To the Editor;
On Tuesday of this week the Fort Madison City Council will be considering this year’s budget. While I support the programs and initiatives brought forth in this budget, I do not support the methods being used to pay for them. While what I am discussing in this letter may not be solidified in this budget vote, it is clearly the intent moving forward based on the budget workshop.
When I ran for office, I promised the citizens that I would be their watchdog when it came to public policy, spending and taxation. I think the way we propose to fund projects within the city, even good or needed projects, does not pass the smell test and violates public trust.
I will attempt to explain. A few years ago, the city took over maintenance and improvement responsibility for Old Highway 61. At that time the state provided funds for that purpose even though those funds might not have been adequate for the task. I am assured by those negotiating at the time that we received the maximum the state would provide. I was not involved but let’s assume that is true. The funds did not come with any legal requirement to utilize the money for highway work only, but the citizens were told this would be the case multiple times. The city council at the time openly promised this as well. While the current council is under no legal obligation to honor the promise of a previous council, I think we have a strong moral and ethical responsibility to do so. That brings me to the current dilemma.
Depending on how you count projects the city has a couple of big ones we are looking at funding. The first and best known is of course the completion of the old highway reconstruction. The second is either one or two projects but for the purpose of discussion, let’s consider it one. The construction of a new fire station and public works facility. If you are aware our public works set up is little better than some old badly worn pole barns that are literally falling apart. Our fire station is undersized and not set up to meet current guidelines to service a modern fire department and in bad need of an upgrade. If we are to move forward on these projects it will require the city to borrow money through bonding and this is the process that I think lacks transparency. While plans do not not violate the letter of the law, I believe we would definitely violate the spirit.
It has been proposed that we take the remaining five plus million dollars from our highway fund and divert it to the building construction budget. The law allows our city government to bond highway projects without a public vote but issues like building construction require public support and voter approval. I think we need a fire station and public works project but I also think we need to honor the spirit of the law and require voter approval of this funding and use the highway money for the highway lowering the amount we will need to bond on that project.
We also have about $1.4 million in COVID relief money that I would be happy to put toward the building project.
In short, we promised the people that the money given to us for the highway would be used for the highway and it should. If we move forward with the other project as I believe we should it is because we have convinced the taxpayer it is the right thing to do and they support it. I doubt this opinion will make me popular around city hall but I think it is the right thing to do. As always, I invite public opinion and everybody has a right to try to change my mind.