Waukon City Council hears updates regarding plans for possible opening of library, pool and Wellness Center, along with Park and Rec programs - once they are allowed

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met via Zoom web conference in regular session Monday, May 4 to address a variety of matters including discussion of hiring a new City Attorney, the acquisition of property at 7 Spring Avenue and proposed street projects for additional chip seal work.

Under Department Reports, Waukon Police Chief Paul Wagner discussed a grant that is intended to replace the Special Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) grant which has supplied $4,200 in funding. He indicated that the new grant and program will provide $8,000 in funding for the department. Wagner also discussed bids received for the purchase of a new police department vehicle including a Dodge Durango from Torkelson Motors of Waukon at a bid price of $28,562.00 - with that purchase previously approved by the council to be taken out of next fiscal-year’s budget, and a Chevy Tahoe from RW Pladsen of Waukon at a bid price of $34,646.49.

Park and Rec Wellness Director Jeremy Strub reported that all City Park employees will be returning to work Tuesday, May 5. Strub advised that he is waiting on guidance from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds relating to several matters regarding Park and Recreation programs and Waukon Wellness Center operation.

Strub said that the Wellness Center is tentatively scheduled to re-open May 16 and discussed online meetings that have taken place with State officials relating to parks and recreation. Strub said many communities are waiting to make a decision relating to summer recreation programs and whether COVID-19 restrictions will be raised from allowing 10 or fewer participants to an increase to 100 or fewer participants.

Strub relayed that a majority of communities, like Waukon, are waiting to make a decision relating to opening swimming pools with some moving forward no matter what and others opting not to open at all this year. Strub suggested that if the swimming pool re-opens, social distancing will be practiced with masks required except for those in the pool and new life-saving procedures and guidelines from the Red Cross to be introduced for staff. Strub advised that a three-week minimum is required for swimming pool preparation with opening typically taking place Memorial Day weekend, but that mark not being possible this year.

Strub advised that the Park, Rec and Wellness Board is continuing to monitor the situation and is waiting on guidance from the governor. Council members Gayle Decker and John Ellingson discussed the City’s potential liability for re-opening the swimming pool with Ellingson advising that State regulations are of greater concern that what’s being advised by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and that the City should not hurry to move forward with re-opening the pool and spending funds until COVID-19 related matters play out.

City Manager Gary Boden added that a lengthy delay may make re-opening the swimming pool not cost effective for this year. Strub further discussed the re-opening of the Wellness Center under COVID-19 guidelines to allow only up to 25% of the building’s capacity, should the current restrictions be lifted following the current May 15 date put in place by Governor Reynolds in her April 27 proclamation.

Library Director Cate St. Clair of Robey Memorial Library indicated that the library is providing three hours daily of curbside pick-up through online ordering of library materials such as books and movies, which has been successful in providing materials to the public during the closure. St. Clair discussed that the Library Board is not comfortable setting a re-opening date in May, but an early June re-opening has been an internal goal discussed.

St. Clair provided an overview of re-opening plans in place including wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and cleaning and sanitizing procedures that are up to state and national guidelines. St. Clair provided further details relating to cleaning and sanitizing various library materials and surfaces under the current curbside operations in place.

Water and Sewer Superintendent Jim Cooper provided an update relating to the new wastewater treatment plant indicating that the north wall of the oxidation ditch has been poured and that Wednesday the final two-thirds portion of the oxidation ditch floor will be poured. Cooper also discussed a water main repair project to be addressed Thursday this week.

Street Superintendent Keith Burrett discussed various ongoing projects including street patching and crack repairs. Burrett indicated that his department is back to full staffing.

City Manager Gary Boden provided an update relating to wastewater treatment plant estimates and financials. He advised he will be further discussing those matters this week with the firms that have originally been involved in the financing of the new facility.

Mayor Pat Stone discussed a recent meeting with the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors and several mayors from communities within the county relating to the COVID-19 shutdown. Stone indicated that a letter to Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has been drafted by the Supervisors, with mayors to provide letters in support, requesting that local officials have input relating to the current shutdown and re-opening of communities.

The council moved into discussion of the Resolution relating to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan for Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) with Dennis Lyons of the VMH Board of Trustees providing an overview of the matter. Lyons discussed VMH’s application for $1,875,000 in funding through the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) PPP which provides a financial incentive in keeping workers on the payroll during the COVID-19 crisis through a forgivable loan instead of pushing them to collection of unemployment. Lyons indicated that a vast majority of the loan will be forgivable and can be applied to VMH’s payroll and utilities. The council approved the PPP Resolution.

Stone addressed the next agenda item relating to the appointment of officials to the Council Committee to hire a new City Attorney. Discussion of this matter has been prompted by City Attorney Jim Garrett’s previous announcement that he will be retiring later this year. Stone discussed a recent conversation with Attorney Jeff Swartz of Waukon, who has expressed some interest in the City Attorney position.

Ellingson discussed the council’s preference to keep this position local, which would provide necessary access to the City Manager and County Courthouse. Ellingson indicated that Attorney William Shafer of Shafer Law Firm of Waukon has not expressed interest in the role of City Attorney. The council further discussed the search process, with Decker, Ellingson and Boden to move forward in developing a contract draft to outline what the council and City would expect from any possible City Attorney candidates.

The council moved into discussion of the property acquisition at 7 Spring Avenue, currently housing the Spring Avenue Pub, with Boden indicating that a negotiated purchase agreement of $45,500 is being presented to the council for approval. The council discussed the potential purchase of the Spring Avenue building, with the plan of potentially demolishing the building to help further address options relating to the adjacent former Tierney building to the north. The council tabled the property acquisition matter for further discussion at the next council meeting.

The council discussed the negotiated emergency lift station contract, with Cooper indicating that the replacement process is moving forward for that failing lift station. Cooper provided an overview of the expenses at a total project cost at $231,061 for the lift station replacement. Garrett and Boden provided an update relating to the contract and bond for the project with Skyline Construction. The council approved the emergency bid amount.

Boden discussed proposed street projects for additional chip seal work. This matter was previously discussed at the April 20 council meeting with Burrett indicating that Prairie Road Builders, the contractor scheduled to perform chip sealing on several streets in Waukon, has expressed interest in applying chip seal on additional streets, eliminating mobilization costs by already being present for other projects, and allowing for billing to take place into the next fiscal year, if necessary. Boden indicated that there are streets on the northwest side of town and among other locations in need of chip seal. Burrett added that the contractor has supplied a 22-block bid at $81,108.16. The council approved to accept the bid.

The council also discussed the Hawkins property lease at 7,200 square feet at $1,000, which was approved. The lease of the property will allow for the storage of City equipment at the Hawkins property in south Waukon.

Boden provided an overview of the development of  tax increment financing (TIF) projects and financing matters. He indicated projects may include a duplex subdivision at the former Bresnahan property, the Spring Avenue property and the McMillan property across the street from the current police station. Boden advised that two actions would be necessary and would include amending the development plan and creating a financing plan or mechanism which will need to be approved by the council. Boden will present further information on the proposal at the June 1 council meeting.

Mayor Stone requested feedback from Executive Director Val Reinke of Allamakee County Economic Development (ACED) relating to funds available through the Northeast Iowa Housing Trust Fund. Reinke discussed funding available at $10,000 per project for demolition of dilapidated buildings by government or non-profit entities. Reinke indicated that funding is available for four such projects within the county but said that no projects have been presented to her as of yet.

Prior to adjournment, the council moved into closed session per Iowa Code Chapter 21.5 (1) (j) to discuss the purchase or sale of real estate and for a strategy meeting relating to employee union contract negotiations.

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