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Candidate hopes to dig city out of debt hole

BY MEGAN SANCHEZ | OCTOBER 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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A local restaurant owner with a background in finance said he is tired of waiting for others to fix Coralville’s financial crisis, and he is ready to make changes in the city, which, he said, is in need of a new direction.

David Petsel, 57, has opted to run for Coralville City Council because, he says, he is concerned about the financial status of the city of roughly 20,000 residents.

“I really felt the city was going in the right direction for a lot of years,” said Petsel, the owner of the Iowa River Power Restaurant, 501 First Ave. “Then they kind of just lost their way.”

This, he contended, came when the city’s government undertook a number of pricey projects, including the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Brown Deer Golf Club, Backpocket Brewery, and the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts.

In a June 12 interview with the DI, Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett admitted that Brown Deer, the Center for the Performing Arts, and the Marriott have lost or continue to lose money, but the city doesn’t intend on selling any of them in the foreseeable future.

Coralville is focused on “shiny and new” when it has yet to deal with the old, Petsel said.

According to him, the increasing debt in the city — which stood at roughly $279 million as of June — is evident of the need for further monetary review. 

Petsel, whose business career spans from the early 1980s, said his experience has taught him the means of fiscal responsibility.

Tom Bender, the owner of Iowa City-based Assurance Property Management — which manages student apartment complexes — said he agrees Coralville is not spending its money wisely.

“It is engaging in what I think is risky behavior that belongs in the private enterprise,” he said. “It is doing it with taxpayer money, which is money coming from people who do not have any vote in how it’s spent.”

These projects, combined with what he labeled as questionable spending of tax increment financing fumds, are what Petsel said he wants to change.

“I want to be the voice of reason,” he said. “I want to be able to go in there and [use my] good financial background to talk to other members of the council and give them some kind of idea of what’s going on.”

He wants to analyze the financial histories of the different projects that have received TIF funds and ensure money is being spent responsibly.

“I’m doing almost two hours of research myself each day,” he said. “It makes my head hurt. I just can’t believe this is continuing to go on.”

He said the city has dug a hole for itself and won’t stop digging, referencing Moody’s Investors’ downgrade of the city’s credit rating.

“It’s the fact that we have a ton of elderly people here in town that use bonds as a revenue stream for their fixed income,” he said. “Our city is looking at the bond rating and saying, ‘We can probably get someone to talk to them and get it all straightened out.’ What’s up with that?”

Danise Petsel, Petsel’s wife and co-owner of the restaurant, said her husband’s ability to solve problems will serve him well if elected.

“I think that he’ll be smarter with their money,” she said. “He’ll make sure it’s going to the right places and the right people.”

Petsel said he hopes to be elected because this is an ideal time for him to use his skills to help the city.

“These are decisions that need to be made right now,” he said. “We might get to a point where we can’t get out of this, and I don’t want to get to that point.”


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