Pair of Waukon City Council meetings focus on proposed Third Avenue SW street improvement

Special Monday meeting not official as Council doesn't field quorum

The Waukon City Council met in a pair of meetings this past week, one delayed to Tuesday, February 16 due to the President’s Day holiday falling on its usual Monday meeting day and the other a special meeting scheduled for Monday, February 22 as a result of the public hearing held at the two-and-a-half-hour February 16 meeting that featured a capacity crowd of residents voicing their concerns over the proposed Third Avenue SW street improvement project.
The Monday, February 22 special meeting did not, however, turn out to be an official meeting, as the five-member Waukon City Council could only field two of its five members, falling one member short of the quorum required for an official meeting. Coverage of both meetings follows.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 16
Nearly 60 members of the general public were in attendance at the Tuesday, February 16 meeting, a vast majority of those for the public hearing in regard to the Third Avenue SW Street Improvement Project agenda item. The current project being proposed involves the entire current length of the street, from Rossville Road to Ninth Street SW, being “rubblized” to form a base for a three-inch asphalt overlay, with the approximately $1 million cost of the project being shared with a 60/40 split between the City of Waukon and property owners along or adjacent within a formulated distance of the street, respectively.
No fewer than 20 of those in attendance took their turn at addressing the Council in regard to concerns they had with the project on a number of different levels. First to speak was Bob Schulze, who owns property along Third Avenue SW and was speaking from his experience and professional qualifications in concrete finishing and other construction matters.
Schulze first confirmed with Waukon City Clerk Al Lyon that 17 letters from residents and a petition with 25 names had been received in regard to concerns with the project. He then went on to highlight three main areas of concern, including water being forced into driveways, garages and homes of residents along Third Avenue SW with the raising of the street by the proposed three-inch asphalt overlay; the life expectancy of the suggested method of street repair; and the fact that a traffic count of an average of 1,100 cars per day traveling the street should allow for Third Avenue SW to be reclassified from a residential street to a through traffic street and, thus, a new method of paying for the street be figured that does not include property owner assessments.
Schulze finished his presentation by stating, "As City Council members, you are representatives of the citizens of Waukon, and as representatives you should do what's best for the citizens of Waukon, now and in the future. Respect the citizens' concerns and suggestions and table the project until more information is collected and evaluated. It appears that this project is being pushed through. Do all projects the best, not the cheapest. Do it right, or not all."
Clarence and Lois Henry, residents along Third Avenue SW who were living on that same street when it was last paved, also made several points throughout the public hearing in regard to the street project. "I took a hit when an act of God flooded my basement through the lousy sewer system we’ve got," Clarence said. "I'm not going to take a hit for a street that was not put in right 30 years ago - which I paid for - and is not being fixed correctly this time. Either do it right... or let's no do it."

First Street SW Addition
Residents on the south side of the intersection of Third Avenue SW and First Street SW, Jeremy and Laura Bockman and John and Samantha Blake, extended their further concerns with the proposed extension of the street project down the cul de sac of First Street SW that travels south of their property from Third Avenue SW. The proposed paving, curb and gutter, and sidewalk installation along that short stretch of the First Street SW cul de sac, in addition to their share of the Third Avenue SW project, has reportedly dealt both the Bockmans and Blakes each with assessments in excess of $20,000 to help pay for the project.
Concerns were expressed not only with their total assessment costs, but also with how those numbers are broken down in regard to the additional cost of the First Street SW segment. Additional questions were asked as to why a dead end cul de sac currently serving just two properties would need a new street, curb and gutter and sidewalks, with one of those cul de sac residents, Pat Stone, adding his opinion that sidewalks are not needed for that short stretch of property.
Discussion between citizens then took place as to the actual importance of sidewalks in the community, including the pros and cons of adding new sidewalks but also the condition of existing sidewalks in the community. It was ultimately declared by Laura Bockman that there is obvious confusion as to what the sidewalk situation will be along Third Avenue SW.

