Creston Mayor Gabe Carroll joined Rep. Cindy Axne and six other mayors from across Iowa’s third Congressional district in a virtual roundtable to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on their respective communities Wednesday afternoon.
“Creston’s been fairly fortunate, I think, as far as our budget has gone. We’re down a little bit of revenue but it’s mostly from our account balances and banks not getting much interest at all ... .”
Carroll expressed his concern over how unemployment benefits are processed. After being forced to close his chiropractic office for a month due to state regulations, he was filed for unemployment.
“They’re apparently having a tough time at the unemployment office in Iowa processing claims,” said Carroll.
Carroll shared that his original claim from April of 2020 was ruled by an Iowa judge to be redetermined in September of that year.
“And I still don’t have anything from that claim,” Carroll said.
Carroll said he feels personally fortunate based on his own financial position, but he said many of his constituents are not faring as well during the pandemic.
Creston Mayor Gabe Carroll estimates that about 10% of the under 10,000 residents in his community are unemployed because of COVID-19 related shutdowns. And some Creston businesses are being hurt in more ways than one.
“We have a CDBG grant for our facade project in our downtown,” said Carroll. “It just happened to hit at the exact same time that those restaurants that are involved, those businesses that are involved had to be shut down. So, the match from the owners that they normally would have a revenue stream to pay for, to get a loan and meet their match, is obviously not coming in right now. So, I’ve heard concerns from them if there’s any way to increase the federal match or anything.”
Essential services – such as fire, emergency response, law enforcement, education and utilities – have also been affected in southwest Iowa. Corning Mayor Janice Leonard says her city has been hit by a loss of road use tax and hotel/motel tax revenue. Leonard said COVID-19-related issues have also impacted anticipated grant dollars.
“We actually have some grant monies that we’ve been planning on that have been canceled,” said Leonard. “With casinos and racetracks closed, the foundation will have much less money to contribute to the community. We currently have a $287,000 fire truck that’s on order, and we were planning additional grant funds to pay for that truck. Some of those grants have already been canceled.”
In addition to lost tax revenues, Sidney Mayor Peter Johnson said Sidney is experiencing a loss of people.
“Beyond the exacerbated costs at the local level,” said Johnson, “you have the social costs, and the loss of community – especially in these small communities, where it’s hard to get people together. It’s hard to sustain these local businesses, because you have low traffic and business, you have low traffic for our library, our pool – different things like that. A lot of our services, and a lot of our expenditures, a lot of our budget is really on the brink.”
Wednesday’s roundtable coincided with Axne’s announcement of a bipartisan bill she cosponsored with New York Republican Congressman Peter King. The Coronavirus State and Local Financial Assistance Act is designed to assist small communities experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19 by providing $500 billion in grants to state and local governments to offset lost revenue.
“As I spoke to our mayors, city council members, city planners, et cetera, all across southwest Iowa,” said Axne, “I’ve heard them express really deep concerns about their ability to provide services we’re going to need, because their fiscal health after the coronavirus has halted a lot of activities that help vital services.”
Axne hopes the bill will be included in the next coronavirus stimulus package making its way through Congress.
Other officeholders participating in the meeting were Atlantic Mayor David Jones, Clive Mayor Scott Cirksena, Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and Perry Mayor John Andorf.