved the 2019-20 fiscal year budget, which begins on July 1. The budget includes the depot project completion.

City Councilman Matt Mohrfeld voted against the budget, not because he was against the depot project, but because he said the budget wasn’t balanced and wouldn’t support it.

After the last budget workshop put the status of the depot project in jeopardy, Mayor Brad Randolph and Chris Greenwald started dialing up anyone and everyone that could possibly help with additional funding and shook loose possibly $400,000 from the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Iowa Transportation Commission.

The funds aren’t guaranteed, but DOT officials have said there is support and precedent for the commission awarding funds to this type of project, especially when cities are in a financial crunch.

“This is a victory for the city,” Greenwald said after the meeting. “Last week I went home and had a pity party. I almost cried. I’m not embarrassed to say that. But I regrouped, said a prayer, and it was answered.”

City Councilman Chad Cangas said last week that he was ready to wash his hands of the Amtrak depot because there was no commitment from Amtrak to the city, and there was not enough money to finish the project.

Prior to the budget discussions, Randolph pulled three agreements with Amtrak from discussion because he got news at 4 p.m. Tuesday, that Amtrak had decided to continue to provide caretaking services at the depot, so the city wouldn’t have to pay for those services.

The city will still be responsible for ongoing maintenance, upkeep of the platform, and snow removal.

City Manager David Varley presented the budget, which included recommendations from the council’s last budget workshop, with a city levy at $15.39/$1,000 taxable valuation, down slightly from the $15.56 the previous year. The $15.39 could drop another couple of pennies when the Lee County Emergency Management Agency support levy is adjusted to factor out personnel costs.

The LCEMA board voted last week to move that levy to a countywide levy. Randolph, who sits on the LCEMA board made the motion at that meeting last week to go from a per capita support to the countywide levy to take the burden off city budgets. In the next budget it would have cost Fort Madison close to $10,000.

The current levy is made up of an $8.10 general fund levy, which is the state maximum: a $4.99 employee benefits levy; a $3.00 ag land levy; a $1.71 levy for the city’s debt service, a $0.27 special emergency levy to help support emergency services when the city is at the $8.10 general fund max; and a $0.25 levy for city insurances.

The levy is expected to generate approximately $4.6 million in revenue for the fiscal year. Right now properties in Lee County are assessed at a rollback rate of about 55% of assessed valuation. The rollback went into effect in 2013 when state legislators passed the reduced assessments and promised to back fill local government coffers. Those backfills have been a focus of cuts at the state level in the past two years.

The budget is also based on sales tax revenues of $1.1 million compared to the 2018-19 budget which was adopted at $1.4 million. However, state figures only resulted in $1.09 million in revenues for the city, which is about $357,000 less than projected for the year and $213,000 less than actual numbers for the prior year.

Varley also showed that the general fund will operate in a net negative position of about $136,283 with revenues anticipated at $5,773,842 and expenses projected at 5,910,125.

The general fund is projected to have an ending balance of just $15,000 at the end of the year, but includes a working capital fund of about $680,000. which is down 2.5% from actual figures in the previous year

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