Keokuk mayoral candidate Melanie Wells told the audience at a forum Wednesday night that she has always put her own finances into her property.
“At one time I owned four historical properties in this community and developed all of those with my own private funds,” she said.
Referring to a property she once owned at 2nd and Blondeau streets in Keokuk, Wells said she used $10,0000 to fix a roof on the building that had a gaping hole in it when a bond was waived.
“During the time I was working on the property I got a job offer on the West Coast that was going to pay me substantially more amount of money than I was making in the Midwest,” she said. “I chose to take that job offer and after being gone a couple of years, I realized that building could not afford to sit there anymore. I did not want it to fall down. So, I sold it.
“When I sold it to a person, I explained the situation of it. Never, ever did I underdisclose anything about that building,” she added. “I’m sorry that he bought it and he did not do anything to it.
“Fortunately, some new people now have bought it. It is still standing and they are restoring it and fixing the roof that should have been fixed 10 years ago when I sold the property,” she said. “But I never borrowed money from the city or anybody else.”
More citizen involvement
Both Wells and incumbent Mayor Tom Marion were asked how more citizens can be encouraged to run for elected office and volunteer to serve on boards and commissions.
“By showing the value you get out of doing it,” said Wells, who delivers meals to homebound citizens.
“People have to be given the idea there are things they are good at,” Marion responded. “We constantly ask people to serve.”
There are grants that can enhance the community as well as funding in the city budget, Marion said. He pointed out he attends meetings in Des Moines and Washington, D.C., each year in an effort to get more state and federal funding. As a result, the Keokuk Municipal Airport-Lindner Field has received $4 million to $6 million in federal funds for improvements.
“I agree we need to seek grant money,” Wells said. “We need to focus on that ‘lost’ generation that could help with the cemetery.”
Wells said she would have meetings in wards to promote an atmosphere of cooperation between the city and its residents. Crime could be curbed if more people were watching what was going on in their neighborhood, she added.
City Hall does not have an accessibility problem, according Marion.
“You have to be open to your constituency,” he said, adding that council members Ron Payne and Roger Bryant have held ward meetings in the past.
“We need to know when there are problems or issues,” he said.
Condition of Oakland cemetery
As for Oakland Cemetery’s condition, Marion said the hilly terrain creates problems for maintenance crews who have to contend with toppled tombstones in some cases. Prison crews work at the cemetery whenever they’re available, he said.
“We maintain the grounds,” he added. “We’re not responsible for the stones.”
Wells said, “I agree with Tom and commend what’s been done so far. I’ve talked to the police about using more community service workers at the cemetery.”
She also said she would “most definitely” meet the public to listen to people’s concerns.
“I want people to give me solutions to problems,” she added.
Marion said he’ll talk to people “anytime, anywhere.”
“I try to have an open door policy,” he added. “I love to hear people’s concerns.”
The mayor said a modest franchise fee on electricity and natural gas could replace the city’s 1 percent local option tax, which gets distributed throughout the county even though Keokuk collects most of the sales tax. Keokuk would get to keep all the revenue from the franchise fee.
Wells also supported establishing a franchise fee but cautioned “we shouldn’t increase the tax burden on people.” “We should work on increasing the population, which would lessen the tax burden,” she added.
Asked about the city’s $200,000 investment in Amjet, Wells said “if it brings jobs to the community, it will be worth it.”
Marion called the investment “a good deal” and said patents on the hydroturbines are serving as collateral. He also noted he got the Federal Energy Commission to consider shortening the present five- to seven-year window to be able to sell Amjet’s hydroturbines.
When asked about her 10-year vision for Keokuk, Wells said a “prosperous, peaceful community again.”
“We have to dispel the negativity in this community,” she added. “I see us growing and developing our riverfront and bringing in more industry.”
“I see us as a vibrant, exciting community, which will have a trickle down effect,” Marion said.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.