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Political games played as Mason City’s budget for next year is OK’d

Mason City’s proposed budget for 2011-2012, that was worked out at City Hall over the past two months, barely was passed Tuesday night as the political games were ratcheted up a notch.|The Mason City City Council played some serious politics Tuesday night over the 2011-2012 city budget.

Upholding a campaign promise, Councilman Travis Hickey voted against the proposed budget for 2011-2012 because it contained a 5% tax hike for Mason City taxpayers. “There’s additional fund balances out there. I think we can get this down to a 0% increase.”

Janet Solberg voted “no” on the budget recommendation for similar reasons. “There were all these other funds out there that had money in them that we are using to balance the budget. What I got the biggest charge out of is all these veteran Council people up here and they didn’t even know that these… reserve monies existed until this year. They had never used them before to balance the budget.”

Brent Trout made a clarification on Solberg’s point, stating that the reserve funds were not used to balance the budget, but to help reduce the tax levy.

What Hickey and Solberg didn’t count on was Max Weaver also voting “no.”

His “no” vote on the budget brought a 3-3 tie. This put the Council in a similar position as they were in last year when they finally passed this year’s budget just in the nick of time just as state penalties would have kicked in. The budget must be passed by the Council by March 15, 2011 or some matching state funds would be lost by the city.

Seemingly at an impasse the Council sat deadlocked at 3-3.

Mayor Eric Bookmeyer asked Hickey for a motion on where to go from that point, and Hickey proposed a meeting to look for cuts. The problem there is that due to publishing requirements set by law, a very small time frame would have been available to hold a meeting to look for cuts and get a new budget set. According to Finance Director Kevin Jacobson, close to $700,000 in cuts to the budget would need to be found in order to have a 0% tax hike instead of the 5% tax hike.

Weaver explained his “no” vote. “We went through a good budget process. I didn’t hear Councilmen Solberg or Hickey come up with any solutions to get us to 0%. Janet Solberg, give me 3 or 4 ideas you have in your head tonight. I’ll tell you why you voted no tonight, you wanted to look good in from of the people there. You’ve been busted.”

Weaver went on to say “One of the biggest shows of grandstanding I’ve ever seen here tonight by these two colleagues of mine. To think that they can have better suggestions in two days it just simply isn’t going to be there.”

Jeff Marsters said he had one comment on how to lower taxes. “How about spending less.”

Hickey said “I think it was previous Councils that I wasn’t on that spent too much that got us to this point.”

Don Nelson said “We agreed to not have another episode like last year, and here were we go again.”

Finally, Weaver made a motion to approve the budget. It passed 4-2 with Solberg and Hickey voting no.

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