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Waterloo City Council remains deadlocked over budget


WATERLOO — The city still lacks a budget for the next fiscal year.

Waterloo City Council members met for nearly three hours Monday before adjourning without reaching a budget compromise for the second straight meeting.

They expect to return to session at noon Tuesday in hopes of breaking the deadlock and avoid having the city miss the state’s March 15 budget deadline for the first time in at least three decades.

“We’re in uncharted territory in my tenure with the city of Waterloo, with the potential of possibly not passing a budget at the deadline,” said Chief Financial Officer Michelle Weidner. “We’ve never been in this position before.”

Mayor Quentin Hart said there’s been discussion between policy makers since Thursday, when he vetoed a budget adopted by four council members that would have led to significant layoffs across the city.

“I will say we’ve had some lively conversation among council members,” Hart said. “Folks have been talking, trying to come up with different options with what they believe is important for the city of Waterloo.

“Some want to tighten up the belt straps a little bit and some are trying to find new sources of revenue,” he said.

Councilman Steve Schmitt was absent Monday to deal with what was described as a personal family issue, which left the remaining council members basically split 3-3 between those calling for spending and staff cuts and those looking at fee increases to maintain existing services.

Almost every budget proposed during Monday’s meeting would have lowered the city’s current $17.60 property tax rate next year.

Councilman Bruce Jacobs said he was willing to accept Hart’s proposal to increase the gas and electric franchise fee from 3 to 3.5 percent, boost the use of city reserve funds from $500,000 to $710,000 and leave a few currently vacant positions — including two firefighters — unfilled to lower the tax rate to $17.59.

“We actually lower our levy rate one penny,” he said. “No one gets laid off with this budget.”

Councilman Chris Shimp was still opposed to the franchise fee hike, but proposed cutting the tax rate to $17.38 by using $1.5 million in reserve funds and eliminating two vacant firefighter posts, a vacant police position and delaying the hire of two more cops until January 2019.

Weidner suggested such a large use of city reserves would damage the city’s bond rating.

Council members Pat Morrissey, Sharon Juon and Jerome Amos Jr. all proposed keeping the current public safety staffing levels by boosting all general fund fees by 7 to 8 percent along with the franchise fee increase.

Juon said the projected tax cut would more than offset the franchise fee increase for a normal homeowner, while the user fee increases would not affect everyone.

“If you don’t have a need for it — you don’t have a pet, you’re not going to build a house — this won’t affect you,” Juon said. “It is indeed a fee just placed on the people who would use certain services.”

Jacobs countered that fee hikes could hamper economic development.

“They are user fees,” he said. “But what could happen is businesses could decide not to use.”

Councilwoman Margaret Klein did not offer a specific budget proposal but said she was against raising the franchise fee or counting on the state providing revenue promised under a 2012 property tax reform bill.

Council members received nearly an hour of public comments from residents at the meeting, with a majority saying they were opposed to service cuts, especially in public safety.

“I plead with you to please keep your EMTs, your firemen and your police officers,” said Bette Wubbena, who suffered a heart attack 17 years ago but had her life saved by two police officers and Waterloo Fire Rescue.

Police officer Jordan Ehlers noted the city saw an increase in murders in 2014 after it cut three police positions.

“Waterloo is the only city of its comparable size and tax base that is considering to cut police this fiscal year,” he said.

Resident Forest Dillavou was one of several residents speaking against fee increases.

“We need to economize,” he said. “We need to get somebody in here to tell us how we can run this city cheaper.”

Spring break event brings families downtown

WATERLOO — Excited voices filled the Phelps Youth Pavilion on Monday as children played with its art-inspired interactive exhibits.

Kids dug into a container of rubberized dirt to plant plastic vegetables. They drove a tractor towards scenery projected on a wall and climbed into a bus that swayed from side to side.

Other children spent time in the one-room Grant Wood school house, sitting in the desks or writing on the chalkboard — proving the World’s Greatest Spring Break for Kids even has something for those who would rather be in school this week.

The youth pavilion is just one of 10 downtown locations taking part in the event continuing through Friday. Schools in Waterloo, Cedar Falls and a number of other communities across the Cedar Valley are on spring break this week. Children accompanied by adults can visit museums, attend a play, go swimming or skating, make crafts and more.

Admission is $1 at most sites and free at the others, thanks to the sponsorship of the R.J. McElroy Trust. More information can be found online at

Six-year-old Brinley Penn of Parkersburg might prefer to get back to her first-grade classroom later this week, but on Monday she was excited to be at the youth pavilion.

“I really like climbing up the holes,” she said, referring to the passageway under the stairs providing an alternate route to the second floor. The pavilion was the second stop for her family following a dip in the pool at the Sportsplex.

“We went swimming,” said Brinley. “I really like going down the slide.”

“My wife and I brought five kids,” said David Penn, Brinley’s dad, ranging from 8 years to six months old. The family was joined by a friend who came with another four children.

“They really look forward to coming to town, swimming and playing,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll be worn out and go home to eat lunch.”

His wife plans to return with the children later in the week for another visit to some of the attractions.

Daetyn Weber and Vella Allen, both of Waterloo, plan to participate in the spring break activities throughout the week. The Kingsley Elementary School fifth-graders were upstairs at the youth pavilion posing in front of a device that snaps their pictures, providing a guide to draw their portraits.

“It’s awesome,” said Allen of the youth pavilion. “We can’t get enough of this place.”

The pair was planning some other stops, as well. “Young Arena is going to be my favorite,” said Weber, where they will go ice skating.

Amos Krause of Waverly was at the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium with his three sons, ages 4, 15 and 19.

