Differences over finances and government openness launched Fort Dodge City Councilman Dave Flattery into debate with his opponent, Richard Higgins, and sometimes with fellow Councilman Don Wilson during a Thursday evening forum.
During the question and answer session, Flattery, who represents Ward 3, argued that growing the community will require investment, while Higgins called for cutting taxes, water bills and city sanitation fees.
Wilson and Flattery clashed over the issue of government transparency before an audience of about 50 people in the Light of the City Conference Center, 2175 180th St. Flattery repeated his accusation that three members of the council meet apart from the others to discuss issues. Wilson immediately started to say something about Flattery going to a Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance meeting, even though it wasn’t his turn to speak. Sharon Hickey, the moderator of the forum and the president of the Well-Informed Webster People, stopped him and asked for the next question from the audience.
Moments later, Steve Clayton, Wilson’s opponent in Ward 2, received a round of applause when he offered his thoughts on how City Council members should behave.
“How do you run a town, or how do people trust you, if you’re fighting each other?”‘ he asked. “What good does it do? People put their trust in you to look out for their best interest and run the town the way it should be.”
“We as a group have to stick together, and come up with a plan to make this town move forward,” Clayton said later in the forum.
Councilman Kim Alstott, who is unopposed for a second term representing Ward 4, said improving quality of life amenities in Fort Dodge is necessary to help local businesses attract the employees they need.
Alstott, who supports the crosstown connector project, added that the results of the Nov. 5 election will determine if it is completed.
City money debate
“We can choose to shrink or we can choose to grow,” Flattery said.
Either choice, he said, will involve some financial pain, in the form of expenditures or budget cuts. He said he favors continued investments in things like the Fifth Avenue South Corridor of Commerce. According to Flattery, that project led to $30 million in private investment and a $1 million increase in local option sales tax revenues.
The increase in local option sales tax money, which is dedicated to street projects and water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer work done in conjunction with road projects, won’t make a dent in the backlog of street work, according to Flattery. He estimated that there is $200 million to $300 million worth of work to be done.
“It’s almost impossible to sit up here and say I’ll fix your streets,” Flattery said.
Higgins said he believes the local option sales tax money isn’t being used properly. He again repeated his claim that the sources of money to pay for the crosstown connector project remain unclear.
Late in the forum, Flattery handed Higgins a paper featuring color pie charts which he said explained the funding for the project. Higgins didn’t take the paper, and said: “I have a copy.”
Such sharp disagreements didn’t arise between Clayton and Wilson.
Clayton, who said he entered the council race after a friend challenged him to put his “talking into action,” said Fort Dodge residents must realize that everything comes with a price tag.
“Anything for the betterment of this town comes from taxes,” he said.
He called for making decisions that minimize taxes while still enabling the community to grow.
“We’re going to have to pay for something, or we’re going to lose something,” Clayton said.
Citing figures from the Iowa Department of Management, Wilson said Fort Dodge has the seventh highest property tax rate in the state.
“Seventy-five percent of the people out there can’t afford what we’re seeing,” he said
“I’m going to say Fort Dodge is moving forward for a certain segment of people,” Wilson added.