He’s not a priority

BY ART CULLEN

Jesse Barnett, who lives on a stub of College Street blocked by the railroad tracks, has a legitimate beef. That little stub is a wreck. It has gone from asphalt to gravel. Rerod sticks up and punctures tires. It is a forgotten little street, but there are houses along each side. They pay property taxes just like someone on Lake Avenue. They pay sales taxes. And as they puncture tires taking their vehicle in for wheel realignment, they are paying fuel taxes that are supposed to be used to take care of College Street.

Jesse Barnett and his neighbors are not getting a fair shake. Property taxes go up. Fuel taxes go up.

And his street gets worse.

The same goes for residents of many streets in Storm Lake, including Geneseo, Irving and Cayuga along which we pay commercial and residential property taxes ourselves. They are in terrible shape. Everybody in town has been talking about it for months. Barnett has been talking about it for years.

To deaf ears.

So it went again on Monday, May 17 where Barnett sought to redress his grievance with the city council since the administration has ignored him. To fix the problem, there must be a discussion. The council must hear Barnett completely. But Mayor Jon Kruse went defensive, the crouch in which city hall so often finds itself, and he cut off Barnett from discussion during the council meeting. It may have been a relief to the mayor and the departing city manager. It may have been a relief to the council and staff after a long day.

But Barnett simply left mad.

That’s not how we fix the problem.

Barnett was told it is a matter of priorities. Obviously, he and his neighbors are not a priority. Neither are the humble residents of Irving Street, or those who have to dodge the potholes on Grand Avenue near the Buena Vista football stadium. Or the businesses along Memorial Road — they were told just as Jim Patrick came here about seven years ago that it would be paved at least to the driveway of Grand Central East. It is still a washboarded cloud of dust as the trucks rumble past the Armory; it looks and rides like something out of Appalachia. We asked about it several years ago and were told that there were other priorities.

Given the general deterioration around town, we have to wonder what those other priorities are. The city has put a lot of energy and management into building pervious pavement along Erie Street that was laid crooked. It is being relaid this spring. Our priorities are being rearranged by outside parties, it appears.

We would like to say that things will get better. Given Memorial Road and College Street, that would be wishful thinking.

We know the city has budget problems. Road use tax allocations have not been kind to urban street programs that generate so much of the total state revenue. That has always been true. But our streets have not always been this bad. We added a local sales tax to the fuel tax revenue to help streets. It doesn’t appear that the revenue is meeting the road.

Which all suggests planning and management issues that need to be solved. Jesse Barnett does not need to be solved. The mayor and staff must recognize that he has a serious problem to contend with, which is the city’s responsibility. Barnett brings up a fair point: Why should he have to maintain his sidewalk (when other neighborhoods have no sidewalks) when the city refuses to maintain its own street? That question hit the nerve that cancelled what should have been a conversation that produced results.

Such as:

“Mr. Barnett, we apologize for having put you off for so many years. We realize that you are a hard-working, tax-paying citizen who deserves our support and respect. We want you to know that we are not indifferent to your needs. We will dispatch a crew next week to fix your street once and for all, no matter the cost or trouble. Our inaction is unacceptable. Please bear with us as we address your problem.”

That’s what would happen if you got a bad case of shrimp at the grocery store. And then the store manager would pull in the frozen foods manager to find out why that shrimp went bad, and if the frozen food manager didn’t have a good answer he would be out in the cold.

Things don’t work that way right now at city hall.

And that’s too bad for Jesse Barnett and his neighbors. They are not priorities.