Waukon City Council hires new police officer, discusses flooring change in police station remodel among other matters, votes to keep City Hall closed

Sworn in as new Waukon Police Officer ... Waukon Mayor Pat Stone (left) conducted a swearing-in ceremony for Hector Salinas (right) as a new full-time officer for the Waukon Police Department prior to the Waukon City Council meeting Monday, February 15. Officer Salinas has six-and-a-half years of law enforcement experience and is a certified officer in Iowa, most recently serving as a full-time officer for the Postville Police Department. Photo courtesy of the Waukon Police Department.

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met in regular session Monday, February 15 to address a full agenda of items including a police officer hire, discussion of waiving penalties for utility billing and the continuation of the COVID-19 closure of City Hall.

There was no Public Comment and the council moved into Department Reports with Park, Recreation and Wellness Director Jeremy Strub noting that winter youth activities are finishing up for the season with information to be provided soon about soccer. Strub said that some preparations have begun for reopening the swimming pool this summer and that use of the Wellness Center has picked up.

Strub also provided an update about the Wellness Center’s HVAC system including an estimate of $30,000-$60,000 for repairs which he recommended would allow for the existing HVAC system to continue for a number of years. Strub said that the City and Allamakee Community School District have had conversations about setting aside funds for continued maintenance in the years to come. He added that three of the eight burners in the system are functioning right now, which has been enough to keep the facility heated and Strub provided an overview of specific repairs that have been made over the last several years. With the work and funding put into HVAC repairs, Strub recommended moving forward with continued maintenance and repairs to get some additional years out of the existing system while saving for an eventual replacement.

City Manager Gary Boden added that the school district performs similar maintenance and filter replacement to extend the life of its own HVAC system. Boden said that the Wellness Center Board will be discussing HVAC funding and maintenance at its next meeting and the City is setting aside funds as well for maintenance expenses.

Water and Sewer Superintendent Jim Cooper reported that water main line temperatures are being monitored, with 46 degrees being recorded Friday, February 12 and 44 degrees recorded earlier the same day as Monday’s council meeting, with Cooper noting there should not be a concern of water mains freezing with the extended weather forecast showing warmer temperatures. Cooper noted that there have been a couple of frozen service lines and a broken water meter due to a basement temperature. Cooper requested that Mayor Pat Stone create a Facebook post or announcement recommending that residents monitor water temperatures and at the 35-degree mark or below, the Water and Sewer Department can provide assistance to help prevent water line freeze.

Cooper also advised that three onsite industry visits went well with consultant Dr. Ed Askew, PhD. Askew echoed similar thoughts during Monday’s meeting about the three visits going well and provided feedback indicating that industries will need to meet compliance standards and provide information through industrial user surveys as part of their re-application for treatment agreements. Askew said some advanced testing may be necessary from some industries and that a site visit at Aveka Nutra Processing was scheduled for Tuesday, February 16.

Askew advised that City Code may need to be modified to meet changing Federal regulations and that he anticipates a work session may be necessary to include himself, Cooper and the council. Askew said that a request has been submitted to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) relating to the establishment of a copper limit at the new Wastewater Treatment Plant. He noted that source control will need to be monitored for food-based industries that produce and release nitrogen and phosphorus as a byproduct. Stone and Askew discussed industry specific testing, frequency of testing and guidelines relating to food-based industries in comparison to other types of manufacturing.

Street Superintendent Keith Burrett reported that the Street Department is performing regular winter maintenance and snow removal. Police Chief Paul Wagner provided an update relating to grant applications submitted to assist in the purchase of automated external defibrillators (AED) to be available in various City buildings and vehicles. Wagner discussed the recent grant application, with a February 1 submission deadline, prepared by City Clerk Sarah Snitker on behalf of the City which has been submitted to the Allamakee County Community Foundation requesting funding for 11 AEDs.

Wagner said that February 2, he was notified by the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Bureau of Emergency and Trauma Services that law enforcement agencies throughout the state have been awarded a grant through the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust with the Waukon Police Department being awarded four Stryker Lifepak CR2 AEDs. Wagner said that the Stryker Lifepak AEDs have an eight-year warranty but require battery and pad replacement every four years at $237 per unit. Wagner added that this unanticipated award is the result of completing a survey in 2019 and he informed the Allamakee County Community Foundation about the award from the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Wagner also reported that 19 tobacco compliance checks were recently conducted, with 17 businesses being in compliance. Wagner also provided an update on the Waukon Police Station remodeling project, which he said will likely be completed by February 25.

