OTTUMWA — Thursday’s forum for city council candidates saw sharp differences in the participants’ views of what Ottumwa’s future should be.
Wesley Crowder, Bob Meyers and Marc Roe staked out contrasting positions on what the city is capable of, or even should be doing. Crowder urged voters to send a message that the city needs “to get back to basics.” That means a return to focusing on what succeeded for Ottumwa rather than rolling the dice on unproven projects.
Roe rejected the idea Ottumwa should be less ambitious for the future, saying there are “two very clear paths the citizens of Ottumwa can take.” He said the city needs to weigh decisions carefully, but must take steps to advance when they are available.
To Meyers, the city does reasonably well with the financial limits it has, largely with the help of volunteers in the community.
“I’ve always been impressed by the volunteers who step up and do things,” he said, pointing specifically to Oktoberfest events as examples. “There are a lot of positive things going on in this town.”
Each of the candidates conceded Ottumwa’s fiscal restrictions are a significant challenge. Meyers called Ottumwa’s tax rate “the biggest issue we in Ottumwa face.” But the approach to spending and tax reduction varied. Where Roe favored the pursuit of new jobs and new housing, Crowder said the city has overextended itself trying to “force growth.”
The financial restrictions go in other directions, too. All of the candidates opposed dipping into the general fund, even for things like street repair, saying such steps have too much potential to put public safety budgets at risk.
“I think that would be a disaster, quite honestly,” Roe said.
The candidates split over projects like the hotel at Bridge View Center and the proposed development on the north bank of the Des Moines River. Roe, who has been on the council as both projects have emerged, said neither has city funding committed yet. He said both are under consideration, but not finalized.
Meyers said he was of two minds. On one hand, he said projects like those require some caution to keep the city from becoming overcommitted. On the other, doing nothing is not a way to maintain growth.
Crowder was unequivocally critical. He said he is concerned about possible obligations for the city at the levels those projects would likely require when the public had not had a voice in the decision.
“Why don’t they put it up for a vote and see what really happens,” he said.
The forum included three of the four candidates on next month’s ballot. Mark Peters told the Courier earlier Wednesday he had a prior engagement and would not be able to attend. Two council seats are up for election in the November 5 vote.