After nearly two months of review, last night’s City Council meeting finally saw the adoption of a snow removal policy for the City of Newton — well before the first snow of the season.
While questions regarding parking tickets during the months from November to April, especially on the square, were discussed, the resolution adopting a city snow removal policy was adopted by a unanimous vote.
In addition, a resolution accepting the purchase proposal of property in the 200 block of North Fifth Avenue West in Newton in the North Central Urban Renewal District was approved unanimously. Ohio-based Miller-Valentine Group sought the property to in order to build a 50-63 unit, middle-income senior housing facility.
Thus, the city and Miller-Valentine have come to an agreement, setting the land’s price tag at $25,000. Miller-Valentine now has until April 19, 2013, to let the City of Newton know whether they will be moving forward with the project, as it is entirely contingent upon the receipt of tax credits from the Iowa Finance Authority.
A representative from Miller-Valentine was on had to further explain eligibility requirements for the prospective units while also asserting the group’s intention to work closely with local contractors.
A resolution approving public works fee schedules was brought before the council, stating that in 2011-2012, the cemetery budget for the city fell more than $100,000 short of its expenditures.
Thus, the resolution recommended that cemetery fees be raised in addition to garbage/recycling collection fees. The council voted unanimously on the resolution, in effect raising garbage/recycling collection rates from $11/month to $11.20/month — and overall increase of 1.8 percent and $2.40 annually, per household.
“(In the past), there has been a similar gap between cemetery expenditures and revenue, I think that’s common in most cities,” said Keith Laube, Newton Public Works director. “We’re trying to keep expenses down.”
“The last increase we had was about a year and a half prior to this increase,” he added. “About every two years is my plan, although we take a look at it every year, and then we have smaller incremental increases rather that wait three years and have a larger one.”
A resolution regarding the parks fee schedule spurred plenty of discussion among council members, as one particular increase in fees stood out. Park fees are evaluated and adjusted, if necessary, every two years. This year’s changes, which were approved by the Oct. 12 Park Board meeting, included an increase in the Westwood Golf Course youth membership from $171 to $250.
“I have an issue with just one of them,” councilor Jeff Price said, referencing the youth golf fee. “That’s just a huge increase compared to all the other increases.” Councilor Craig Trotter pointed out that the new rate represented a 46 percent increase.
“We thought the current rate was substantially low and we thought it should be closer to half price (of an adult membership),” Laube said. “Our thought was that the $250 a year was still a reasonable price.”
“I would agree with (Price’s) concerns that we’re making a substantial increase at the risk of losing young golfers,” councilor Noreen Otto said. “If we have to increase fees, it should be done at a smaller rate. I’m wondering if we could do $200 and revisit the issue sooner rather than later.”
Laube explained that the decision was up to the council and thus, Otto proposed an amendment to the resolution lowering the fee from the initially proposed $250 to just $200 — a $29 increase as opposed to the proposed $79 hike.
Councilors unanimously adopted a resolution directing publication of notice of intent to fill the Ward 2 City Council vacancy by appointment. Otto encouraged those within the community with an interest in serving on the council to take this opportunity to get involved with local government.
“We’ve seen some interest but ... I would encourage that, if there are other people out there, to step forward because there are lots of people saying they’d like to sit on the council,” Otto said.
Lastly, discussions were held regarding both the city’s trash and recycling contracts and the possibility of contracting the city’s legal services out to a firm, both presented by City Administrator Bob Knabel.
While the City’s contract with Dodd’s Trash Hauling and Recycling states that recycling may not be picked up prior to 6 a.m., the company has routinely used the hours immediately after midnight to collect recycling in what co-owner and president David Dodd referred to as a “gentleman’s agreement.” To his company, these hours make much more sense from a safety and efficiency standpoint.
“What we’re trying to do here is maintain safety for our employees and residents,” Dodd said. “If we have to start at the contracted time, it’s not just us on the streets, trash is on the streets too. If you’ve ever driven the streets of Newton between 6:30 to 8 ... it’s a fiasco. There’s too much traffic and too much danger there.”
Councilors agreed, and Knabel suggested that whatever happens in the future remain consistent with the contract, be it a change in recycling hours on paper or in action by Dodd’s. Thus, councilors recommended a change to the city’s contact with Dodd’s, permitting them to collect recycling as early as 12:30 a.m.
Last on the agenda was a discussion led by Knabel regarding the city’s prospect of contracting all legal services out to a firm as opposed to the current in-house counsel the city receives via City Attorney Darrin Hamilton.
Trotter remarked that, as the city is currently assessing its budget, now is a good time to take action regarding the city’s legal counsel. Knabel recommended that information be sent out to all firms within Newton in addition to those in the region that have experience with legal counsel for cities of similar size, and that once proposals are returned the city can make its next move.
Nicole Wiegand can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 422 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.