Waukon City Council approves matching funds for fiber optic cable grant, discusses purchase of new ambulance

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met in regular session Monday, January 18 to discuss a full agenda of items including appointment of a City Engineer, discussion of an ambulance purchase for Veterans Memorial Hospital and approval of the City’s portion of a local match for a grant relating to the installation of fiber optic cable.

During Public Comment, Street Department employees Cory Huinker and Pat Egan briefly discussed matters relating to the Union contract currently under negotiation. Huinker mentioned that City employees have eight holidays, not 14 as was published in the January 6 Standard’s coverage of the January 4 City Council meeting.

(Editor’s Note: Printed in the Wednesday, January 6, 2021 edition of The Standard - Page 7: “Boden discussed the combined total of 14 holidays and personal days per year and making vacation time available earlier to new employees.” At that January 4 meeting, Boden provided a breakdown of the combined total of 14 holidays and personal days consisting of 11 holidays and three personal days. The Standard reached out to Waukon City Hall for clarification on this matter and corrected information was provided clarifying that a combined total of 11 holidays and personal days, including eight holidays and three personal days, are currently available to City employees annually.)

Egan added that there is one current City employee not under Union contract that could be affected by proposed contract changes relating to vacation time accrual. Egan said that this employee, having served the City for over 30 years, could lose a week of vacation if the language relating to the five weeks of vacation were to be removed from the Union contract’s vacation and leave schedule.

Business Agent Dan Macdonald of the Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Union Local 238 advised that preparations have been made for negotiations to take place during a meeting scheduled for Thursday, January 21. Macdonald invited Mayor Pat Stone and council members to be part of this meeting.

Under Department Reports, Library Director Cate St. Clair of Robey Memorial Library discussed two programs available in 2021 including a book club taking place via Zoom web-conference every third Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. St. Clair said that participants individually choose and discuss books from within a category rather than all participants reading the same book. St. Clair also discussed the 2021 Adult Reading Challenge taking place all year long involving 12 book categories and 12 prize drawings. St. Clair noted that along with traditional books, e-books and audio books count toward this program encouraging readers to broaden their horizons by reading from a variety of categories.

Park, Recreation and Wellness Director Jeremy Strub reported that activity at the Wellness Center has picked up in January. Strub updated the council about the ice skating rink located within the tennis courts west of Waukon High School near the Wellness Center. He said that the ice skating rink has been busy and that lights are automatically on from 4-8 p.m. daily. Strub advised that another layer of water will be applied later in the week to smooth out the ice skating rink surface following a recent snowfall and freeze. Strub also advised that Park and Recreation will be submitting a grant application to the Allamakee Community Foundation relating to the construction of an additional shelter in the City Park, with the three large shelters currently in place being busy most weekends.

Water and Sewer Superintendent Jim Cooper advised of a water main break that took place January 5 with repairs completed January 6. Cooper discussed working with consultant Dr. Ed Eskew, PhD in regard to the new wastewater treatment plant and that he anticipates Eskew will begin performing industry inspections within the next couple of weeks. Cooper provided an update relating to the new wastewater treatment plant, noting that most of the cement work has been completed, electricians will likely be completed with much of their work in a month and a half, equipment installation is moving forward and that an April or May start date for the facility is on schedule.

Street Superintendent Keith Burrett noted that additional signage has been placed in the City parking lots relating to 24-hour parking restrictions. Burrett recognized the work accomplished by Street Department employees during overnight hours relating to clearing out snow with the skid steer being used while a loader is being repaired.

Police Chief Paul Wagner provided an update relating to recent mental health and Narcan training that has taken place. Wagner recognized Jenny Rose, Brooke Kunkel and Marcia Oltrogge with Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health (NEIBH) and Helping Services for Youth and Family for their work in providing this training. Wagner added that this is the second year of this training being provided free of charge through a grant and that by completing the Narcan training, the department will be receiving free Narcan (naloxone) nasal spray, which is used to reverse opioid overdoses.

Wagner also provided an update relating to the Waukon Police Station remodeling project with some lighting fixtures still being on backorder. Wagner highlighted some changes and accomplishments made by the Waukon Police Department over the last year and a half with updating the policy manual being an ongoing and time consuming project. Wagner discussed the establishment of a field training officer (FTO) program for new hires which creates consistency throughout the department and discussed the firearms and use of force programming and policies.