Additional Concerns
Lois Henry then asked if the Council was going to answer any of the questions that were presented in regard to the project. "I was told that we needed to have questions to the City Council," she said. "I'd like to hear some answers because I did send in a couple of questions. I appreciate you listening to us, but not hearing any responses from you I don't know if... you're understanding what we're concerned about. I know you can't please everybody, but answering some of their questions will help a lot. Nobody likes to pay for this stuff, but if we're going to have to pay for it I'd rather pay for it once, get it done right and not have to come back and pay for it again."
Joanne Larson, another long-time Third Avenue SW resident whose family also paid for the previous improvement to that same street more than 30 years ago, likened the traffic count and type on Third Avenue SW to other streets in Waukon labeled as “through” streets, and declared that residents along such streets that are traveled heavily by much more than just the residents who live along them should not be expected to pay for a project to improve that street. That same argument of a handful of residents paying for a street traveled and suffering wear and tear from usage by so many others, including heavy truck traffic, was raised on several occasions by other residents as well throughout the course of the meeting.
John Blake expanded on the facts and thoughts expressed by his wife, Samantha, earlier in the meeting, offering that a proposed higher quality, longer lasting street improvement involving concrete and improved underlying infrastructure at a proposed 25% cost increase would be a much better choice. “If you get 40 years out of that project for an extra 25%, I don’t see how a 10-year project makes a damn bit of sense at all,” Blake said.
Real estate developer Dick Sullivan, who also owns condominium property along Third Avenue SW, suggested that if that upgrade to concrete could, indeed, be done at an additional 25% in cost that the City pay that additional 25% cost and also drop the First Street SW cul de sac option from the overall project. Sullivan’s comments drew applause from residents in attendance.

Heavy Truck Traffic
Resident Justin Ahlstrom focused more on the truck traffic that uses Third Avenue SW, despite posted signage prohibiting such traffic. Ahlstrom and Second Ward City Councilman John Lydon, who represents the ward within which Third Avenue SW lies, discussed enforcement and other aspects of that prohibited truck traffic, with Lois Henry interjecting that GPS units used for highlighting traffic routes have Third Avenue SW labeled as a truck route, a fact that Councilman Lydon says the City is looking into trying to change.
Waukon Police Chief Phil Young explained that some of that truck traffic is necessary for local deliveries such as food, vehicles to local auto dealers and other goods. “We do have local deliveries, and those semis have to get in there somehow,” Chief Young said. “So, you’re going to have a certain amount of truck traffic.” That comment received a reply of “that’s why we want it done properly,” from Laura Bockman in regard to the street project.
Dennis Murphy, a resident of Second Street SW who is also being assessed for his bed and breakfast property on West Street that lies within a formulated distance of Third Avenue SW, urged those in attendance not to be too focused on eliminating truck traffic just to create a cheaper, less durable street. “Don’t lock yourselves into no trucks,” Murphy said. “Let’s build a good street, and make it worthwhile so our trucker friends can get from one end of town to the other.”

City’s Response
When questions were raised as to what the next step would be in the process, Waukon City Clerk Al Lyon replied, “All the information received from the last meeting and the letters were sent to the Council and the engineer, and this public hearing is for you to voice any other concerns. When we come out of the public hearing, that’s when the Council discusses and makes their decision on how to proceed.”
Mayor Duane DeWalle further advised, “That’s definitely what we had the meeting for, because we wanted to see what you had to say so that it may influence the direction we go from here. This is only a preliminary thing, it’s not etched in stone or anything else. This is just to see what a majority of you are looking at.”