“It’s kind of cool that they can all find something that they like,” he noted. “It’s a great event that keeps us in this area rather than going somewhere else.”

After lunch, they planned a visit to the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum and Grout Museum. On Tuesday, they planned to return for stops at the youth pavilion and Young Arena.

“We haven’t tried ice skating before and he’s been asking,” said Krause, indicating his 4-year-old. “It’s a perfect opportunity.”

Sisters Olivia and Emma Reiter, who were at the Imaginarium with their mom, love the spring break activities.

“We’ve been coming since we were kids,” said Olivia, noting she is now 16 and a sophomore at Columbus Catholic High School. Her sister is a seventh-grader at Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta Middle School.

Mom Kim Reiter likes that it “gets them out of the house and away from their cell phones.” The family has been regular attenders at the event because work commitments keep them in town during spring break.

“It’s affordable, that’s the nice thing,” she added. “I’m so glad they keep doing it.”

Freemantle Media/ABC photo by Eric Liebowitz 

Maddie Poppe, a singer from Clarksville, performs during her audition for “American Idol” on Sunday on ABC.


UPDATE: Bill Dix has resigned after kissing video released (READ THE LETTER)

DES MOINES — Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, an 18-year veteran of the Iowa Legislature, abruptly resigned his leadership and District 25 position Monday in the wake of a video posted online that appeared to show the Shell Rock Republican kissing a female lobbyist at a Des Moines bar.

In a short statement, Dix announced his resignation as majority leader and state senator, effective at 2 p.m. Monday. He sent a resignation letter to Iowa Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, and House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, in accordance with Iowa Code requirement.

Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, declined comment after a closed-door caucus of the 29-member Senate GOP majority. But his office issued a statement confirming Dix’s departure.

Bill Dix resignation letter

“I believe he made the right decision for himself and for his district, but most importantly, I believe he made the decision in the best interest of his family,” Whitver said in his statement.

“Senate Republicans will continue to move the policies Iowans elected us to pursue,” Whitver added. “After discussions with the Republican caucus this afternoon, an election to fill the position of Iowa Senate majority leader will be held on Wednesday.”

The woman was identified as a lobbyist for Iowa League of Cities, an organization that seeks to sway legislation at the state Capitol. She did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Robert L. Palmer, director of government affairs and legislative counsel for the organization, said in an email to the Associated Press: “We are taking what we believe are appropriate actions, but because this is a personnel matter we cannot comment further.”

Dix, a third-generation farmer who was born and raised on his family farm near Janesville, met with fellow Republicans for about 15 minutes behind closed doors in a Senate committee room where staffers had placed a large white board in front of the glass window to keep TV cameras, reporters or others from seeing in the room.

Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, filled in for Dix at the start of Monday’s session and the majority leader did not make any public comments during the day’s proceedings.

“He did the right thing for himself, for his family and for Iowans today,” said Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, who attended the meeting. “As a caucus we’re going to move forward.”

Earlier in the day, Gov. Kim Reynolds expressed “extreme disappointment” and told reporters at her 11 a.m. weekly news conference she planned to meet privately with the Senate majority leader to discuss the situation and get more information concerning the video posted on the Iowa Starting Line blog.

“With what little I know, I’m certainly disappointed in what I’m hearing,” Reynolds told reporters.

“I think Iowans hold their elected officials to a high standard. They expect us to lead and I expect to lead,” the governor said. “I want to know the facts. I’m extremely disappointed in what I’m hearing but until I have an opportunity to hear the story I’m not going to comment yet.”

But by early afternoon, Dix made the decision to end his Senate stay in the final year of his second term. He previously served in the Iowa House for five terms and was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2010 and became majority leader after the 2016 election. He represented Butler, Grundy, Hardin and Story counties.

Sen. David Johnson, an Ocheyedan independent who left the Republican Party in 2016 over differences with now-GOP President Donald Trump, said he had not seen the video but noted he had heard similar reports about Dix prior to Monday’s posting of the video. He called for Dix to resign as majority leader.

“It’s a disgrace to the majority party caucus. I think he needs to make the decision to at least step down from leadership,” said Johnson. “We don’t need this ongoing story about where Senate Republican leadership is on these issues dealing with women.”

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, a Des Moines Democrat, released a statement calling the video a “serious matter.”

“Because this involves Senator Dix and a lobbyist, there will be questions about the impact of this relationship on legislation,” she said in a statement.

Petersen used her statement to reiterate her criticism of Dix for how he handled a recent sexual misconduct case within the chamber, which involved a former Senate GOP staffer. The ex-employee filed a lawsuit several years ago claiming she was fired after reporting misconduct in the workplace that included the use of sexual language. The lawsuit went to trial last summer, and she was later awarded $1.75 million.

Dix has maintained the ex-staffer was fired for poor performance. An internal report later revealed senators made “sexually suggestive comments” or discussed “sexual preferences” on the chamber floor in recent years, and staff members in the Republican Senate office were unlikely to report misconduct because of fear of retaliation.

The Iowa Legislature has since hired a human resources director to oversee harassment complaints at the state Capitol.

Legislative leaders in the Republican-controlled Iowa House have not commented on Dix, who had been a top Republican in the Senate for several years. He became majority leader after GOP lawmakers took control of the chamber following the 2016 election.

PHOTOS: Protesters picket Bill Dix's home

SHELL ROCK — Union and Democratic activists picketed the home of Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix Saturday to protest what they called his anti-family and anti-worker agenda.

Reynolds said she hoped the majority party leaders could “move on” with the 2018 session in pushing plans to cut taxes, balance the budget and address other priorities would not be impacted by Monday’s development.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.