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Draft snow removal policy, mayoral appointment addressed

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 11:33 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 11:34 a.m. CDT

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Going into Monday night’s regular Newton City Council meeting — on an evening when the high temperature had reached 75 F earlier in the day — one would think snow would be the last thing on councilors’ minds.

And while it was the last item of business discussed on the agenda, a proposed snow removal policy burned up most of the council’s time. For the most part, however, councilors were content to listen to the presentation of Streets Superintendent Jody Rhone with little other input.

“The purpose of this policy is to establish and maintain uniform definitions, procedures and expectations concerning snow and ice control operations in the City of Newton,” Rhone said. “It is the goal of the City of Newton to maintain city streets at a safe level of normal winter driving conditions during and after a winter storm event.”

“Normal driving conditions,” however, does not mean bare streets on a day when the high temperature is only 15 F. In the case of residential streets, he noted this may mean 100-percent snow-covered pavement with salt and/or sand on hills and slick spots, as needed.

Newton has more than 200 lane miles of city streets, as well as 21 gravel roads, 19 cul-de-sacs and nine city-owned parking lots. The Streets Division also is responsible for hauling snow from the downtown area after each winter storm event.

“Hauling snow from the Downtown Snow Removal District will begin during the night of the regular shift following the storm and after all the streets have been plowed or treated from a winter storm,” Rhone said. “Overtime will not be used to haul snow, unless directed by the Public Works Director.”

The Downtown Snow Removal District consists of streets located between North Fourth Avenue to South Second Avenue and from West Fourth Street to East Fourth Street that have an available parking strip to store plowed snow. Streets in this area will be plowed as part of the Priority 1 streets in the city.

The policy identifies four classes of streets to be plowed during and after a winter storm event. The goal is to keep Priority 1 streets with minimal accumulation of snow and ice, allowing them to return to bare pavement as quickly as possible.

“This will likely require multiple passes throughout the duration of the storm and after the snowfall has stopped,” Rhone said.

Priority 2 streets will be plowed and sanded, hopefully before school starts and/or ends for the day, and before a majority of people have to commute to and from work. Timing of a winter storm may impact the Streets Division’s goals, as may city crews’ ability to maintain an acceptable travel condition on the Priority 1 streets.

Most residential streets in the community have been designated Priority 3, which will be plowed once within 24 hours after snowfall ends. Rhone reminded councilors and those in attendance that the goal will not be to achieve bare pavement, but rather to make the streets passable under winter driving conditions.

“Priority 3 streets may not be plowed when there is less than 2 inches of accumulation,” he added. “This is dependent upon ground temperature, air temperature, wind conditions and forecasts.”

Priority 4 streets, which consist of the city’s gravel roads and cul-de-sacs, will be plowed within 48 hours after snowfall ends. Gravel roads typically will not be sanded, and may not be plowed when there is less than 3 inches of accumulation, depending upon conditions and forecasts.

Rhone then discussed his perceived shortcomings with the existing snow removal parking restrictions. He said a seven-hour window for restricted parking is not enough time to ensure all of the Priority 1, 2 and 3 streets are plowed.

“The first two to four hours is spent cleaning priority 1 and 2 streets,” he said. “The next five to eight hours are spent plowing Priority 3 streets.”

In the past, Rhone noted, city policy has been to activate the Snow Line by 3 p.m. However, he added, the city uses National Weather Service forecasts, which can vary widely from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., which has led to a number of “unwarranted parking tickets with frustrated and confused citizens.”

“If snow is forecasted and the storm is either delayed or misses Newton, citizens are frustrated for having to move their vehicles off the street,” he said. “If we get snow that was not forecast, our plowing operations are not as effective with vehicles parked on the street.”

Rhone also noted that plowing streets between 11 p.m. and 9 a.m. did not leave personnel available to address “slick spots” or to treat Priority 1 streets if another snowfall occurred during daylight hours. He proposed a 4 a.m. start time for most storms and that the Snow Line must be activated by 7 p.m. with tickets issued after 10 p.m. in accordance with city code.

He said hauling snow from the downtown area would continue to be performed during the overnight hours. Even after the biggest snow events, the city has always been able to clear snow away from the courthouse square by the end of the first night.

“We can usually haul 400 loads of snow, using eight trucks, in a single night,” he added.

Police Chief Jeff Hoebelheinrich said his department doesn’t issue very many snow-related tickets. He said warnings are usually issued in the final week of October before the Nov. 1 to April 30 overnight on-street parking prohibition begins to help remind residents in the area.

Councilor Noreen Otto asked if maps of the priority 1, 2 and 3 streets were available for the public to view at the city’s website. Rhone said a map showing the priority 1 and 2 streets was already available and a map of Priority 3 streets could easily be added.

“We also have 11-by-17 copies of the map that are in all of our vehicles,” he added. “We could make some of those available to those who want one, too.”

Open Burning Ordinance

For those of you who thought perhaps the issue of fire pits, fire rings and recreational fires in Newton had been completely tackled, there was yet another twist in the story Monday night.

