I am writing in response to Mr. Trimble’s letter of Aug. 31 concerning the city budget [“Keeping up with the Joneses comes with a price”]. There are many aspects of the letter that are troubling because they are misleading, vague, and/or contradictory. It is important to point out some of these inconsistencies and clarify the facts.
The main argument that Mr. Trimble makes is that Waverly is spending too much money trying to be like other cities. He doesn’t want Waverly compared to other cities but on its own merits. Yet, he goes on to try and prove his point about the spending by, wait for it, comparing Waverly to other cities; specifically, Cedar Falls, Des Moines, and Mason City. All cities that he acknowledges are far larger than Waverly with larger tax bases.
He then makes a comparison based on per capita debt, which is interesting, but not necessarily instructive since those larger cities, in addition to having larger populations, have many large industries that contribute a substantial portion of the tax revenue generated in those cities as well. I find it interesting that he did not include cities more similar in size to Waverly, only Decorah, which is 20% smaller. I am sure he did extensive research, so why not include more comparable cities, even though he doesn’t want to compare Waverly to other cities.
A second concern he brings up is what he believes is a massive increase in the amount of debt we carry. It is true that we are currently carrying a larger amount in bond debt than usual, though he misquotes a figure of over $32 million taken from the June 30, 2020, audit when it is actually just over $31 million. That is probably because of accounting procedures within the city audit that he may not be aware of.
He then compares that to debt from a decade ago of around $11 million to make his point. But why that date? Why not 15 years ago, before the 2008 flood even, when the debt was over $16 million? Was that time picked just to make a point of saying it has tripled?
Debt goes up and debt goes down all the time, so picking any one date is arbitrary. Waverly has a tremendous record of paying off debt quickly and the amount can vary based on what has been done and when. The state of Iowa sets a limit of what a city can incur in debt and Waverly has a self-imposed limit of 80% of that, which we have stayed under.
OK, let’s look at what that debt has been used for in the city. He does note that the Cedar River Parkway makes up $9 million of his $32 million, bringing the increase to double in his time frame. He doesn’t mention that an additional $10 million is from the Dry Run Creek Project. That would bring the debt back to essentially the same amount he started at. Why not include that? Is he suggesting that we should have not done either project?
Those are arguably two of the most significant projects that the city has completed in the last 10 years. These will have long-term positive impacts on businesses and homes with flood protection and potential development, while also providing Waverly with a bridge over the river above the 500 year flood level.
How about the rest of the debt? The Fourth Street Southwest reconstruction was around $3 million of it and $1.1 million for the portion of what we owe for the Bremer Avenue reconstruction, which included new water mains that bring enhanced protection to homes and businesses along Bremer Avenue.
A little over $1 million for the Ball Diamonds which includes a portion of the Champions Ridge land purchase that the city will use to fund the second phase of the Ball Diamonds when and if we sell that land.
Another $2.1 million is for the reconstruction of 20th Street Northwest that was a major concern of residents of Ward 5 and will further allow development in that part of town. And then there are numerous other “smaller” projects that make up the debt as well including the Cedar Lane reconstruction, resurfacing of business 218, realigning Fourth Street Southwest at Technology Place/Oak Ridge Circle, and so on.
Which of these projects should we not have done? If not financed with debt, how should we have paid for the projects that he would agree were worth doing? The city only has two ways to come up with the money needed for such large-scale projects, borrowing or raising taxes.
He has acknowledged that he is opposed to the excess borrowing, so apparently, he would rather tax for the projects. He can do that in one of two ways as well. We can raise tax rates over a number of years, collecting more than we need /each year to “save up,” or we can raise taxes for one year to collect the amount needed for each project.
How high do you raise rates to build up $9 million for the Parkway or $10 million for the Dry Run? For how long do you do it? If we raise taxes for one year to get $10 million, I wonder what that tax bill would look like? Our current year total property tax collection for the city is $7.65 million. You would have to more than double that rate for one year to raise the funds for one large project.
The only other option would be doing nothing at all. Personally, I think the projects that have been done have all been worthy and beneficial to the city and funded in the most fiscally responsible way.
It has been said of cities that you are either growing or you are dying. Waverly has been continually growing as has been shown in the Census yet again. We are one of the few cities in the entire state to never have experienced a drop in population in a Census. Using his timeline of 10 years ago, the assessed value in the city has gone up over $110 million dollars in that time. A poorly managed city would not have seen such an increase in property values.
We, the City Council and citizens of Waverly, have accomplished that growth while maintaining financially sound monetary reserves, consistently achieving award winning audits, and maintaining one of the highest credit ratings for a city our size in the entire state of Iowa, Aa3, according to Moody’s. If you are going to compare cities financially, you might as well use what national lenders use as a comparison tool. We are extremely well positioned in that comparison.
We do have several large projects still ahead of us, but the city is in a tremendously positive financial situation to be able to handle it. While we do take out debt, we pay it off quite rapidly-hence the high credit rating.
Yes, we must make smart choices and prioritize projects. It is why Cedar Lane and 20th Street Northwest both took longer to do than the residents would have liked but made more sense for the city. It is why we delayed updating the pool until the Bremer County Fair relocates so that we can get the best value out a total park renovation rather than do it in patchwork pieces.
I am running for re-election because I am proud of the growth we have accomplished in the city and the financial management of the city. Waverly is nowhere close to any concern of bankruptcy. Suggesting so is irresponsible of anyone running for city-wide office.