Wagner noted that the remodeling of the Police Station is an important accomplishment for the department and the City. He discussed the creation of an administrative assistant position and the positive impact of two grants including a $3,100 grant from the Arlan Falck Foundation for the purchase of training equipment and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant allowing for the purchase of two mobile laptop computers. Wagner and St. Clair discussed that Narcan does not have harmful side effects when used as a precaution with St. Clair adding that the library also has Narcan on hand for these emergency situations.

City Manager Gary Boden reported that the report from the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) has not yet been completed following their visit a few weeks ago to tour and provide an evaluation of downtown Waukon in addition to providing feedback relating to the Community Catalyst Remediation Grant application for the remodeling of the former Tierney’s/JCPenney building. Boden advised that Monday, February 1 is the date of a public hearing relating to the property tax rate increase from $14.74 to $14.80 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. He said that utility budgets will be reviewed at that next council meeting and that the Electric Water Meters Project will likely take place in the next year and a half with budgeting in anticipation for that project to begin soon. Boden also discussed that the February 15 council meeting will include discussion of the General Fund, the Robey Memorial Library budget, Road Use Tax (RUT) and local sales tax.

Mayor Pat Stone addressed a misprint on the January 18 council meeting agenda and clarified that the ambulance purchase agenda item for discussion relates to a purchase for Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) and not for the Fire Station as listed in error. Stone also advised that Joe and Matt Sweeney have indicated that they plan to do what they can for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade pending a recommendation on guidelines from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in regard to COVID-19. Stone also said that a resident recently made him aware of their concerns relating to snowmobiles traveling through their yard and driveway and not staying on approved routes.

Council member John Ellingson provided a Council Report and further discussed concerns that have been expressed by residents relating to snowmobiles traveling off of the approved side street route. Ellingson mentioned a resident’s complaint relating to a mailbox being knocked over by a snowmobile and other snowmobile exhaust noise concerns.

The council moved into discussion of closing the extension of Iowa Highway 76 and Iowa Highway 9 and 76 for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March. The council was in agreement to discuss the parade at a future meeting when more will be known relating to a proclamation and recommendation from Governor Reynolds. Ellingson discussed plans being made in Cedar Rapids for a drive-through style parade at Hawkeye Downs to allow the public to remain in their vehicles while driving by stationary parade floats with most other communities yet to announce plans for St. Patrick’s Day parades. The council approved to close the extension of Iowa 76 and Iowa 9 and 76 for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This approval was done in advance to allow for permit  purposes, with the actual holding of the event yet to be determined.

Boden discussed the next agenda item relating to an authorization to expend $75,000 as a portion of the local match for a grant for the installation of fiber optic cable. Boden advised that work with Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative is ongoing relating to a grant application allowing for the installation of fiber optic cable with the spine of the project essentially being First Street NW and First Street SW. Boden said that this is similar to a previous grant application with an increase in the City’s contribution from $50,000 to $75,000, with that amount to be spread out over three fiscal years. The council approved the City’s commitment of $75,000 for the fiber optic grant application.

Boden introduced the next matter relating to an ambulance purchase for VMH. Boden suggested that this purchase would likely take place in Fiscal-Year 2023 (FY23) and discussed funding options available which may be a greater challenge to townships from a budget and taxation standpoint than to the City of Waukon or Allamakee County, with the State of Iowa not considering ambulance service as an essential service. CEO Michael Coyle and Paramedic Cheryl Livingston of VMH discussed the benefits of keeping ambulance services available at VMH as part of patient-centered care rather than outsourcing to a for-profit entity which would likely result in longer response times. Coyle and the council discussed the development of a board to be involved in the decision-making process with council members Gayle Decker and John Lydon volunteering to be part of this group along with Boden.

Coyle also provided an update relating to the former Mayo Clinic location now being remodeled by VMH. He said that the new clinic will be known as the Veterans Memorial Hospital Medical Clinic Waukon and that Dr. Dave Schwartz will be the lead physician at this location. Coyle anticipates an early May opening of the clinic for patients.

Boden and the council discussed the proposal to appoint Fehr Graham Engineering as City Engineer. The council approved the contract and appointment of Fehr Graham Engineering in that capacity.

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 per Iowa Code Section 20.17 (3).

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