Whose Responsibility?
Lois Henry furthered the point of property owners along Third Avenue SW having to pay for a street used by so many more than just the street residents. “Is it the responsibility of the residents to take care and pay for a street that is used by many more people than who live on our street?” she questioned, finishing her comments to a round of applause, “I’m of the opinion if I have to pay for the street, and I think everyone will agree, we’re going to put a toll gate at the beginning and end of it. If you’re expecting us to pay for something that people who don’t even live in Waukon are going to use, then I think you need to rethink how you’re going to assess us.”
Property owner Ron Kipp raised several other points for consideration, including maintenance of any new street improvement, citing what appears to be a lack of such maintenance on the relatively new Third Avenue NW. He also pointed out that claims of such a street improvement raising the values of properties along the street, in effect, results in property owners “paying twice” for the improvement, first through the imposed street improvement assessments and again through higher property taxes as a result of the increase in property value. Kipp suggested that a break on property taxes be considered for residents being assessed.

Street Scoring System
Councilman Ben Rausch proceeded to explain a street scoring system being considered by the Council that would prioritize street maintenance and improvement projects, as well as serve as a reference tool for property owners and potential home buyers within the community. Rausch also proposed implementing a one-way street system to limit wear and tear on such a street, a suggestion that did not find much support from those in attendance.
Murphy further asked if there had been any concreted borings done on Third Avenue SW in reference to the proposed project to give a better idea of what any improvement would have for a foundation. Lyle TeKippe, engineer with the City’s hired engineering firm, Fehr Graham, explained there had not been any such borings done due to the anticipated irregularity of concrete depth along the length of the street. TeKippe also said that the proposed three-inch asphalt improvement project is anticipated to have a life expectancy of 20 years, according to his experience and consultations with contractors and paving associations within the state of Iowa.
Discussion then turned to how such street improvement projects really should be paid for, in consideration of the amount of traffic usage and other factors. Several residents gave examples of towns where family or friends live that have never assessed for street improvements. Resident Mary Nelson Gourley asked what the criteria was for declaring a street as a “through” street vs. a residential street, asking if the one-side parking limit currently in place on Third Avenue SW could be a factor in making that determination.
One final point of discussion regarding heavy truck traffic on Third Avenue SW from snow hauling got underway, but was interrupted with concerns that the street improvement public hearing was getting off track. At that point, Mayor DeWalle declared the public hearing closed so the Council could get to the remainder of its meeting agenda. He summarized by saying, “When we get to deciding, we’ll decide what’s going to happen but more than likely we’re going to have to discuss a lot more stuff. But this is what we need to know, what people are feeling. It’s not going to get shoved down your throat.”

Regular Business
Once the meeting returned to its regular business agenda, city department heads took their turns at updating the Council. Water Superintendent Bob Campbell said that the motor in the City’s Well #5 that was just installed in August recently burned up, with a warranty repair in progress.
Keith Burrett from the City Street Department said that the stoplight on the northeast corner of the intersection of Main Street and Allamakee Street had been clipped by a maintainer during snow removal and will likely not be replaced until spring due to the extent of the work involved. Waukon Park and Recreation Wellness Director Jeremy Strub said that the top applicant for the department’s open Program Director position had been offered the job but declined the position, forcing the department’s board to open another search for the position.

“Fuzzy Math”
Having made several comments during the public hearing earlier in the meeting, Dennis Murphy was also listed on the agenda with further discussion about the suggested Third Avenue SW street improvement project that included many of the topics previously discussed during the public hearing but also offered a possible financing solution to such a project. Citing what he called “fuzzy math,” he divided the estimated $1 million cost of the Third Avenue SW project by the “roughly 1700” tax-paying properties in the city of Waukon to get a resulting $588 answer that, if paid by each of those 1700 property owners, could finance such a major project, rather than just assessing property owners along the street.
“This new council has the opportunity right now to change the way things are done and not just say, ‘well, this is the way we’ve done things for the past 10 years or 20 years’,” Murphy said, getting a round of applause from residents in attendance following his presentation. “At a minimum, I’m hoping the council will table this project for two reasons: the quality of the project and the way it’s paid for.”
City Clerk Lyon later stated he “wish(ed) it could be that simple,” in regard to Murphy’s suggested financing plan. City Attorney Jim Garrett also later added that City financing isn’t quite that easy. State mandates, debt limits and other factors all tie into the financing of such projects that limit such simplicity.

