The Ottumwa Courier

March 11, 2014

Officials hold line on Wapello budget

By WANDA MOELLER
Courier Editor

---- — OTTUMWA — Taxpayers in Wapello can breathe a sign of relief. Taxes will go down and county services will not be cut.

On Tuesday night, Wapello County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt its 2014-2015 budget with little opposition from the general public.

The only complaint was delivered by Joe Mulcahy, chairman of Wapello County Veterans Affairs. “We’d like to know the reasons why we can’t have a director for 40 hours per week,” said Mulcahy. “We feel we produced a good budget. We’re open to discussion on this. It’s not fair to the veterans of Wapello County. We could do more for our veterans if the office was opened 40 hours.”

However, County Board Chairman Jerry Parker explained the board did not cut services to veterans. “The service is what we’ve had in the past. Over the years, we’ve increased the Veteran’s Service officer from 20 to 30 hours per week.”

To be fair, Parker said the county looks over every department’s budget thoroughly. Once the budget is set and published in the legal newspaper of record, Parker said, the county can not increase a department’s budget. It can only decrease it after the public hearing.

Supervisor Greg Kenning suggested to Mulcahy develop a plan. “Make a comparison between other veterans affairs offices of comparable size and their numbers,” he said. “Comparing the Veteran’s Affairs office to the Treasurer’s office, isn’t fair.”

“If we are convinced, then we’ll look at expanding hours,” said Supervisor Steve Seigel. “My mind isn’t closed to the idea (of expansion). We need to hear you say, ‘why’.”

Until then, the county board wasn’t nudging from its prepared budget for the coming year.

“Our goal is to try to reduce taxes without reducing services,” said Parker. “Reducing taxes is one way to improve our economy to make it conducive to economic development. It’s a balancing act to do that. None of the departments got everything they asked for. The sheriff’s department wanted another vehicle and we didn’t approve that. I’m pleased with the budget.

“But we can’t please everyone,” he said. “We have to look at the whole county and not just one area.”

“Overall our tax asking is down $84,000,” noted Siegel. “We haven’t had to reduce any services and we’ve kept our taxes flat for five consecutive years.”

As for looking into the future, Kenning noted the county picture might not be “as rosy.”

“We want to be good custodians of county taxpayer money,” said Kenning.

In other county business:

n Supervisor Parker noted work on raising Chief Wapello back on top of the courthouse will begin on Thursday, when the weather will reach 50 degrees. As a result, a portion of city street in front of the courthouse will be closed as well the front entrance of the building. Individuals who have business at the courthouse later this week, will be asked to use a side entrance into the building.