Supervisors on Tuesday morning unanimously opposed an engineering firm’s proposed $6,900 professional services agreement fee for the estimated $25,000 removal of four concrete planters on the southern corners of the town square, which has effectively put the project to a halt.
The location of the bunkers, combined with the shape of the platforms flush to the curbs, are reportedly difficult to maneuver around or account for during snow removal operations. However, at this point, the aesthetics of the structures themselves are not the main issue.
Jasper County Maintenance Director Adam Sparks said, “So if it was just the bunkers that were there that’s one thing, but the work that was done around the bunkers is the problem now. And that is not going to go away. So if that can’t go away, (then) the only other option is for the bunkers to be removed.”
At the Oct. 22 Jasper County Board of Supervisors meeting, the governing body voted 2-1 to approve the removal of the flower pot bunkers. Doug Cupples, vice-chair of the board of supervisors, was strongly opposed to the idea and concerned about the price tag to remove the structures, remarking that it was the price of “a part-time employee for half of the year.”
Jasper County Maintenance Director Adam Sparks had spoken with downtown groups and adjacent business owners for feedback, who gave their blessing on the project. Bob O’Brien, chair of the Downtown Newton SSMID Board, said he and other retailers were aware the flower pots would eventually be removed for future streetscape projects and confirmed they were OK with Sparks’ proposal.
The Des Moines-based architecture and engineering consulting firm Shive-Hattery provided supervisors with a $6,900 service fee to remove the concrete planters. Since supervisor Brandon Talsma was not present at the meeting Tuesday, Cupples initially requested they wait until next week to reach a decision and reiterated that he is going to say “no” to the project.
Board chair Denny Carpenter was ready to put it on next week’s agenda until Sparks spoke up, urging the supervisors to make a decision.
“If we delay this to next week we might as well not even do it,” Sparks said. “We’re getting so far behind on the weather that we gotta make a decision one way or the other. We can’t wait another week.”
Talsma was then called into the board of supervisors meeting via speakerphone to listen in on staff input and vote on a final decision.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Cupples doubled down on his past sentiments. The project, he said, is too expensive and he does not know why the county has to pay that much to remove the structures, especially considering the city’s plans to enhance that section of the street entirely and will likely remove the structures upon completion of said project.
“I don’t see what the emergency is for us to do it,” Cupples said. “They’re what we’ve been looking at for all these years and they’re not in bad shape. Granted, they’re not the prettiest things in the world. But I don’t know if it’s worth $25,000 to $35,000 to do this (and) we got a $7,000 additional bill here.”
Jasper County Treasurer Doug Bishop felt compelled to address the board, saying that he has a “fiduciary responsibility” to the county and admitted that $25,000 is “a lot of money” in addition to the added services fee. The board, he said, is going to be faced with tough decisions come budget time.
“I drive all over the county squeezing these banks for half a percent interest there or a little bit extra there, and when I see a bill of $25,000 because we don’t think we want them there or may not have been convenient — I just have a hard time with that,” Bishop said, adding that he is not trying to speak against Sparks’ reasons for removing the bunkers.
Sparks reasoned that $25,000 is only the projected cost but does not anticipate it will increase too heavily. In addition to the snow removal complications, Sparks said the curb platforms supporting the bunkers are “tripping hazards” for the public. Prior to the installation of the bunkers, the opening measured five feet wide. Today, it is three feet wide.
Again, Cupples questioned if the project is really “worth 25-grand.”
Sparks rebutted, “Is anything we do worth the money that we pay? Absolutely not. It’s a choice that we have to make. The city is not going to remove them for at least 10 more years. So if we’re going to leave them there that’s fine but you’re not working around them and dealing with them.”
The maintenance director added the county wasn’t originally involved in the construction of the concrete bunkers, prohibiting the entity from having any say in the design. But now “what’s there is there,” Sparks said. In order for this project to happen, the county will have to postpone another planned project in order to pay for this proposal, which was not budgeted.
“Are you going to leave it that like that for the next 10 years until somebody decides to finally tear ‘em out when now’s the time?” he continued. “I don’t want to spend the money any more than anybody else. That means a project that we had already planned is probably not going to happen if we do this, because this money is going to have to make up for that.”
Or the county does not do the project at all and wait for the city to get rid of the structures following future streetscape improvements.
All three supervisors, including Talsma by phone, voted “no” to approve the service fee for the project, seemingly to wait for another opportunity at a later date.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org