Back Print

Analysis: Decorah City Council member Kirk Johnson has a point about adjusted budgets

Posted: Sun, May 6, 2018 4:46 PM

(The following is a comment by's Paul Scott):

With all the attention being paid to the May 1st municipal electric utility issue, you might have missed our article ( about the City of Decorah's adjusted 2017-2018 budget, which shows the city spent $2.7 million more than anticipated.

After our story was posted, city council member Kirk Johnson called it "at best terribly misleading."  His point--a valid one--was that there can be a lag between paying a bill and receiving state or federal funds that were promised to cover that expense.  City Administrator Chad Bird agrees, saying, "For instance, the Trout Run Trail box culvert project...will be offset by grant dollars, but given the time of year, reimbursement won't be received until Fiscal Year 2018-2019."

Bird also notes, "Historically...there is no contingency (fund) for emergencies, unknown expenses or projects which may and do arise during every budget year. Many projects and costs are unknown or unanticipated during the budgeting process."  This is has also been the case for the city's sewer and water fund, but city officials are studying rate increases in order to create reserve funds which can be used to pay for unexpected expenses.  That's the reason a 30 percent increase in water rates was initially proposed.

That 30 percent proposed increase was the same figure Alliant Energy used for its prediction of the financial impact of a municipal electric utility.  Opponents of the municipal electric utility cited that figure as a significant reason for their vote--not our factual story about the adjustments proposed for the 2017-2018 city budget, which Johnson implied was written to affect the MEU referendum.