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Two to tangle in Tiffin mayoral race

TIFFIN– The incumbent mayor has a challenger.
Voters in Tiffin will decide on Tuesday, Nov. 8, who will occupy the mayor’s seat as incumbent Royce W. Phillips faces Steve Berner. The Tiffin Fire Station is the polling place and will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Both men were presented with a set of three questions by the Leader and asked to respond. Following are the questions and each candidate’s replies:

Royce W. Phillips
Outline your personal history, background or interests that have prepared you to serve as the Mayor of Tiffin.
I have lived in Johnson County since 1983, the last 12 years in Tiffin.  I have been involved in political activities since I moved here.  I have also been a local pastor for 28 years as well.  These activities have given me ample opportunities to talk with thousands of people over the years.  I have now served nearly four years as the current mayor of Tiffin.  It has been a learning experience dealing with the interaction with other levels of government.  Ironically, the two jobs have very much in common when it comes to leadership, vision and personal relations.  I enjoy history, strategic planning and the relationships necessary in getting things done.

What do you see as the positive aspects of Tiffin today?
Tiffin has several positives.  It is one of the fastest growing cities in the state.  For the second census in a row the city has doubled in population. The location is extremely beneficial. We are situated at the intersection of two of the largest highways in the Midwest. We are on the edge of the Iowa City urban area and all the benefits of the University of Iowa and the commercial growth of the Corridor.  Many of our population are relatively young and in the prime of their careers. The vast majority of our housing stock is less than 20 years old. The opportunities for growth of the city are enormous. The opportunities for future planning in so many areas is exciting.
In the last four years the citizens have embraced many of the ideas that I have proposed. We have made huge strides in moving toward our vision. Two general surveys in 2008 and 2010 and a recreational survey in 2009 have given us specific priorities to work toward. A Comprehensive Planning Guide was adopted with those things in mind.  Planning was started on the items at the top of the list with several of them already completed or in the works. The city is in good financial condition with $3 million currently in the bank. Infrastructure projects are moving along for roads, parks, water and sewer. The trail has been extended east to the city limits at I-380.  Plan are in place to extend west from the city limits to Half Moon Road.
We have codified all the city ordinances and have begun a process of updating various ordinances that were vague or incomplete, including design standards and building codes. We have begun developing a long term vision for our parks, including a recreation center, community building, new soccer fields, more ball diamonds, tennis courts and a concession stand with restrooms.  This will take several years to implement all the pieces.  All of this has been done while actually decreasing the city portion of the tax levy by 7 percent less than it was in 2007.

What improvements or changes do you see as necessary for the city’s continued progress? What will be your priorities if reelected?
The biggest challenge ahead is the development of a larger commercial tax base.  We have made many efforts toward this goal and are just now starting to see some of the fruit of that labor. The national economy has made the hill much steeper to climb but indications are encouraging that we will begin to soon see further development. We need to continue on the path that we have started. I am very pleased with the progress so far but we have really just begun. 
There are many infrastructure projects that are needed or even overdue, such as a new water tower and the upgrade of Robert’s Ferry Road. We need to get water service out to the Industrial Park very soon and finish development of the Soccer Park. Jasper Avenue needs to be upgraded and Ireland Avenue needs to be upgraded out to the Interstate exit.  More work needs to be done in our existing parks, with plans for more parks.

Steve Berner
Outline your personal history, background or interests that have prepared you to serve as the Mayor of Tiffin.
I have lived and worked and raised my family in Tiffin for nearly 15 years. I graduated with a finance degree from University of Iowa in 1989 and I have worked in Tiffin as a bank manager since 1997. I became involved in the community by becoming a member of the fire department in 1998. I earned my EMT-B certification in 2004, and I am certified to the required level for city administration in the FEMA/National Incident Management System regarding emergency management response. I have been very involved with the planning and growth of the city of Tiffin as Chairman of Planning & Zoning Commission for 12 years. As Treasurer of the Tiffin Fire Association for over 12 years, I have produced and worked with annual budgets to handle taxpayer funds for emergency services provided by the fire department.

What do you see as the positive aspects of Tiffin today?
The current mayor has done well to support the growth and success of the annual Tiffin Fest celebration. This celebration has lifted a sense of pride of community and has brought many citizens of Tiffin together. The current mayor and city council have done well to increase support of the fire department. The city support has allowed the department to purchase required equipment needed to provide the best protection possible to the citizens of Tiffin.

What improvements or changes do you see as necessary for the city’s continued progress? What will be your priorities if elected?
#1. Control City spending. I plan to hire a qualified and experienced City Manager/Administrator to run day-to-day operations and supervise city staff. This will allow me to restructure the city clerk position to save taxpayer money. I will provide a common sense approach to planning and growth of our city thereby controlling expenses and increasing tax revenue.
#2. Completing Ireland Avenue improvements. This project must be completed by cooperating with our city engineer and working with IDOT to find a solution for everyone involved at the intersection with Highway 6, and having open communication to develop a beneficial outcome for adjoining property owners.
#3. A new water tower has been a high priority for nearly 10 years. Our city engineer has worked on this project since water rates were increased in preparation of a new water tower a decade ago. The current mayor has recently moved this issue up his priority list and plans to pursue an out of town firm unfamiliar with Tiffin, to move this project forward. There is no company in a better position to make this project work than our own (taxpaying, in town) city engineer.
#4. Control growth. The current administration has a vision of astonishing growth beyond budgetary allowances. This unrealistic vision of growth and lack of finance/business experience has led to a loss of control of city finances and budget concerns and mistakes. Therefore projects such as Ireland Avenue extension and a new water tower have been started but not completed, because of a vision of unsustainable growth.

Recently the current mayor and council retained an outside firm to annex more property to the south of current city limits. As a member of Tiffin Planning & Zoning Commission 10 years ago, I was involved in a successful 700-plus acre voluntary annexation. Coralville fought that voluntary annexation which became costly for Tiffin; however that annexation was very important because as a growing town we had comprehensive plans for nearly the entire acreage. I believe it is unnecessary to get into another expensive (taxpayer costs) battle with Coralville over land we have no plans for. There are no additional costs to Tiffin taxpayers if we continue to use services of our own Planning & Zoning Commission as we did 10 years ago.
Other issues facing the city of Tiffin are as follows:
• I plan to use the very competent and important recommendations of the Tiffin Planning & Zoning Commission.
• Prior to 2008 developers were contributing to the Tiffin community; today the town of Tiffin is giving to the developers. The town should not have to pay developers to create growth that in turn causes current utilities to be continually upgraded at taxpayer cost.
• I will work to enforce strong code of ethics within city positions by pushing for approval of a city manual.
• I believe strongly in democracy and majority rule. “The squeaky wheel will not always get the grease.”
• Other projects such as Roberts Ferry Road and Jasper Avenue improvements and parks/concession stand are high priority projects as well, but not immediate priorities.
• I will promote, support and patronize hometown businesses.
I have heard concerns of a conflict of interest for me and my position as bank manager at Solon State Bank in Tiffin. I researched the possibility of a conflict before running for the office of Mayor of Tiffin by contacting the Executive Director and Legal Counsel Megan Tooker at Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. I have an informal opinion from Megan explaining that no conflict exists. A copy of the letter from Megan Tooker and other details of my campaign can be found on my website: www.stevebernerformayor.com.