Waukon City Council sets public hearing date of February 3 regarding potential property tax levy to help cover insurance premium increases

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met in regular session Monday, January 20 to address a full agenda of items.

During Public Comment, Kim Sylvester discussed concerns related to snow removal in downtown Waukon with snow being pushed next to the curb causing a safety issue for business customers walking from parked vehicles. Sylvester indicated that is a safety concern affecting the elderly especially but said there has been improvement with snow removal during the last two snowfalls.

Director Ardie Kuhse with Waukon Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) discussed the recent resignation of Waukon Chamber Executive Director Stephanie Dugan with her acceptance of another position. Kuhse indicated that the Waukon Chamber Board will be meeting Tuesday, January 21 to discuss the future plans for the Chamber Executive Director position. Kuhse also discussed the 2020 Census with representatives being available at Robey Memorial Library in Waukon Thursday, January 30 from 3-8 p.m. to answer questions relating to temporary census employment opportunities that will be available at $17.50 per hour.

Mike and Linda Ferring discussed their salon and apartment rentals at 702 West Main Street. The Ferrings indicated that a renter was recently ticketed on three occasions for overnight parking on the east side of the building due to interference with snow removal and the length of a work truck extending into the street. The Ferrings indicated that sometime after taking ownership of the building in March of 2001, the council had given approval for two overnight parking spots designated for their apartment renters with the understanding that they or a contractor would be performing snow removal for these parking spots.

In discussion with Mayor Pat Stone and City Manager Gary Boden, it was decided more information was needed relating to the timing of the tickets and the specifics of what was agreed upon with a previous council with documentation or meeting minutes needing to be found or researched. Council member John Ellingson recommended formalizing this historical agreement with Stone advising that the three tickets be suspended as the matter is researched.

Under Department Reports, Police Chief Paul Wagner provided an update on the recently advertised administrative assistant position, indicating that 18 applications have been received thus far. Wagner discussed mental health and Narcan training conducted by Marcia Oltrogge of Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health that took place at City Hall last week.

Street Superintendent Keith Burrett indicated that a vacancy in his department is being advertised. Park and Rec Wellness Director Jeremy Strub reported that the Wellness Center is busy and provided an overview of City Park statistics relating to the public’s use and various projects including tree planting and bird houses. Strub advised that a lighted fountain will be added to the City Park’s pond this summer.

Mark Benda with the Water and Sewer Department provided an overview of lift station repairs and a broken water main section used for fire protection, which has been isolated and will be repaired next week. Benda discussed heating problems to be repaired at Well #5 and ongoing maintenance and daily operations for the department.

City Manager Boden provided his report and discussed attending recent WEDC and Library Board meetings. Boden discussed positive feedback received relating to snow removal.

Stone indicated that he will be meeting with a representative of Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (UERPC) to discuss grant opportunities available relating to the proposed affordable housing to be constructed at the former Bresnahan property near the water retention basin in the northwest corner of town.

Before moving on to the next agenda item, some additional discussion relating to snow removal took place. Ellingson discussed other options and their impact on the City budget including doubling the size of the Street Department to allow for more shifts dedicated to snow removal. Stone and Burrett discussed the option used by Decorah’s downtown business community involving a cost-share to have a private contractor remove snow. Ellingson further discussed the negative impact some options would have on the general fund which would take funding away from other departments.

The Second Reading of the Ordinance increasing the fine for admitted violations of parking restrictions was approved. The First Reading of the Ordinance providing for an annual increase of 2.5% each year to the municipal water utility services rates was approved.

Discussion took place relating to the next agenda item, the First Reading of the Ordinance changing the day and beginning time of regular city council meetings. At the January 6 meeting, the council had approved to move forward with the process of changing the meeting date from 7 p.m. the first and third Monday of each month to 6 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. At Monday’s meeting, council member John Lydon discussed work-related conflicts with the proposed time and date change and that council member Gayle Decker, not in attendance, had expressed a preference to continue with Monday evening meetings.

