Waukon City Council discusses concerns with Police staffing, overrides Mayor’s veto of sidewalk project, hears from hospital CEO before loan is renewed by conflicting vote

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met in regular session Monday, July 1 to address a full agenda of items including the renewal of the Veterans Memorial Hospital loan, the Waukon Industrial Sidewalk Project and appointments to the Park and Wellness Board.

Two public hearings were individually held with City Clerk Lana Snitker indicating that no written or verbal comments were received. The first public hearing involved the proposed change in zoning district classification for a property at 105 Ninth Street NW owned by Brian Sweeney and the second public hearing involved the proposed disposition of interest in real property for the West Side Development Subdivision, Lot 3 in Lot 2. Both public hearings were opened and closed without comment from the public attending.

During Public Comment, Director Ardie Kuhse of Waukon Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) indicated that broadband internet surveys have been mailed and that Waukon residents are encouraged to respond online or by paper survey. Kuhse discussed that posters will be placed in locations within Waukon promoting the survey. Kuhse also discussed the recent drive-in movie night held by WW Homestead Dairy, which she described as an example of a business thinking outside the box and having received rave reviews from those attending.

Under Departmental Reports, Police Chief Phil Young advised that the Waukon Police Department will be down to three officers as of July 10, which presents scheduling challenges. Young further advised that staffing issues are currently commonplace in police departments across the country, and he discussed concerns relating to the condition of the Waukon Police Department building, which may impact officer retention.

Council member Arvid Hatlan suggested that exit interviews need to be conducted to gather information about work-related areas in need of improvement. Young and Mayor Pat Stone discussed conversations with Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick and the potential for coverage by Sheriff’s Department deputies over a six-week period after July 10. Council member Gayle Decker provided a recommendation to offer shifts to officers employed by neighboring communities to cover schedule gaps. Young indicated that he will further discuss coverage by Sheriff’s Department deputies with Mellick.

Street Superintendent Keith Burrett discussed some equipment repairs and maintenance and Water and Sewer Superintendent Jim Cooper indicated that the north water tower is back in operation. Cooper discussed water testing, and advised that with the other water tower being repainted last year and the north tower this year, both should be in good condition for the next 20 years. Cooper also discussed repairs completed on a water valve in the downtown area.

Park and Rec Wellness Director Jeremy Strub provided an update on summer recreation programs and indicated that a replacement heating system for the swimming pool has been ordered. Strub indicated that the Music in the Park performances have been well attended and that with the U.S. Tennis Association grant, the tennis court project is ready to move forward with the contract to be approved and construction to follow.

City Manager Dean Hilgerson provided an update on the new wastewater treatment facility project and discussed the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) street and sidewalk project, indicating that work is progressing well with some weather-related delays.

Under Regular Business, the Ordinance changing the zoning district classification from “R-4” transition district to “R-3” single- and two-family residence district for 105 Ninth Street NW was approved. The Resolution approving and directing the conveyance of interest in real property for the West Side Development Subdivision Lot 3 in Lot 2 was approved.

Resolutions relating to financial matters were individually reviewed and approved including the transfer of $68,000.04 from the TIF Fund to the Debt Service Fund to pay two monthly principal grant payments of $3,000.00 and $2,666.67 to the Allamakee/Clayton Electric Cooperative (ACEC) for the Waukon Fire Station loans, the transfer of $21,500 from the General Fund (property taxes) to the Library Fund for Library expenses, and the transfer of $18,809.06 from the Sewer Revenue Fund to the Sewer Revenue Bond Sinking Fund for principal/interest payment  on the Sewer Revenue Bond.

The Resolution ordering the preparation of detailed plans and specifications, notice of hearing, notice to bidders and form of contract for the Fifth Street SW Park Place Street development was approved, as was the Resolution approving detailed plans and specifications, notice of hearing, notice to bidders and form of contract for the Fifth Street SW Park Place Street development. The Resolution approving the contract, performance and payment bonds for the Tennis Courts project was also approved.

Stone discussed his decision to veto two resolutions relating to the Waukon Industrial Park Sidewalk Project in June. The council individually reviewed and approved to override the Mayor’s vetoes and to move forward with the contract with Skyline Construction to include a change order placing the sidewalk north of street lights. The council approved the presentation of funds to Walk-On Waukon for the sidewalk project with a match of $12,500 for the Wellmark grant of $25,000.

The David and Cynthia Wuebker at 102 12th Street NW urban revitalization program application for property tax exemption was approved to be submitted to the County for completion. Hilgerson discussed a building expansion at Aveka Nutra Processing with the council approving a variance request for a garage construction onsite.

The council approved to pay $6,828.00 for the water main repair on West Main Street. Ann Blocker and Dennis DeBuhr were approved for appointments to the Park-Wellness Board with terms expiring July 20, 2022.

Brian Sweeney discussed storm water issues at his property at 560 Rossville Road. Sweeney indicated that water has pooled on the property following rainfalls and expressed concerns relating to liability in the event of a storm sewer collapse. City Attorney Jim Garrett recommended that an easement be created allowing the City to perform work on this section. Senior Project Manager Lyle TeKippe discussed options including the addition of an access allowing drainage into the storm sewer system. No action was taken with the council in agreement to have an engineering report developed to explore options to resolve the drainage issue.

Bids received for the Waukon Chamber of Commerce “Welcome to Waukon” sign were discussed. Hilgerson provided a recommendation to accept the bid from Skyline Landscaping, which was approved by the council.

The council moved into discussion of the surveying bill for the Green Valley Subdivision, Phase 1, Lot 1 or Lot 7. Dan Denk presented information relating to the surveying costs prompted by the creation of a cul de sac. Joe Cunningham with WEDC provided a recommendation to the council that the surveying expense belongs to the plat developer and not the City. No action was taken by the council.

Council member Ben Rausch discussed the next agenda item relating to the addendum to the ACE Telephone (Acentek) lease. The council agreed to counter negotiate for the installation of a second antenna to be placed on the City’s water tower.

The Robey Memorial Library roof report was discussed with Garrett advising that a letter be sent to the contractor to rectify problems that have been encountered. The council was in agreement with the matter being approved. The council tabled the street assessments item on the meeting agenda for discussion at a later time.

Hilgerson and the council discussed the City Manager search with Hilgerson advising that the process move forward with four applications received thus far. The council set July 10 as a tentative date for interviews to take place with applicants to be contacted regarding face-to-face interviews or phone interviews.

CEO Michael Myers of Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) presented information relating to the request to renew the hospital’s loan. Myers requested a one-year extension of the hospital’s loan and provided an overview of steps being taken to improve VMH’s profitability. Myers discussed VMH’s $14 million annual positive economic impact upon Allamakee County as an employer and service provider.

Myers indicated that the hospital currently has four full-time physicians including Dr. David Schwartz, who has some limitations relating to services provided due to a non-compete clause which will be ending in August. Dr. Schwartz discussed his continued commitment to this community. Myers discussed that each full-time physician generates $1.5 million in revenue with physician recruitment being key to VMH’s success.

Myers explained that revenue has recently been lower than projections due to payments ceasing by Wellmark while updates are taking place with their payment platform. Myers advised that expenses are being kept within budget and consultants have been used in making improvements. Myers indicated that a new CFO has been hired who successfully made a distressed critical access hospital in Wisconsin profitable again.

Decker discussed concerns relating to the former VMH Monona Clinic and the length of time the clinic was in operation while not being profitable. The council approved the renewal of the $750,000 loan with a one-year extension. Decker voted against the renewal, indicating that he was disappointed in the management of the hospital.

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