Ultimate Decision
When the Council reached the third regular business item on its agenda, 2016 Street Project, Councilman Steve Wiedner immediately moved to table a decision, with Lydon seconding that motion. Attorney Garrett advised that the proper action to take, according to Iowa Code, would be to defer action, which is the motion ultimately made and approved.
Wiedner then suggested having a special meeting to further discuss all the options available in regard to Third Avenue SW. Mayor DeWalle added, “There were some very good points that were brought up tonight, and we need to discuss every one of them.” A special meeting was then scheduled for Monday evening, February 22 at 7 p.m., coverage of which is included in this article.

Other Agenda Items
Third Avenue SW resident David Sorum was also on the agenda to question the Council on the City’s dumping of snow in the Industrial Park area behind the Reel Core location, saying that the melting snow, salt and sediment dumped there follows a ravine that runs down toward the Indian Springs Pond in the Waukon City Park. Sorum said that the money that’s being spent right now to dredge out that pond will be a waste if this dumping practice continues and that melting run-off is allowed to follow that path without some sort of sediment basin or other structure to eliminate or limit that run-off.
The Council set a date of March 7, 2016 for a public hearing in regard to the Fiscal Year 2016-2017 City budget. That budget notice is published in this week’s issue of The Standard on Page 4B.
Approval was also given to temporary detours and the establishment of parade routes for three upcoming parades in the Waukon community. Those approvals were given for the March 13 St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the May 30 Memorial Day Parade, and the November 21 Holiday Parade.
Matt and Brad Herman of Elkport, owners of the Northview Trailer Court in northwest Waukon, were requesting relief from an exceptionally high water bill nearly triple what had been a previous monthly average due to a leak discovered underneath one of the trailers in the area. Brad Herman was in attendance and said he was not asking for relief from the water usage, but, instead, from the accompanying sewer charges, since the water did not run through the City’s sewer system. After some discussion, the Council agreed to waive an amount equal to what would be over and above the most recent six-month average for the trailer park’s water bill.
City Attorney Garrett then advised the Council that a previous annexation by the City of the Green Valley Golf Course area north of town only extended to the south edge of Green Valley Road and not to the road’s center line, preventing the City from being able to claim ownership and complete the necessary requirements to receive State funding available to replace the Green Valley Road bridge in the amount of 80% of the project. Garrett had spoken about a voluntary annexation to the center of the roadway with Brian Sweeney, current owner of the Green Valley property who, instead, would also be considered owner of what was anticipated to be the City’s half of Green Valley Road, with Allamakee County owning the other half.
Garrett said one of Sweeney’s main concerns is that replacement of the bridge include adequate flow underneath the bridge, which Garrett said the project engineer explained would be able to be addressed within the project planning. Garrett said he would complete an application for voluntary annexation to be considered by the Council at a future meeting in order for the project to complete acceptance of that 80% project cost share from the State.
The Council also passed a pair of resolutions for internal City funding, including a short-term internal loan until long-term bond funding is received in June, as well as a transfer from the Hotel/Motel Tax Fund designate for City Park improvements to the 2013 Flood Fund to finance further repairs and improvements within the park.
City Engineer Lyle TeKippe then presented plans for the Northwest Detention Pond Project, which is being planned for the northwest corner of the Waukon city limits. TeKippe described the detention pond as being able to “handle, theoretically, a 100-year storm event” and then discharge that detained water at a much more manageable rate of a “two-year storm event.”
TeKippe further advised that a preliminary excavation sampling in the area revealed rock that would come into play in the rerouting of some existing sewer lines in the area in order to accommodate the new detention pond. TeKippe further advised that not all the plans have been finalized for the project but that the idea of the project is to “really slow all the water down” that comes from a 160-acre area that drains into that particular area. “We know that if you don’t slow it down, it just hammers down through town because the existing storm sewer cannot handle it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it will solve all the problems because you have a lot of other drainage areas that feed into downtown as well, but that is one area that is controllable given the opportunity that we do have right now.”

