Mapleview continues its 'uphill battle'
Some have been sounding Mapleview's death knell for years, but city leaders are determined to dig themselves out of a financial mess while maintaining their independence from Austin, which has slowly expanded north to virtually surround the village of 176.
At the request of citizens, four candidates for city council and two veteran mayoral hopefuls participated Tuesday in the city's first public forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters. The room was filled with 22 residents who heard ideas from all six people about how to address lingering money concerns along, with how to reunite a fractured community.
Mapleview's budget situation has been a mess for years, largely stemming from issues with former city clerk/treasurer Dawn Mueller. She was convicted of neglect of duty in 2011 after accepting a plea deal that dismissed seven other charges, including embezzlement. The clerk has paid $10,000 in restitution, but record keeping was done so haphazardly during Mueller's time in office that it's unclear what the proper figure should be, city council member Kris Finley said. The court complaint says the city account was short $26,801.
Additionally, Finley said the city incurred overdraft charges every month for 13 straight years; the city is still seeking reimbursement for those fees, which would be worth thousands.
"It's been an uphill battle, man," said Mapleview Mayor Arnie Johnson, who has defeated former mayor Larry Naatz in consecutive elections and is facing him for a third time this fall. "We're just dog paddling."
Under the old system, checks were typically signed by just one person, which led to serious budgeting problems; they now require two signatures, or three for anything more than $2,000. In 2008, the city was forced to withdraw $94,000 from its investment funds to cover overdue expenses, nearly wiping out that account. That's not even counting the $20,000 in payments that were due to Austin Utilities, which will finally be repaid in full this May after four-plus years of chipping away with small monthly payments.
All six candidates rejected the idea of being annexed into the city of Austin, which is located just to the south.
Many citizens submitted written questions Tuesday that asked how the city intends to address aging infrastructure. Naatz and Johnson were among those who spoke of keeping the ball rolling in a positive direction, but Finley was more blunt.
"There's no money to work on infrastructure right now," she said.
Additional issues raised include ongoing complaints with unleashed and unregistered dogs, feral cats and ongoing issues with neighbors. Naatz said some citizens won't even go down his street anymore.
"To me, our city seems almost divided," Naatz said. "One half doesn't want to tell the other what's going on and the other half won't tell people what they really think."
Pat Krofta, a Mapleview resident of more than 50 years, was more blunt with her assessment. She's says an influx of young renters who don't always respect the city ordinances has created a chasm between age groups.
"They don't think they have to follow the rules," she said. "The older people, of course, want it to go back to the way it should be."
While it's clear that issues remain, both economic and social, Krofta was among the many who called the educational evening a success leading up to Tuesday's election.