Councilors had approved the final reading of the somewhat controversial revisions to the city’s solid waste ordinance at the Sept. 17 meeting. But, the version of the ordinance they approved lacked the “grandfathering” one-time registration clause for existing, but non-conforming, fire pits.

At Monday night’s meeting, councilors had made a motion and a second to quickly adopt a revised version of the ordinance with the one-time registration clause included when City Administrator Bob Knabel asked them to stop. Instead, he asked councilors to rescind their actions and consider another option he and Fire Chief Jarrod Wellik were proposing.

Rather than creating a one-time registration period for non-conforming fire pits, the new revision would instead create an exemption to the 25-foot restriction for all existing fire pits on the properties of one- and two-family homes in Newton.

“We found ourselves in a position where we were allowing some, and not allowing others, in a situation in which there hasn’t yet been a safety issue,” Wellik said. “This replaces the one-time registration process with an across-the-board exemption from the 25-foot setback requirement for all one- and two-family dwellings, just like we have for portable fireplaces and grills.”

Knabel also asked councilors to suspend the rules and waive the second and third readings and to approve the proposal immediately. The council did so unanimously.

Both Otto and councilor Mike Hansen thanked Wellik for taking the time to craft the new language, which they both felt addressed the issue better than previous attempts. Otto had previously been against the one-time registration clause, which Hansen had pressed for in earlier council discussions.

Mayoral Appointment

As the council took up consideration of a proposed resolution authorizing the publication of a notice of intent to appoint a mayor, Hansen announced he was recusing himself from the discussion and any subsequent votes. To fill the temporary leadership void for the council, councilor Steve Mullan was appointed temporary chairman of the council.

Otto asked City Attorney Darrin Hamilton to again review the process the council must follow in order to appoint someone to the position of mayor. He said the council has 40 days — until Nov. 9 — to make an appointment, and has until Oct. 22 to post an official legal notice.

“Beyond that, you may use any process you wish,” Hamilton said. “There was a second question about making a contingent resignation for one council member in order to fill both vacancies at the same time. I can tell you that has never been challenged in court, but based on past Attorney General’s opinions ... I don’t think it’s something that would be seen favorably by a court.”

Hansen already has expressed an interest in becoming mayor, and was endorsed by outgoing mayor Chaz Allen. If he should be appointed to fulfill the remainder of Allen’s term, he would have to resign his seat on the council at that time, which would start a new 40-day window for filling his vacancy.

“I think word-of-mouth will get this out there faster than the official legal notice, but I think those who are interested should have to send in a formal letter to City Hall,” Otto said. “I think we need to have something formalized.”

Mullan pointed out that in past appointments, the council has asked those interested in filling a vacancy to provide a brief biography and background, as well as an explanation for why he or she is interested in serving. Councilors agreed upon an Oct. 29 deadline for letters of application.

The council will then hold question-and-answer sessions with each of the candidates at its Nov. 5 meeting before making a final appointment decision at that meeting. Ballots will be cast secretly, but how each councilor will vote will be announced, pursuant to Iowa Code.

“It was felt that if the council held a roll call, if someone thought the vote was going a certain way, he or she might be more inclined to change their vote,” Hamilton said. “This way, you would get a more honest reflection of the council’s wishes.”

In other business, the council:

• Heard a citizen’s complaint regarding the pick-up of recycling outside of the contracted hours.

• Unanimously approved the third reading of and adopted a proposed change to the city parking ordinances establishing a no-parking zone in the 400 block of South Third Avenue West.

• Unanimously approved the second reading of a proposed change to the city’s building ordinances requiring apartments converted to housing cooperatives to meet all existing building codes at the time of conversion. The Newton Housing Development Corporation has requested the opportunity to take up the matter at its next meeting, which will be held Thursday, to consider what, if any, impact this may have on its efforts to improve the availability of housing options in the community.

• Unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the purchase of a 2007 Chevrolet Suburban command vehicle for the Fire Department from Deery Brothers Chevrolet at a cost of $27,768 after a $1,500 trade-in allowance on the department’s 2000 Chevrolet Impala command vehicle.

• Unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the purchase of a gear extractor to be used for cleaning firefighters’ turnout gear at a cost of $6,072 from BDS Laundry Systems of St. Paul, Minn. Mullan pointed out the safety benefits for firefighters who are wearing clean gear. An $11,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant was awarded for the project, with the unused funds from the purchase of the extractor being used to pay for remodeling an area to allow for its installation. The city’s cost share is 5 percent of the total cost of the project, not to exceed $550.

• Unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the city to enter into a liability release agreement with Jon Sontag for use of a building he owns in the 900 block of Iowa Speedway Drive for Newton Police Department Tactical Team training. The agreement releases Sontag from liability for any injuries sustained by city staff engaged in training while on his property.

• Listened to the annual report presentation made by Newton Public Library Director Sue Padilla.

Bob Eschliman can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 423 or via email at beschliman@newtondailynews.com.

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