The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Tedious debate on sidewalks pushes crucial discussion on flood insurance into last place on council’s agenda

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Tom Podzimek on April 5, 2009 at 9:39 am

Sometimes it’s hard to know if the City Council starts talking about sidewalks again just so it can be sure a council meeting empties out before more important discussions to follow.

Or at least it was easy to think that last week as the council spent nearly an hour trying to fine tune its 2007 Sidewalk Installation Policy.

Getting through the talk on sidewalks got the meeting into the start of its fourth hour before the council took on the matter of the high cost of insuring flood-damaged city buildings in case there is a new flood.
Council member Chuck Wieneke was quick to the microphone on both sidewalks and flood insurance.

On assessments for sidewalks, Wieneke said there are few matters that repeatedly come before the council that provoke such upset from the public and waste so much city staff time.

The typical flashpoint on sidewalks surfaces when the city decides to install them in long-established neighborhoods where it is clear children if not adults are walking in streets to get from one stretch of sidewalk to another. Homeowners aren’t happy when the city shows up ready to charge them for a portion of the sidewalk installation.

Wieneke noted that the property owner’s share of the cost is usually some complicated formula — he used the example of 15 percent of 50 percent of the cost — that the city would be better off just to continue on with its program to install sidewalks in older sections of the city and forget about making property owners pay a part of the cost.

Council member Monica Vernon said Wieneke might have something, but council member Tom Podzimek, who led the sidewalk discussion, noted that the sidewalk issue at hand was not the one Wieneke addressed.

The council, Podzimek noted, was trying to figure out how to assess the cost of sidewalks in industrial areas or at developments on the outskirts of town that might be a half-mile or mile from the next nearest sidewalk, park, school or trail.

The city has a handful of appeals awaiting the council on that sidewalk issue and the city staff was trying to determine a policy so the matters would not have to come to the council for debate.

One thing the council insisted on when the long-winded discussion had ended was that those with sidewalk issues could still appeal their cases to the City Council.

Council member Kris Gulick noted that the council’s existing sidewalk policy has worked pretty well in that only eight people have appealed to the council in 81 cases in recent years. That’s a 90-percent batting average, he noted. Maybe it is OK, he seemed to suggest, if the sidewalk policy didn’t tie up every loose end.

Long one of the central points of debate on the sidewalk issue has come from developers who must install sidewalks in new developments at their cost. They don’t think it’s fair that the city pay to install them in existing neighborhoods where developers at the time were not forced to install sidewalks and build the cost into the price of the lots and homes.

Oh, and for that issue of flood insurance on city buildings:

It is turning up at the spot in this little story about where it turned up at last week’s council meeting — at the end, after most people had vanished from the council meeting.

The council decided to seek insurance brokers to compete to handle the purchase of $25 million in flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program at an estimated cost of $280,000 a year. This level of insurance will cover the cost of cleanup should the same buildings flood as they did in June 2008.

Wieneke made the point that there is no rush to buy a higher level of insurance — which the Federal Emergency Management Agency will require as part of taking FEMA money to fix the city buildings — because none of the buildings has been fixed.

Both Vernon and Wieneke said city staff had been tardy in bringing the insurance matter to the council what with the flooding season upon the city.

Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, explained that the city only began to get good damage assessments on its buildings in January and that it had taken six or so weeks for the city to get an idea of how much insurance might cost. By one estimate, it could cost $4 million a year, Drew said.

The council said it wants to work on an estimate like that. Council member Podzimek said he wanted the city to get in touch with the state insurance commissioner. FEMA rules allow state insurance commissioners to grant waivers for flood insurance on public facilities in certain instances, Drew had noted.

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  1. They did have enough respect to ask Chief Graham to speak about the condition of the injured police officer.

    Maybe this should have been agenda item number one. Everything after this pales in comparison.

    Someone does need to ask why the first layer of flood insurance isn’t already placed? We didn’t have damage estimates is not a good excuse. Everyone knew months ago the maximum amount that could possibly be purchased from NFIP would need to be purchased. My understanding is that Linn County is ready with the first layer and maybe the excess layer this upcoming week. At least that is what one Supervisor told me Saturday morning. And they are already in some of thier buildings I believe.

  2. I agree with Kosek,Chief Graham should have been asked to give an update on Tim.
    This Council needs to get their priorities straight.Are sidewalk discussions more important than recovering from a devastating flood?Sometimes these Council Meetings are funnier than Keystone Kops.If they aren’t sleeping on camera,then they are addressing items that can be put on the back burner.This is why we need to get
    the present and past attorneys,contractores et. out of there and get people in there who really care about us.

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