Council member Ben Rausch provided feedback relating to his recommendation of changing the meeting date to Wednesdays in order to eliminate conflicts with his coaching responsibilities. Rausch discussed his commitment to the public and students with some Monday council meeting absences resulting from scheduled games with Wednesday being an option to avoid this occasional schedule conflict. Ellingson added that the meetings the first Monday of the month conflict with a variety of school events including concerts. The council approved to table this ordinance for discussion at a later time.

City Clerk Lana Snitker discussed the next agenda item relating to a proposed 2% maximum property tax levy indicating that this is a requirement by the Iowa Department of Management in regard to public notification of any such levy. Boden and Ellingson provided an overview of the legislation that prompted this change relating to City budgets and insurance cost increases. Boden indicated that insurance premiums for City employees are expected to increase 24% this year and 40% next year. The council approved to set the public hearing date for the 2% maximum levy to be held February 3, 2020 at 7 p.m.

Roger Mohn of Mohn Surveying provided an overview of the Waukon Industrial Park Sidewalk Project Pay Application #1. Mohn discussed additional expenses relating to extra fill, crushed rock base and grading excavation. The council approved the Pay Application #1.

Watershed Planner and GIS Specialist Ross Evelsizer of Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) indicated that approximately $280,000 of funding is still available for the SRF Water Resource Restoration Sponsored Projects Program. Evelsizer discussed options including pervious pavers and potential locations for this type of project. Strub will continue discussion with the Park and Rec Board relating to potential projects and locations.

The request to reduce the sewer portion of a utility bill by Derek and Kim Bernatz was tabled to allow for the couple to address the council in person and present more information on this matter. Neither Bernatz was in attendance.

Local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) member Tom Regan discussed the request for storage and meeting space within the City Hall building. Regan provided an update on the Vet’s Club building, which has been tentatively agreed to be donated to the County. Regan requested the continued use of space within City Hall for the storage of flags and equipment. The council approved the continued use of storage space and the use of meeting space.

The Wastewater Treatment Plant Project Pay Application #8 was approved. The Fifth Street SW Park Place Development Improvements Project was discussed by Boden. The council approved to reject the bid received and put the project on hold.

Wagner discussed the next agenda item relating to a Police Department website. Wagner indicated that a website will be beneficial for the department in a variety of ways including the recruitment of officer candidates. Wagner elaborated that a majority of candidates research police departments online with information including mission statements being important factors. Wagner provided an overview of the initial set-up cost and annual cost associated with a website through IROC Web Design Services of Calmar. The council approved the request.

Assistant Police Chief Lucas Inglett addressed the police officer hiring process indicating that a policy has been created to include pre-employment screening and a formalized background check process with interviews. Council member Arvid Hatlan recommended that exit interviews be conducted by Boden. The council approved the hiring process.

Boden provided a brief overview of revenues associated with the City’s budget and general fund. Boden indicated that this is an effort to establish a baseline for working with the general fund and that this will be discussed in more detail during the closed session to take place later in the meeting.

Boden also discussed the restructuring of administrative functions at City Hall and the development of job descriptions for positions including Account Clerk, Utilities Clerk, City Clerk, Finance Director and City Manager. Boden indicated that more discussion will take place during the closed session scheduled for later in the meeting.

Direction for getting started with the former Bresnahan property was discussed by Boden and the council. Affordable housing and maintaining affordability was discussed with specifications to be made as a construction project rather than as a for-profit development. Boden requested to be included in meetings scheduled with Stone and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (UERPC) Executive Director Rachelle Howe. Rausch provided a recommendation to seek engineering quotes.

The council discussed options relating to the sale and time limit for the former C-Mart property. Multi-family and affordable housing were options mentioned during discussion. The matter was tabled until the second regularly scheduled meeting in February.

Boden addressed the Organization Development agenda item relating to building inspection, code enforcement and staffing. Boden recommended that the matter be added to the town hall meeting agenda which is being scheduled for April.

Special Assessments and the consideration of an ordinance was discussed. Boden indicated that a $4,800 limit for assessments spread over a ten-year period would represent a $40 per month charge. Using an ordinance versus a policy was discussed as a way to bring certainty to citizens and could be used as a method for fixing streets moving forward. By the council’s request, Boden agreed to move forward in creating an ordinance.

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