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Council approves registry for vacant buildings

Owners of vacant homes, other buildings will be required to register

The owners of vacant buildings in Newton will soon be required to register those buildings with the city.

At Monday night’s marathon city council meeting, councilors unanimously approved a revision to the city’s nuisance ordinance that established the registry and the registration requirement. The council waived the second and third readings, and unanimously adopted the new resolution.

Planning and Zoning Director Erin Chambers said the goal was to improve lines of communication in the event of code violations.

“Our legal counsel has been helpful in helping us utilize resources — some of which we didn’t know were available — in tracking down owners when we have municipal infractions,” she said. “This will be a timesaving tool for us when we’re dealing with nuisances.”

Chambers said vacant building registries are becoming more and more common in communities all across Iowa. She said she is frequently called by banks that have foreclosed on properties, checking to see if Newton had such a registry.

“It’s an effective tool to have good contact information, which is a key to streamlining how we deal with nuisances,” she said. “It helps us maintain the lines of communication, and allows us to keep tabs on the quality of these buildings.”

The resolution created a definition for a vacant building, established a timeframe in which owners must register (60 days from when the building becomes vacant), stipulates the information that must be provided and requires owners to allow interior and exterior inspections of the property. Buildings already vacant will be required to register, as well.

In her council memo, Chambers noted most cities have fees associated with vacant building registration. The resolution approved Monday stated only the fee would be established by council resolution.

“If Council adopts the attached ordinance, staff would bring forth a resolution establishing a fee for the vacant building registration,” Chambers said in her memo to councilors. “For the fee, staff would propose setting a fee amount that could off-set the associated administrative costs while not being such a financial hurdle that owners of vacant properties would not register.”

Her memo recommended a registration fee of $50.

In other business, the council also approved a resolution to purchase and install new video broadcasting equipment for the council chamber. The cost will be slightly more than $23,000, and was a budgeted expense.

“The current system, which was last upgraded in 2005 and uses antiquated technology, has stopped working,” City Administrator Bob Knabel said. “The modulator will no longer work with Mediacom for broadcasting meetings. It doesn’t work with the city’s website, either.”

During council discussions on the matter, Knabel also disclosed Mediacom’s franchise agreement with the city has ended. He said, although he has not received official notification, that Mediacom is working with the new state franchise agreement instead.

The franchise fees Mediacom customers are paying on their bills will still go to the City of Newton. The state franchise agreement, which is nearly identical to the previous agreement Mediacom had with the City of Newton, is intended to eliminate the need for the cable TV company to negotiate with each individual community it serves.

The upgraded video broadcast system will allow the city to show live content, such as council proceedings, as well as recorded programs, both on the city’s website and the current Mediacom government channel. Knabel said this would be the first step in a process to upgrade the entire system of cameras, microphones and content switchers.

Three vendors were contacted and ask to submit proposals. Of those, only Midwest Computer Products Inc. and AVI Systems Inc. did so.

The Midwest Computer Products proposal, with a cost of $35.071.11, would include the installation of two new high-definition cameras, because the existing cameras will not integrate with their equipment. It did not include a server to store digital video.

The AVI Systems proposal, with a cost of $23,285.94, does integrate with the city’s existing camera equipment while producing video that can be broadcasted, webcasted, and stored digitally. It also included a 2 terabyte server for file storage and a new modulator that will work with Mediacom’s broadcasting equipment.

AVI Systems also offered a three-year technical support and maintenance agreement that will save approximately $1,183 a year over contracting those services. Councilors approved the AVI Systems proposal unanimously.

Knabel said company officials told him installation usually can occur within 60 to 90 days. He was unsure how soon the new system would be installed, though, noting those officials said it may be possible to get the new system installed sooner, since the project is considered relatively small by their standards.

Daily News Editor Bob Eschliman may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at

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