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Editorial: Design on your dime

by Matt Marquardt –

The Mason City City Council met Tuesday night and was introduced to Finance Director Kevin Jacobson’s 2013 city budget.

The room was full of city department directors.  A few people also showed up who depend on city dollars to survive, like Brent Willett of the North Iowa Corridor and Marty Walsh of Main Street Mason City.   Three or four regular citizens sat in the back of the room.  Several persons involved with the Human Rights Department were in attendance.  The only media there was yours truly.

The council heard about the need for a new $1 million fire truck, and quickly came to the conclusion that public safety comes first.

(PHOTO: Trout, Bookmeyer and Hickey at budget hearing.)

The council also discussed at length the need at the Mason City Police Department for a $600,000 HVAC system.  The discussion ranged from patching it up to a full replacement and then even went as far as talking about a brand new police station building.  “I would, personally, love to see a new police station,” said council member Jean Marinos (see video).  The cost would be approximately $8 million for that.  City staff are looking into it now.  If they add a fire station satellite building, it could cost $12 million.

Along the way, Jacobson mentioned $60,000 for a mysterious first floor remodel at City Hall.  I call this project mysterious because no one knows anything about it, and the council did not discuss it.  At all.  City officials, including Mayor Eric Bookmeyer, City Administrator Brent Trout and all six City Council members so far are refusing to give any details on the project except that they had local architect Randy Cram come in and look around. has attempted this week to find out more about the remodel project but so far none of the above persons will talk.  The word is that the idea originated in the Mayor’s office so that he can keep an eye on certain city employees, see who they are talking to.

Speaking of the Mayor, his right hand man Travis Hickey, while staying totally silent on the Mayor’s remodel plan at the budget hearing, had plenty to say about other expenditures.  He questioned a Trees Forever Program, with a sly smile.  He questioned animal control.  He questioned the police department about their choice of vehicles.  He questioned the fire department on their shifts, and offered a lecture on how they could be more efficient, he decided, after having a meeting with Trout.  Hickey says they could cut down on overtime and increase efficiency and even perhaps add more employees by going to a twelve hour shift.  Fire Chief Bob Platts said the idea wasn’t feasible at this time.

Hickey’s microscope never questioned the dollars the MacNider Museum needs in this budget.  $16,000 for a new entrance sign, among thousands for windows, stucco repair and railings.  The city must cover, using property tax funds, the building, grounds and administration of the museum; a trust fund covers everything else.

The good news is that this is the last year the city has to make a payment on the MacNider Campground debt repayment ($175,000.)

In the end, there wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle room for the council in the roughly $57 million budget, and even less when you consider that Jacobson said that the water fund is “not in good shape.”  He said 40% of water revenue goes to paying debt, but we are producing “really good water.”  Taxes and fees look to be increasing, especially for water and sanitation ($1.79 per month for the average user.)

Remember, this is the preliminary budget and the council is still digesting it; changes will be made.  Next week’s budget meeting will offer more clues as to what direction the council will take.

Watch some video highlights of the budget meeting:

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