For the City Manager Report, Boden recommended that a planning session may be advisable to discuss capital improvement projects including streets and sidewalks. Boden said that there may be a legislative attempt to reduce tax increment financing (TIF), which would result in a 10% decrease in assessed valuation on an annual basis for ten years.

Stone provided the Mayor’s Report and discussed receiving a recent phone call from a resident complimenting City employees for their work in removing snow. Stone also thanked and recognized the efforts of the St. Patrick Youth Ministry group for its work in clearing snow away from 65 fire hydrants in town.

Stone also advised that he participated in a meeting with council member Gayle Decker and Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) CEO Michael Coyle and CFO Roxanne Schleich regarding the VMH Medical Clinic scheduled to open in May within the former Mayo Clinic location in Waukon. Stone added that the meeting included a tour and that he is confident that the VMH Medical Clinic is moving forward correctly, both financially and administratively. Under the City Council Report, Decker noted that he is impressed with the remodeling project and plans for the VMH Medical Clinic, which he indicated will be an asset to the community.

The council moved into the next agenda item relating to the hiring of a police officer. Council member John Ellingson and Wagner both provided a recommendation to hire Hector Salinas Jr. with the council approving this hire with a start date of February 16 at a pay rate of $26.07 per hour.

Wagner also addressed the next matter relating to the Police Station remodeling project’s change order of $6,000 for floor modifications in the public area. Wagner said that the sealed cement floor is rough and less than ideal in appearance and that options should be considered for the front office area open to the public. Wagner advised that the cost of this improvement would be cut approximately in half by only using commercial grade vinyl plank at $5 per square foot, as recommended by the contractor, on the front half of the building. The back half of the building, primarily used by employees and law enforcement, will remain in its current state as sealed cement floor. Stone expressed concerns relating to the flooring not being finished correctly and still being rough prior to the application of sealant while recommending that all of the council members visit the Police Station to inspect the floor prior to making a decision on this matter.

Council member John Lydon discussed his recent inspection of the sealed cement floor while recommending that at this point, something else will need to be considered with commercial grade vinyl plank being a preferable option with limited maintenance. Lydon added that a quality alternative at a lower cost will likely not be found. Ellingson was in agreement with Lydon’s recommendation to move forward with commercial grade vinyl plank flooring. Council member Arvid Hatlan said that he agreed with Stone’s earlier comments, adding that the City should not pay an additional amount for a floor that was in the original contract. The council approved the change order with Hatlan voting against the measure.

Finance Director Lana Snitker provided an overview of the next agenda item relating to waiving penalties for utility billing. Snitker said that the City can waive penalties for residents that sign up for ACH (Automated Clearing House), a financial network used for electronic payments and money transfers, by the 10th day of the current month and that the utility clerk can have the authority in handling individual situations. The council approved to give the utility clerk the authority to waive penalties if residents sign up for ACH.

Boden discussed a variety of budget planning matters and provided an overview of General Fund balances for Fiscal-Years 2021 and 2022. Boden and the council discussed specific expenses and projects including airport runway maintenance. Boden said that developing a concise annual report as an informational item for citizens may be advisable. Following discussion, the council approved to publish the budget and to set a public hearing for March 15.

The council moved into discussion of the Street Improvement Fund with Boden providing an overview of road use tax (RUT) revenue, which has seen a reduction due to decreasing travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Boden discussed budgeting for the chip sealing program, and he also noted that a maintenance position has been included in the budget, which will be funded through the Street Department and General Fund. Boden added that this maintenance function will be performed on an as-needed basis with potentially more than one employee working on maintenance projects at a time. The council approved the Street Improvement Fund as presented.

The council discussed the continuation of the COVID-19 closure of City Hall. The council was in agreement to continue with the current closure for the time being with guidance from the State of Iowa and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to continue to be monitored.

Prior to adjournment, the council moved into closed session for a strategy meeting relating to employee union contract negotiations exempt from Iowa open meetings law by Iowa Code Chapter 20.17(3).