Thursday, November 17, 2011

In getting himself elected to the Carroll City Council Dr. Eric Jensen did something really easy: he promised to cut spending.

Beginning in January we’ll see if he can do something really hard: actually come up with firm proposals to cut people from the ranks of city staff or slash programs provided by the city.

Is Jensen simply an election-year grandstander or can he deliver on what he said he would do as a representative for the full city in an at-large council seat?

“I’m one of those for more responsible government, less government spending,” Jensen said in an interview just days before last Tuesday’s election.

At that point, Jensen said, he didn’t have specific programs or people in mind for cuts from the city budget.

“I’ve only just seen several snippets of the city budget,” he said.

But based on a limited understanding of Carroll’s government, a cursory review of the budget (if he’s looked at one at all) Jensen is able to prescribe a remedy: cut spending.

Where?

Who?

When?

How much?

Why?

Often, candidates for office will claim they want to go after spending but they never put forward plans for difficult cuts when the rubber meets the road in budget sessions.

“I agree,” Jensen said. “It’s one of those things I’ve got to look at.”

One area where spending cuts may be possible is the police department, Jensen said.

“I’ve heard that argument made already,” Jensen said.

Jensen said the presence of more conceal-and-carry weapons permits in the county changes the equation.

“I would probably tend to consider you need less police,” Jensen said.

Really?

Carroll Police Chief Jeff Cayler just released his annual report on crime in the city. We have remarkably little violent crime. Do residents want to tinker with this equation, challenge the results Cayler and his department have provided?

Jensen said he wants to see “more responsible” leadership from city hall.

Easy thing to say. Now improve on this: Carroll City Council members last spring unanimously approved a budget for this fiscal year that included no increase in the city tax rate.

The $14.7 million budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 contained a property-tax rate of $12.92 per $1,000 valuation — the exact same figure as the year before.

We stack up well when compared with our peers, too.

This past year, of the 17 cities in Carroll’s population range in Iowa (8,000 to 12,000 people) Carroll had the lowest consolidated tax rate (city, county and school district) at $31.60 per $1,000 valuation. Spencer, a city Carroll often is compared with for economic purposes, had a tax rate of $33.47. Storm Lake had a consolidate rate of $41.48 and Oskaloosa $41.83.

As they move forward into financial planning for 2012 and future years the current Carroll City Council — before Jensen’s arrival — is already operating with one major goal in mind: don’t increase the city’s property-tax rate for next fiscal year.

Apparently, that’s not enough for Jensen, who, again, wants to see “less spending.”

It’s hard to attack the city’s debt level, either.

 In fact, one could make an argument that Carroll has too little debt, that we aren’t doing enough to advance infrastructure plans relative to other cities. We have very little debt.

By fiscal year 2016-2017, the only significant general-obligation debt on the books for the city, barring any new projects, will be financing of the $2.96 million bond issue for the Carroll Family Aquatic Center — which carries annual payments of about $193,000 between 2016 and 2021.

In 2016-2017 the city would be at 6 percent of its debt limit of $31.6 million, leaving capacity for $29.7 million in general-obligation debt, according to the official City of Carroll Debt Limit Schedule.

The city does carry debt connected to $11 million in bonds issued in 2003 and 2004 for the wastewater-treatment plant, but that financing is connected to sewer-service revenues.


In fiscal year 2011-2012, the city will make a final payment of $83,280 on a 2002 bond issue of $700,000 that paid for a major flood-mitigation and improvement plan at the Carroll Municipal Golf Course. Also, in fiscal year 2011-2012, the city will make a final payment of $26,025 on a 2002 bond issue of $195,000 for a fire department equipment van.


The general-obligation bonds on the $1.5 million 2003 issue for the Bass Street, Drain 77, storm-sewer project will be paid off in fiscal year 2012-2013 with a $196,156 payment.

The $2 million bond issue in 2005 connected to Corridor of Commerce phasing and the purchase of an aerial fire truck will be off the books with a final payment of $244,165 in fiscal year 2015-2016.

These are the facts on the table.

Once Jensen gets beyond reading “snippets” of Carroll’s budget and wanders into the weeds we’ll see if he remains eager to cut spending, to give any of Cayler’s sworn officers their walking papers or to implement other cost-cutting measures, to take ownership of a Carroll with more “limited government.”

What’s more, we’ll see if Carroll residents truly want to make the trade the man they voted for last Tuesday suggests: less spending for fewer services.

Or were the 10.5 percent of registered voters who cast ballots just angry about contemporary American life in general and looking for a place to vent.

It’s easy to vote angry and even less tasking to trot out vague campaign promises about cutting spending and limiting the government’s role in our lives.

Early budget discussions are already under way. Jensen has promised to advocate less spending.

As Ted Knight’s “Caddyshack” Judge Smails famously said, “Well, we’re waiting!”