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 22
A governmental agency can’t have an official meeting if it doesn’t have a quorum with a majority of its members present.
Because only two of the five Waukon City Council members attended a special meeting Monday, February 22, the Council could not conduct official business.
“This is a first,” said City Clerk Al Lyon, who was aware that Council members Dwight Jones and Don Steffens planned to be absent, but had not heard from Council member Steve Wiedner.
About 25 members of the public attended the meeting. Also present were Mayor Duane DeWalle, City Attorney Jim Garrett, City Engineer Lyle TeKippe of Fehr Graham Engineering, and Council members John Lydon and Ben Rausch.
Out of respect for the members of the public who did come to the meeting, Lyon presented a slide presentation he had prepared for the anticipated meeting.

Additional options
Following concerns expressed during last week’s public hearing pertaining to the “crack and seat” approach to repairing the street, TeKippe had prepared two estimates for concrete paving.
The first option, which would cost $1.465 million, would include removing the current concrete and 12 inches of subsurface and replacing it with 12 inches of rock and seven inches of concrete.
A more costly option, at $1.877 million, would have the same approach, but would include replacing all the water and sewer lines under the street.
These estimates did not include the First Street SW work that was part of the original plan presented for the Third Street SW project. City Clerk Lyon conjectured the Council may decide to delay the First Street SW portion of the project at this time.

Safety sidewalk
Lyon next introduced the idea of installing a five-foot “safety sidewalk” along the 600, 700 and 800 blocks of Third Avenue SW. If approved by the Council, the City would fund this option, which would be a five-foot width, as opposed to a normal sidewalk, which is only four feet wide.
These sidewalks would eliminate the boulevard in these areas and the sidewalk would abut to the curb, such as is the case along Third Avenue NW in Waukon. The City would assume the responsibly for snow removal and maintenance of the sidewalk.
Much discussion was held regarding how installation of such a sidewalk would work, considering much of the north side of the street is at too steep of a slope to be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant, and the south side is full of utilities that would have to be relocated.
With regard to mailboxes currently in the way of such a proposal, Lyon said he believes the Post Office is moving toward centrally-located cluster box units (CBUs) anyway.
TeKippe also addressed concerns about existing sidewalks and who is responsible for their upkeep and repair. “If you have a sidewalk, there was nothing added to the assessment,” said TeKippe.
“It’s not a perfect solution, but at least it’s an option to provide sidewalk the entire length of the street,” added Lyon.

Funding
In response to previous inquiries about alternatives, such as taxation, to funding the street, Lyon said the City is only able to assume so much debt, and said there is a storm sewer plant project that will account for much of that in the coming years.
Property and business owner Dennis Murphy next commented that while he understands the idea of people not wanting to pay more taxes, “there’s gotta be a way to generate more money.”
“We have to get this town back in shape and it won’t happen overnight… We’re all going to die of old age before we get the streets done this way. There has gotta be an option to generate more money or we’re never going to get them done. We can’t do half-ass jobs of patchwork to keep nursing them along,” said Murphy.

Other considerations
One of the issues that arose during Monday’s discussion was the condition of existing sewer and water lines that go from the street to each home. Although this work would not fall under the purview of the street project, TeKippe noted this would be a good opportunity for property owners to get any needed repairs done.
When residents asked who they would contact to evaluate their individual water and sewer lines, Lyons said he could bring it up to the Council, who may be willing to ask the City’s sewer department to use a camera to televise and evaluate the lines at no cost.

Timeline
When Third Avenue SW resident Deb Nelson Gourley asked what kind of deadline the City is working with to make a decision on which option to go with for the street, Lyon answered, “They’re (contractors) hungry now and they’re busy next month.”
TeKippe said if the City doesn’t decide something in the next few weeks, the price estimates he has put forth may no longer be good.
“For what we’ve seen over the years, we’re interested in going to a bid letting as soon as we can,” he said.

What’s next?
The next regular Waukon City Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 7 at 7 p.m.
 

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