Waukon City Council addresses wide variety of matters during regular session

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met in regular session Monday, April 4, with a variety of items on its agenda that took nearly two hours to address. The meeting opened with a public hearing in regard to the annexation of a portion of Green Valley Road in order for the City of Waukon to be able to complete cost-share requirements for replacement of the Green Valley Bridge with an 80% cost reimbursement from the State of Iowa.
No comments from the public, neither written nor in person, were received, so the hearing was closed and the Council approved the annexation later in the meeting, along with a funding arrangement with Allamakee County that will further split the remaining 20% of the project cost. That formal cost-share agreement between the City and County will be provided by the Iowa Department of Transportation for consideration at a future Council meeting.
From public hearing to public comments, Dorchester area resident Kristi Hager introduced herself as a candidate for the Iowa House of Representatives in District 56. She urged the Council to contact her with any issues that would have a more grassroots foundation that she would be able to gather further local momentum for and then present to the State Legislature level, either when elected or within her campaign for the Iowa House.

Under Departmental Reports, Water Superintendent Bob Campbell asked the Council if he and Keith Burrett from the City Street Department could get together and formally outline which duties each of their respective departments is responsible for, as both departments get calls in regard to the other’s responsibilities. The Council agreed it would be a good idea to have those responsibilities more formally outlined. Burrett then advised the Council that the City's Street Department crew was starting its four-day work week schedule of 10 hours per day, Monday through Thursday.
Park, Recreation and Wellness Director Jeremy Strub advised the Council that his department’s Youth Soccer program was set to get underway, with more than 300 area youth signed up to participate. He also said clean-up of downed trees in the Waukon City Park continues following last week’s ice storm. Councilman John Lydon asked if the City Park would be an area where Waukon Trees Forever could focus some of its annual tree planting efforts, with Strub agreeing that would be a good idea, especially in light of the number of ash trees in the City Park that may need to be removed because of possible infestation by the Emerald Ash Borer.
Police Chief Phil Young advised the Council that he is looking into pedestrian cross walk signs that would be placed within several City street areas and would include a permanent base. He advised that he will get more firm cost figures to bring back to the Council for further consideration.

The first item of regular business on the Council’s agenda was receiving more than just local attention, as a Fox Channel 28/CBS Channel 2 news crew out of Cedar Rapids was in attendance to apparently hear out the plight of neighboring property owners Wayne and Elaine Martin and Joey and Peyton Lapel in the dead-end area of Eighth Street NW, as that news crew left the meeting immediately following completion of that particular agenda item. The issue of disputed land ownership and access to the Martin property had initially been brought in front of the Council at its March 21 regular meeting by Martin, who was seeking the City’s input after a lawsuit over the disputed property access had left the Martins without the initial access they thought they had rightfully had to their property for the entire nearly half century they have lived there.
Both parties had a chance to further present their facts in the matter to the Council, with the Council then trying to determine what, if any, the City’s involvement should be. After the discussion turned from addressing the Council to a certain amount of those representing each property owner beginning to address each other, Mayor Duane DeWalle gaveled the meeting focus back to order. City Attorney Jim Garrett said condemnation proceedings were always an option for either the City or the Martins in regard to making the in-question portion of Eighth Street NW more accessible to the Martins than what the Lapels have originally offered on what has been determined to be their actual property, but Garrett also advised of the cost, legal and other ramifications of such condemnation proceedings.
Other considerations included accessing the Martin property via a new street that could be constructed through the adjacent Bresnahan property the City had recently acquired, but with further development plans of that property still largely unknown that was not conceived as a viable option. Upon further discussion, the Council made a motion and unanimously agreed that the City will not be involved in the matter and that it seems to be an issue that the two property owners will have to continue to work out between themselves.
Moving further along on its regular business agenda, the Council approved a change order for the dredging project of the Indian Springs Pond in the Waukon City Park that would extend the completion date of the project to April 15. Approval was also given to the appointment of Mike Wadsworth to the City Airport Commission as a replacement for the retiring Frank Byrnes.

The Council also considered an offer from the Northeast Iowa Regional Housing Trust Fund, a division of Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, of $5,000 to purchase the former C-Mart property on West Main Street in Waukon. The Housing Trust Fund would then construct a home through one of its programs for a low- to moderate-income single family dwelling, as it has in other areas of Waukon and northeast Iowa. Although the Housing Trust Fund’s offer had been “on the table” for quite some time and is finally nearing the end of a funding opportunity to develop that property, Councilman Dewey Jones expressed concern that he was not ready to give his approval without further information about what the building project and its ensuing occupancy would involve.
Councilmen Steve Wiedner and Don Steffens each voiced their opinion that the property had sat idle for a good number of years and has become an informal parking area for truck and other traffic, and they would like to see it developed into a tax revenue-producing property for the City. Steffens made a motion to accept the offer from Northeast Iowa Regional Housing Trust Fund, with that motion then being approved by the Council but Jones casting the lone “nay” vote against that approval.

