Waukon City Council discusses property tax options, union contract matters and variety of other issues in organizing for the new year

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met in regular session Monday, January 4 to address a full agenda of items. In contrast to previous years, organizational matters addressed at the beginning of the year were approved as part of the consent agenda rather than being individually approved as regular agenda items. These organizational decisions include keeping meetings scheduled for the first and third Mondays of the month at 7 p.m., approving depositories of City funds, declaring The Standard as the official City newspaper, among other matters.

There was no Public Comment and the council moved into Department Reports with Water and Sewer Superintendent Jim Cooper providing an update. Cooper shared that an inspector with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently inspected the current wastewater treatment plant and the new wastewater treatment plant. According to Cooper, the inspections of both facilities went well with the DNR being pleased with the progress being made at the new wastewater treatment plant.

Cooper further advised that bacteria test results for the new water main line by the Waukon Police Station were good with that water main now being in service. Cooper discussed completing a temporary repair of a valve in the primary clarifier at the current wastewater treatment plant, an option preferable to replacement, with the current wastewater plant nearing the end of operation due to the new facility scheduled to be online before June 2021.

Street Superintendent Keith Burrett advised that routine winter-time work is being performed by the Street Department.

Police Chief Paul Wagner reported that Officer Chris Doeppke has started online police academy training and that work is ongoing in updating the Police Department’s policy manual. Wagner said that an individual recently attempted to appeal several tickets relating to 24-hour parking violations within a City parking lot. Wagner advised that the individual’s claim that a City ordinance did not exist was incorrect, as that ordinance is in effect year-round. Wagner and Burrett discussed the ordering of additional signage to be placed in City parking lots relating to the 24-hour parking limit.

City Manager Gary Boden provided a report on behalf of Park, Rec and Wellness Director Jeremy Strub, who was not in attendance at this meeting. Boden advised that the Wellness Center HVAC repair costs are close to being finalized for submission to the council and the Wellness Center Board. Boden also discussed proposed stormwater management improvements at the City Park that are being made possible through a grant associated with the new wastewater treatment plant project. Boden advised that a culvert may be added to this plan to help eliminate some water run-off and ice accumulation on a City Park trail with grant eligibility of this item yet to be determined.

Director Ardie Kuhse of Waukon Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) provided an update relating to the former Tierney’s/JCPenney building renovation project with representatives of Iowa Economic Development scheduled to provide a critique of the Community Catalyst Building Remediation Grant pre-application during their visit to Waukon taking place this week. Kuhse added that these representatives will also be providing feedback relating to downtown Waukon. For the City Manager Report, Boden advised that discussion is beginning relating to the purchase of a new ambulance and funding options available.

The council approved Urban Revitalization Program applications for Property Tax Exemptions for WS Investments – 19 Second Avenue NW, WS Investments – 106 First Avenue NW and Stanley and Mary Straate – 118 Twelfth Street NW.

The council approved the list of Mayor appointments, including Gayle Decker as Mayor Pro-Tem and Council Committees including:

Fire Committee: Arvid Hatlan, John Lydon
Water/Sewer Committee: Lydon, Hatlan
Street Committee: Ben Rausch, John Ellingson
Ordinance Committee: Ellingson, Decker
Finance Committee: Decker, Rausch
Housing Development Committee: Ellingson, Lydon.

Boden provided an overview of the next agenda item relating to the appointment of an Engineer for the City. Boden advised that Fehr Graham Engineering would likely be receptive to formalizing this role through an agreement. Lydon and Ellingson discussed Fehr Graham’s engineering services provided to the City with this firm essentially serving as City Engineer for many years. Boden said that he would approach Fehr Graham about formalizing an agreement, adding that specialized engineering services could still be outsourced for projects outside of their area of expertise.

Boden discussed the status of the Fiscal-Year 2022 (FY22) Budget with the General Fund portion of budget planning close to completion. Boden and the council discussed establishing the FY22 property tax rate and that Road Use Tax (RUT) funds have decreased with the economic downturn and COVID-19 pandemic. Boden also discussed options available for half-time positions relating to City building maintenance and property inspection with these activities potentially being accomplished through existing City positions. Boden further advised that a complete budget presentation will be made a month from now.

Boden and the council discussed additional specifics and options available in establishing a FY22 Property Tax Rate. Boden said that the overall tax base for the City has seen a slight increase and that there has been a statewide process that has influenced a minor tax base shift with an increase in residential and a decrease in commercial/industrial being the result. Boden discussed the current property tax rate and options available, including a possible increase of six cents per $1,000 assessed value. After discussion, the council was in agreement to keep the current rate at this time with Boden advising that a public hearing will be held and a resolution considered for adoption February 1 with newspaper publication to take place prior.

Boden discussed the City’s vacation and leave policy and made recommendations to standardize the City’s vacation schedule to be more in alignment with the County’s vacation schedule. Boden said that he will bring these suggestions to City employees for their consideration.

Boden discussed the combined total of 14 holidays and personal days per year and making vacation time available earlier to new employees.

Maintenance Supervisor Matt Pladsen with Aveka Nutra Processing provided an update relating to the company’s plans to install safeguards to prevent accidental discharges. Pladsen provided an overview of the planning and construction preparations being made for this project.

Business Agent Dan McDonald of the Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Union Local 238 discussed concerns relating to the removal of permissive language from the contract with the City. McDonald discussed that the Teamsters and the City have worked together for 41 years with the last negotiation taking place three years ago. McDonald questioned why permissive language was not requested for removal at that time and why the City is pursuing this language to now be added to the City handbook.

City employees Mark Benda and Pat Egan discussed the potential impact of this language being added to the City’s employee handbook, being removed from the Union contract while creating uncertainty for current and new City employees. Among the concerns they presented were personal day usage and vacation time based on longevity of employment.

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).

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