Tri States Public Radio Staff
3 Incumbents, 2 Former Aldermen on Ballot
Mon November 4, 2013
Six Seek Three Burlington City Council Seats
The candidates for three open seats on the Burlington City Council have a monumental, multi-million dollar task on their hands when they take office in January.
City Manager Jim Ferneau made it clear during his first few days on the job that the city's budget was in trouble due to deficits and limited revenue.
Since then, the city council has spent many, many hours trying to resolve the situation.
It's likely that will continue when the new members of the Burlington City Council are seated in January.
The six people vying for the three open seats are Chris Reed, Jim Davidson, Robert Fleming, Becky Shockley, Mike Campbell and Tim Scott.
They bring plenty of experience to the race, as Reed, Davidson and Fleming currently serve on the council while Campbell and Scott are former aldermen.
For Reed, four years on the city council was not enough, prompting his decision to seek a second term this year.
He says he enjoys helping people and he wants to make sure the city sticks with its five-year financial plan.
Reed wants that plan to include changes to Burlington's benefits policy, focusing on how employees can place money they don't spend on health insurance premiums into a retirement fund.
"Right now, if we could restructure that by starting on the management side of things because they are non-union and make some changes with that, we could save more than $200,000 per year," says Reed.
Reed says Burlington should also explore privatization in areas such as trash collection as a way to save money or improve efficiency.
"Can we be more effective or efficient with it," asks Reed. "Can we go to a truck with an arm system with a bigger trash can? Can we go to a single recycling stream? There are all of these avenues we can look at within the city. We must dive in deeper to save our citizens money."
Reed says he also supports stricter nuisance codes and more talks between Burlington, West Burlington and Des Moines County about combined services.
Alderman Jim Davidson says he is seeking another term in office so he can keep working on the budget and the city’s five-year financial plan.
Davidson, who also serves as mayor, says the process must include spending cuts and revenue increases, be it from taxes or fees.
He says there is one department, though, where cuts must be avoided if possible.
"I am really concerned about the police department and where we are with them," says Davidson, "as we cannot afford to overload them. That just leads to problems down the road."
Davidson still supports the idea of a joint law enforcement center with Des Moines County, when Burlington is on a more stable financial footing.
He also wants to see Burlington hire Ames (IA)-based VenuWorks to manage the Memorial Auditorium along the Mississippi River.
"Rather than this idea of just closing down the auditorium and let it sit and do nothing for three years," says Davidson. "I think we are far better off as a community to have a professional management team come in and get events in there and get that building useable."
Both Davidson and Reed believe it will be at least five years before Cascade Bridge is repaired or replaced.
Former Alderman Mike Campbell served from 2004-2007 on the Burlington City Council.
He wants to return to the panel to be a voice for all residents and to help restore the city’s budget, which he says is the biggest challenge facing the city.
Campbell says the city council should not rely on the city manager to craft the budget.
"(The city) council needs to be more involved in the budgeting process," says Campbell. "Not that we need to become micro-managers and telling the department heads where they need to shave the dollars, but to definitely be involved in the budget process."
Campbell says at least two council members should sit in with department heads during their budget requests.
He supports a review of all services to make sure they are being delivered efficiently in an attempt to eliminate the need for a property tax hike.
"We have a private golf course and a public golf course in our area and we have a private swimming pool and a public swimming pool," says Campbell. "Often the public will often suffer at the hands of the private and that is capitalism and free enterprise and that is what America is all about."
Campbell also believes the city should be more transparent, including archiving digital recordings of meetings.
Tim Scott also knows his way around city hall, having served on the city council for twelve years, including six as mayor.
He says this campaign has allowed some of his ideas to finally gain some traction, starting with the city possibly re-examining the benefits offered to employees.
"It is not that I don't think these men and women are worth every dime they are getting," says Scott, "it is just over and above what we as a community can afford and over and above what people in similar responsibilities or amount of responsibilities have in the private sector."
Scott says the money saved could go towards street improvements and other projects.
"We are going to have to concentrate on the infrastructure and paying down the debt," says Scott. "Then when we get that done, we have to concentrate real hard on making a debt policy that we are not going to exceed a percentage of our debt capacity."
Scott says his goal is to avoid a property tax increase in the upcoming budget cycle.
Robert Fleming and Becky Shockley could not be reached for comment on this story.
The polls in Burlington will be open from 7:00 AM - 8:00 PM on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
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