Discussion of the failing Seventh Avenue SE storm sewer then revealed that not all of the six adjacent property owners to the storm sewer had been contacted for the purpose of granting easement access to the initially privately-installed storm sewer. Mike and Audrea Peterson, owners of the Waukon Banquet Center, were among the adjacent property owners in attendance, and they said they had not been contacted. They also had several questions into how the project would disrupt their business, which is heavily focused on weekends with wedding receptions and other events being held there and the storm sewer replacement running the length of the parking lot that serves and runs parallel to the Waukon Banquet Center and neighboring First Baptist Church. City Engineer Lyle TeKippe of Fehr-Graham Engineering advised the Petersons that the project could try to be scheduled in an effort to minimize interference with the business of each adjacent property owner, but also advised that if the project is not addressed soon that complete failure of the storm sewer would involve its own type of interruption as well.
After further discussion and clarification, the Council authorized TeKippe to survey the storm sewer location and gather legal descriptions to forward to City Attorney Garrett in an effort to begin the process of gaining easement access from each of the adjacent property owners. The project would, ideally, get underway yet this construction season.

Following a suggestion made at a special Council session last Monday, Keith Burrett from the City’s Street Department and Engineer TeKippe had toured the streets of Waukon this past week and noted priority areas where street repairs and improvements should be made this year in light of the City not undertaking the more major project of Third Avenue SW. The list included what would amount to full-depth concrete repair and any accompanying infrastructure or other safety or functional needs in those priority areas. The Council authorized TeKippe to further pursue more specific cost estimates for the projects for additional Council consideration.
The Council did give its approval to its cost share of a project being undertaken by Veterans Memorial Hospital to add nine parking spaces on the north side of Second Avenue SE, adjacent to the parking area of the Gundersen Waukon Clinic. Councilman Wiedner expressed concern about the trees along that area that would likely be impacted by the widening of the street to incorporate the parking spaces. The City’s share of the project cost would be in the neighborhood of $14,000.
Water Superintendent Campbell then brought to the Council the issue of commercial water meters currently used within the city no longer being produced and parts not being available. The most efficient and cost effective means to replace those obsolete meters would result in a cost of $20,100, but Campbell advised that a fee the City has been charging for certifying the existing meters had compiled more than $11,500 that could be used to replace half the meters during this budget cycle, with the other half then being replaced in the next budget cycle which begins later this year. Campbell also advised that the new meters are able to detect a much lower flow, resulting in additional water usage revenue for the City. The Council approved the upgrading replacement of the meters split between the current and upcoming budget cycles.

Discussion then turned to the City’s compost pile located between the airport and Allamakee County Fairgrounds. Discussion centered around the extra fee of $600/hour the City’s current contractor for chipping/shredding trees and other yard waste into the compost would charge for the handling of much larger tree trunks and limbs, most of those being a casualty of the recent ice storm in the area. With thoughts of some of those larger items being taken away by area residents for use as firewood if given some additional time, the Council decided to table a decision on how to further address those larger items and the extra fees. In conjunction with that discussion, the Council also directed Engineer TeKippe to have any bidders for the Northwest Detention Basin project planned at the Bresnahan property location separate out their bid options for disposing of any brush or tree waste themselves that may be removed from that project location, with the idea that the City will not accept such large items at the compost/yard waste location at this time.
Jim Bieber of Bieber Insurance in Waukon reviewed the City’s insurance coverage in light of upcoming renewal for the policies. He presented comparisons between last year and this year, and highlighted the fact that the City’s total package from EMC Insurance increased in premium by just $497 from last year to this year, which Bieber said is not bad considering the recent upgrading of some City vehicles and a two-percent value increase automatically implemented in order to keep up with inflation. The Council voted unanimously to approve the policy renewals.
In final matters, the Council approved a pair of resolutions authorizing economic development grants to both Allamakee County Economic Development and Waukon Economic Development Corporation. Approval was also given to a transfer of funds from the General Fund to the Hotel/Motel (Park Improvements) Fund and to the Hotel/Motel (Tourism/Economic Development) Fund.
Before final adjournment, the Council agreed to hold a Monday, April 11 work session to continue its discussion and planning on streets and other matters.

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