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.

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.


5 Responses to “Des Moines Council told city has become ‘solvent, strong and sustainable’”
  1. Patrick Nardo says:

    No comments? Really? Where are the loud, discordant voices, hailing bad manager, bad judgement, poor, or incompetent council? We nearly lost our dear city and all the loud cry against those who saved it are conspicuously silent. Well this voice is not silent in thanking Michael Matthias, our City Manager, Matt Pina, our Mayor, and each of the councilmen and women whose great judgment, due diligence, and wise application of available resources, to rescue us from bankruptcy. Having such a great team now, represents an astute voting citizenry in Des Moines, so thank you goes in many directions. My math Teacher often spoke these words; “Speech is silvery, but silence is golden”, The proof lies within Des Moines now, and the local, vocal negatives have no longer an ear to disparage the goodness of our leadership. Comment on this?

  2. Patrick Nardo says:

    Sadly enough, my praise of our city leaders, was not published, and I used no bad language or derogatory statements. Good Job City Manger, Council, and all who gave much of their time and money to make this rescue possible.

    • Tommy says:

      What rescue? The city is now seeing the results of what past city councilmembers have done. Did you really think that the current city council just stepped in and changed the direction of the city in only the last year or two? Get real Nardo and stop kissing up to everyone you claim to be your friend. Do you really think that all the development on 216th and elsewhere in the city just happened overnight? I have been following these events for almost twenty years and I give credit to all those people who actually did something to make it all happen.

      By the way, Mr. Nardo. Have you ever considered that all the people you claim to be your friends might just be being polite and simply putting up with you?

      • John O'Leary says:

        Tommy, I agree part of the success of today is a result of the hard efforts and planning of previous leadership in the city. I believe Mr. Nardo has acknowledge those efforts publicly many times. Here is where I disagree with your assessment. Mr. Nardo has been a selfless promoter of the City of Des Moines. I spent over three decades at the police department retiring as chief of police. I have had the honor to know and engage with Pat Nardo for many years. I can assure you it was not a matter of being polite and putting up with him. Pat is a very engaged and involved citizen. It is now my honor to call him friend.

  3. John O'Leary says:

    Tommy, I agree with you the success Des Moines is now enjoying is the fruition of the hard work done by many started several years ago. Mr. Nardo has commented on this in many of his previous posts. I believe Mr. Nardo was commending current leadership for staying the path. I would also point out, with the exception of the city manager, some of the other city leadership have served for multiple years and were part of those early efforts. Where I draw exception to your comment is where you suggest people were just being polite and putting up with Mr. Nardo. It was an unwarranted slam to a good man.
    I served over three decades in the Des Moines Police Department retiring six years ago as chief of police. I have known Pat for much of that time. He is a tireless ambassador and promoter of the community. He is an actively engaged citizen who cares much about his community. I am proud and honored to call Pat a friend and I believe I speak for many who feel the same.

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