Des Moines Council told city has become ‘solvent, strong and sustainable’


By Jack Mayne

The Des Moines City Council held its first budget session on Thursday (Aug. 2) for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year, the first of many meetings ahead leading to a potential final decision by the Council in November.

City Manager Michael Matthias told the Council study session that state law requires him to presents a preliminary recommended budget to the Council on Oct. 11, and “at that point you can go ahead and make changes” and that in the past the development of the budget has been “a very collaborative, cooperative process.”

Standard and Poors, the Wall Street rating agency, says “we are solvent, strong and sustainable,” said Matthias, and a better bond rating “reduces the cost of borrowing money and stretches out the value that our city taxpayers receive.”

He also said the city has now achieved a “very strong debt and contingent liability position,” but in 2014 the city was told by the state auditor “that we had no longterm forecast to get out of trouble — we had a situation where our structural expenditures were exceeding structural revenues and, at one point, we were looking at $700,000 in fund balance in 2016 looking forward.

“We could not cover two payrolls and we were looking at bankruptcy in 2017. We need to remember that is the backdrop of what we’ve been doing.” Now, he said, the city was “strong on our opinion,” said Standard and Poors and the city “budgetary flexibility is very strong.”

Similarly, increases in the city’s rating came from two other bond rating agencies, –Moody’s and Filch ratings.

Staff retirings addressed
The city manager also noted the problems the city faced last year and their remediation. Challenges of the past included a number of retirings and the departure to another city of the city finance director.

Retirings included the harbormaster, the parks and recreation manager, the senior service manager along with “significant attrition” in the city police department. Matthias said the city made Scott Wilkins the acting harbormaster with the intention of making him permanent soon. The city also hired Beth Anne Wroe as the finance director, and Adrienne Johnson as human resources director. Also hired was Steve Marcotte as a strategic financial advisor, who Matthias said “has been instrumental in moving our bond issuance, bond refinance and bond rathing process forward.”

Matthias also appointed Susan Cezar as interim parks director, contracted Wesley Homes to provide senior services and “addressed and resolved most aspects of the Police Department attrition” which included moving former Police Chief George Delgado to the new position of emergency management director and replaced him with former Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas. Delgado was chief for six years.

Chief Thomas told the Council that the department is fully staffed now but noted that 13 commissioned officers are currently eligible to retire. There are new officers in the offing, he said. In September he will fill a position the Council approved to work with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on violent crime along Pacific Highway. He added that two officers will be deployed to focus on street crimes “so when we get those complaints from our residents” about suspicious activities “we are going to have a team that is going to go out actively and aggressively address those problem areas.”

Chief Operations Officer Dan Brewer said there is a plan to aggressively market and expand services of the marina under the harbor master. Matthias said the Marina is a destination location and the city wants to expand the awareness of the facility.

Amazing
Mayor Matt Pina said the city’s financial resurgence is “amazing” and he never expected to see a solid financial position for the city again after the years of near bankruptcy. “This is, by the true definition of the word, amazing.”

Deputy Mayor Vic Pennington said “the sacrifices the staff made, that our citizens have made, the work that the Council has done” and the leadership shown by Matthias and the negativism shown by some citizens, “it was a tough time for everybody.” Citizens did not want the city to be taken over by another city.

Pennington said it was incumbent on the Council to save the city or it was going “to go away,” but the citizens, the city staff and the Council all worked together to save the city.

“You can do and look in the mirror and be proud of your role and the roles you stepped into … and be proud of where the city is going and will literally be handing off to the next stewards of your position. I am very proud of everybody,” Pennington added.


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