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Local

Mayor vetoes stormwater utility ordinance

City council has 30 days to override veto, if they so choose

Under his authority as Mayor of Newton, Mike Hansen announced Monday night he has vetoed the stormwater utility ordinance passed by city council members earlier this month.

If it had not been vetoed, the city would have used the funds generated from this new utility to pay for stormwater management services in Newton. Currently, the city uses Road Use Tax Funds to address stormwater issues. By creating the utility fee, it would free up funding for more street projects.

Although Hansen supports the establishment of a stormwater utility — which would have increased citizens’ water bills by $3 per month starting Jan. 1, 2021, and then to up to $9 per month by 2025 — he “strongly” disagrees with the automatic annual increase of rates under the current ERU rate.

“Annual increases should be appropriated by city council during each budget cycle based on known data, defining cost of operations, repairs and projects,” Hansen said in his official veto notification to elected officials and city staff.

Hansen also strongly objects to churches, nonprofit organizations, government facilities and schools not being included in the exemption list to stormwater service charges.

These properties, he said, “should be required to comply” with stormwater management and drainage system requirements “without monthly fees charged by the ordinance.” ERU (equivalent residential unit) rates for these buildings would have been calculated differently than residential units.

According to the ordinance, undeveloped property, public streets, alleyways and highways are exempted from utility charges or connection fees. Railroad tracks are also exempted from stormwater service charges, but the same does not apply for railroad stations, maintenance buildings or other railroad land.

The mayor’s reasonings for the veto echo past comments he made at the Sept. 8 Newton City Council meeting. Even though infrastructure is a high priority for citizens, Hansen argued they — along with businesses and nonprofits, for that matter — do not like “automatic increases in anything.”

Councilperson Mark Hallam — who also supports the creation of a stormwater utility but had frequently argued the timing of the implementation would conflict with possible economic blowback from the COVID-19 pandemic — also tried to address the automatic increases with an amendment to the resolution.

Hallam proposed the automatic increases be removed entirely and requested future increases be introduced to council members for approval. However, this amendment failed to advance with a second.

Newton Public Works Director Jody Rhone cautioned the council if Hallam’s amendment were to get implemented, the city may have to borrow funds against this new revenue stream. Furthermore, it could delay implementation of stormwater management or alter what the city can borrow for street work.

Hallam, who was the lone “no” vote during the first, second and third readings of the stormwater utility ordinance, approved of the veto.

“I applaud Mayor Hansen’s decision to veto the stormwater utility ordinance in its present form, given the uncertain economic conditions created by the reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hallam said in a statement. “I especially agree with the mayor on the negative impact this ordinance would have on the finances of churches, nonprofit organizations and the Newton Community School District.”

If the Newton City Council so chooses, it may exercise its right to override the mayor’s veto — needing a three-fourths majority vote — within 30 days.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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