Here’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask for a long time:

If the Mason City Public Library or Mason City Municipal Airport or Museum had a budget at least 10 times more than that of similar agencies in other cities, wouldn’t it be reasonable for the City Council to look into it?

If the Mason City Library had a budget of $150,000 and the Fort Dodge Library operated on $10,000, for example, shouldn’t we ask why?

The numbers above are fictional, but the following numbers are actual.

The Mason City Human Rights Commission’s proposed budget for next year was $143,000. Most other cities in Iowa operate their commissions for $15,000 or less.

The City Council stripped the HRC budget to $15,000, whacking $128,000 from it.

Some critics accused the council of targeting the commission, putting a political hit out on it.

But city officials had researched budgets of commissions in other cities as did the Globe Gazette and learned of the disparities.

Now the Mason City commission’s own research verifies the huge differences in budgets.

At a commission meeting Thursday, Acting Chairman Dean Genth distributed a tally sheet that showed the following:

• Bettendorf, population 33,599, commission budget $15,000.

• Fort Dodge, population 24,981, commission budget $8,400.

• Cedar Falls, population 39,260, commission budget $1,500.

• West Des Moines, population, 57,909, commission budget — zero.

• Several other cities were listed, all with budgets of $7,000 or less.

The reason West Des Moines allocates no money for human rights and other cities allocate so little is because they refer their cases to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

Beth Townsend, director of the state commission, met with the Mason City HRC Thursday.

She dispelled the rumor that people filing complaints will have to go to Des Moines to do it.

Not true, said Townsend. Complaints can be filed online or be mailed to the commission.

Staffers from the state will come to Mason City to look into the complaints at no charge, she said.

These will be challenging times for the Human Rights Commission. It won’t have the budget or the staff it once had.

But it will have all the help it needs.

As Townsend told members Thursday, “You can be whatever you want to be. It’s up to you. You can send all your cases to us, none of your cases, half of your cases. I really don’t see any downside.”

Reach John Skipper at 421-0537 or john.skipper@globegazette.com.

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