BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Some separation was found Thursday during the City Council candidate forum held at City Hall.
At the evening forum hosted by Fort Madison Partners and the Daily Democrat, and moderated by Tri-State Public Radio’s Jason Parrott, it was more commonly heard that the candidates agreed with each other more than had differing opinions.
In the contested race for the 1st Ward, Rebecca Bowker said she was a data driven candidate and would like to see the facts and figures on issues in front of the council before indicating where she would fall on issues facing the city.
“I will do what the constituents want with data-driven decisions and I plan on being available as much as I possible can to you in any fashion…I think it’s important as elected officials that we have integrity, honesty, and follow a certain level of ethics and I feel really strongly and I plan on following that line,” Bowker said.
But opponent Chris Sorrentino said the time for data driven analysis is over. Sorrentino said his hopes are to serve the people of the 1st Ward and everyone else in Fort Madison.
“I don’t think that data driven is going to work anymore. We’ve been data driven for a couple decades and we’re so far negative now it’s not working. We need cold hard facts, we need money period. We need revenue, we need businesses and we need to make residents number 1. Data driven doesn’t work anymore.”
The only other contested race at the forum was for one At-Large seat between incumbent Kevin Rink and Jerry Hamelton.
Two other uncontested races are for the 5th and 3rd Wards. Chad Cangas is running unopposed for 5th Ward and wasn’t in attendance. Twenty-one year old newcomer Tyler Miller was also in attendance and made his case for being elected despite not having an opponent.
“I guess I’m ready to show that I have a lot to give to the city. Being so young, there maybe some people who think ‘what does he know’ and at a certain point there is a learning curve, but I’m happy we have an experienced council here and I look forward to working with them.”
He gave all the other candidates his thanks for serving and running and said he looked to the work ahead.
Bowker said the council and city need to work as a cohesive team and that isn’t happening.
“Right now I see controversy and conflict and we aren’t going to make it if we divide ourselves.”
She said when the city overcomes that then budget issues can be tackled along with revenue generation and working as a team is the right way to get things done.
Sorrentino agreed the biggest challenge to the city is lack of revenue and he said the city needs to reach out to businesses and make it appealing to them. He said he’s had conversations with “big box” companies and if elected he would reach out to them and work to bring them in.
He said any cuts would have to exclude firefighters and police force.
“Won’t touch those. Cutting any staff would have to come at an extreme level. I don’t believe in cutting staff because you can’t come back from that and if you do it’s a massive challenge.”
Bowker said a franchise fee isn’t off the table, but she said her biggest concern is the impact it would have on the elderly. She said current plans would cost her about $6 a month. She said nuisance abatement fees and fines could be an additional source of revenue.
Sorrentino said any form of increased fees and taxes is something he wouldn’t support. And nuisance fees would cost the city more to collect than the revenue would generate.
“I don’t care if you want to dress it up and make it smell like roses and put a pink bow on it. Our citizens are paying their fair share and then some,” he said.
Hamelton said it’s time for a change in the city.
“I think it’s time for a change and people recognize it’s time for changes. We need a new set of eyes and what we’ve been doing for the past four years is not working, obviously,” he said.
He suggested ordinances could be introduced that will resolve some of the conflict and future conflict that the next council or six councils down the road will incur, such as only the City Council can terminate a police chief or city council member.
“That would take away a lot of the flip-floppity things that are going on and all the controversy that is constantly hovering over the city,” Hamelton said.
“I see there’s a lot of problems financially and a lot of that’s not the fault of the council, it can be found everywhere. But I think there’s decisions that could be made with a little more thought as to our future and our kids’ future and having money left over for generations to come,” he said.
Hamelton also said introducing a franchise tax on residents is bad idea and was full-throated against any additional bonding or taxing.
“I think it is morally corrupt for a city to tax its citizen anymore than we are already taxing them. Trust me, if they could tax you more, they would,” he said.
“People are sick and tired of being taxed – and bonds. Enough is enough. They have to learn to spend the money they have and if that means one piece of the cake at a time, then that’s the way it’s gotta be,” he said.
Rink said he proposed a franchise tax years back and would like to take a different approach this year and garner more information.
“Hopefully that can increase some of our revenue here to us, but who it would be and how it would be structured, we haven’t broke the ice on that yet.”
Rink said local economic development groups would have insight and direction to help the city move forward.
Rink also said during his closing that he wanted to institute a Coffee with a Councilor round table where residents could come in once or twice a month and share concerns with council and city officials.
A forum featuring mayoral candidates Matt Mohrfeld and Rodney Hoskins II will be held Wednesday beginning at 6 p.m. at City Hall.