Five local lawmakers gathered for a public forum in Story City’s City Hall Saturday morning to talk about a variety of topics, including taxes, the state budget and the funding of services such as mental health care, firefighter training and the state ombudsmen’s offices.

Organized by the League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County and the Kiwanis groups in Roland and Story City, the forum was attended by state Sens. Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) and Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) and state Reps. Lisa Heddens (D-Ames), Dave Deyoe (R-Nevada) and Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames). Also invited was Rep. Rob Bacon (R-Slater), who was unable to attend.

The forum opened with three-minute statements from the legislators, which were followed by questions from the audience and two-minute answers from each politician. Cheryl Binzen, a member of the League of Women Voters, was moderator for the event.

“Some of the key things that will be part of our work in the Senate this week is looking at tax reform and tax relief for Iowans,” said Dix, the Senate majority leader. “And what we need to do to continue our work to make Iowa a better place to live, raise your families, work and raise your standard of living.”

Dix pointed to Iowa’s recent recognition by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 1 state in the country. That conclusion was based on 77 wide-ranging metrics, and “what Iowa tends to be lacking in is on the economic side,” Dix said.

Iowa has more than 60,000 new job opportunities “but there aren’t the workers to fill them,” Dix said. Working with educational institutions is key, he said, but drawing people to the state is essential and he wants to “shine a beacon on Iowa as a great opportunity.”

Quirmbach lashed out at a proposed tax cut he said would have serious consequences on the state’s finances.

“Sen. Dix mentioned the tax bill that was passed in the Senate this week, which would lose $1 billion a year in lost revenue,” Quirmbach said. “This is for a state budget that was already $144 million in the red last year, and currently looks like it’s in the red further for this fiscal year.”

With mid-year budget reductions, some of the Senate proposals have been to cut the Regents universities $14 million and the community colleges $1.8 million, he said. But he hasn’t heard how the $1 billion in lost revenue will be paid.

“We’re pretty much flying blind and heading toward the fiscal cliff,” Quirmbach said. “I think that we need to put our brakes on this thing and know how we’re going to balance the budget.”

The funding of services was key on the minds of several people at the forum.

Roland Mayor Andrew Webb, who works as a volunteer ombudsman for the state of Iowa, expressed concern about the budget cuts to that department.

“We have five ombudsmen serving the whole state. We have over 50,000 Iowans residing in these facilities,” Webb said.

“If we cut the budget again — folks, we’re putting 50,000 residents in jeopardy,” Webb said.

Heddens, the ranking member on the Health and Human Services Budget Committee, said she is concerned about what budget cuts will do to services like the ombudsman’s office.

“You are putting people at risk when you cannot go out and do any kind of investigation or even just, in general, check on people,” Heddens said. “We talk about wanting to be the healthiest state and supporting Iowans, but it certainly doesn’t seem like we want to address — by these budget proposals — the vulnerable Iowans.”

Mike Bryant, of Ames, was concerned about funding firefighter training, saying funding wasn’t keeping pace.

“The budget hasn’t changed, but the training has got to be there,” he said. “We need about a dime per citizen in Iowa per year.”

Richard Sternberg, of Roland, spoke directly to Dix about the results of Branstad’s and Reynold’s large tax breaks for foreign industry coming into the state.

“You’ve cut social services, underfunded education, cut mental health, cut Medicare, and even cut convalescent home monitoring and inspection,” Sternberg said.

Sternberg’s main concern was funding of the Eldora Training School.

“The vast majority of students there are there because they have mental health problems,” said Sternberg, who was an educator for 36 years. “But yet you as a Legislature are talking about aiming your money at corrections rather than treatment.”

“In light of what happened in Florida two weeks ago, what are you going to do to prevent this type of mental health problem here for our young people?” he said.

“Revenues continue to increase even with the special tax breaks that exist currently,” Dix said. But those special tax breaks that go to a few major corporations “are being eliminated in our tax bill.”

Deyoe disputed claims cuts have been made to mental health.

“Mental health — we’re spending half a billion dollars more than we were spending four years ago,” he said. “We created a regional system, we put some money in the system.”

Deyoe said there had been a lack of parity in services available to Iowans in different counties, and the regional model offers the same core group of services to all Iowans, based on those regions.

“We’ve expanded in a huge way the services that are provided in some of the more rural counties,” Deyoe said.

He said while the facility in Eldora houses juveniles who have committed crimes and been sent there by a judge, mental health services are also being provided to them.

“I had the opportunity to meet with the director of Eldora, and there is clearly frustration in how to deal with the seriousness of the mental health issues that he has to deal with,” Wessel-Kroeschell, said.

Wessel-Kroeschell said she is also concerned about the use of unlicensed psychologists in places such as Eldora and other areas of the state government.

“If we don’t invest in this, we are going to have more and more hardened criminals,” she said.