Scaring the vulnerable

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Alta Mayor Al Cark is playing games with people’s lives, and someone needs to stop him. He is being coy while preparing to clear out a trailer court, leaving residents in the lurch and trying to keep his ultimate goal secret. He refuses to answer our questions and those of the residents while he plays some sort of poker with the absentee landlord from Canada. Nearly 200 poor lives hang in the balance while the newly seated mayor takes on his crusade to leave hard-working people out in the cold in the name of meeting nuisance codes.

Residents of the mobile home court are chained in monthly lot rents and purchase schemes that leave them barely enough money to feed their children. Predictably, the properties fell into disrepair. The previous Alta administration appeared to have the problem under control: the owner was notified that there are problems, the code enforcement officer worked with the residents methodically to clean things up one pile at a time, and the residents vowed to do everything they can to make a trailer house a home.

In came the new mayor with a hidden agenda.

The code enforcement officer — an experienced retired construction foreman with a knowledge of building codes and a wonderful bedside manner — quit after having served less than a year. All he got was guff that was a lot larger than his paycheck or gratitude while he cleaned up the city’s messes. He was making progress. The residents trusted him.

Now the residents have a list of 45 demands that must be met forthwith or the mayor will use every device in his power to clean up the property come what may. That may include eviction. Again, on Monday, Clark refused to acknowledge to us whether he would force eviction. His position is that he will do whatever the law allows. His strategy is Trumpian: Threaten nuclear war on the owner, and if the residents are collateral damage then so be it.

If the mayor has half a wit he would check his legal options before he leaps. So should the absentee landlord who is not too far off to reach.

The mayor also should look into the eyes of the children as he forces them out. Or those working two jobs to make that lot rent.

People should stand up for the people that the mayor and the landlord have targeted for persecution and prosecution. The next city council meeting is scheduled for March 5 at 6 p.m. in the Alta City Hall. Every church should be represented, if they are at all interested in the least among us. Join Pastor Denise Parello from Trinity Lutheran Church in trying to help these working poor. Call the mayor. Email him. Call the city council members. Send letters. Ask a neighbor to attend the city council meeting with you. Make it so crowded that the hard-headed newcomer has to listen.

Will we stand up for these people, or will we let these poker players just shove them around like cards in a bluff?

Go easy on new taxes

Count us among the skeptical of increasing the sales tax by a penny on the dollar to pay for water quality and mental health programs. Two thirds, 67%, of those surveyed in the most recent Iowa Poll favor raising the sales tax by 3/8ths of a cent for water quality, and using the remainder for mental health. While we appreciate the need, we are skeptical of the mechanism at the moment.

First, sales taxes are inherently regressive in that despite exemptions they tax the poor at a greater level of resource than the wealthy. It keeps the poor down. We are shifting the functions of state government (education, natural resources and mental health) from income taxes and property taxes to sales taxes.

Second, Republicans fixated on maintaining control of state government might just go whole hog on something like this, tying it to a messed-up tax reform scheme that gives corporations and landlords even greater tax breaks while spending huge sums — just like their Washington bretheren — on a water quality program with no sensible plan directing it. That’s a waste of money.

Third, we would have all the money we need were it not for Gov. Reynolds’ Medicaid reform. It is a fiscal disaster and a human tragedy that is costing this state hundreds of millions of dollars. The state is hiding the losses by continuing to cut other programs and spending down cash reserves. They can do it just about long enough to get through the mid-term elections before fully exposed.

We don’t trust what the Republicans would do with the sales tax money.

We do trust what the Storm Lake School District does with sales tax money. Or the city council. Sales taxes are the only way for them to grow revenues. The state shouldn’t keep adding to the mountain of taxes, especially when nobody has seen a sensible plan to: undo the Branstad Medicaid/mental health fiasco, and to develop a landscape approach to water and soil management that incorporates sustainable practices and accountability.