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Archive for the ‘Tom Podzimek’ Category

Solid waste agency prepares to capture methane at Site 2 landfill; plan is one day to convert it into energy

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, Tom Podzimek on July 21, 2009 at 5:37 pm

The Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency is moving ahead to catch methane gas from its Site 2 landfill in a way that one day might turn generators to produce electricity.

The agency’s board on Tuesday said it hold a public hearing on Aug. 21 to discuss a proposal to install a gas collection system at the Site 2 landfill on County Home Road at Highway 13.

The cost of the system is expected to be $1.4 million, and it should be in place by January, consultant Brian Harthun told the board.

For now, the collected gas will be burned off, but the plan is to install engines to generate electricity, Tom Podzimek, Cedar Rapids City Council member and board chairman, noted.

Harthun estimated that the Site 2 landfill now would generate about 30 to 40 percent of the methane currently collected from the Site 1 landfill below Czech Village.

The Site 1 landfill had had been closed, but was reopened and remains open to take in debris from last year’s flood.

The agency board currently is in the middle of litigation over a contract dispute over the purchase of methane from the Site 1 landfill to produce energy. For now, the methane at Site 1 is being burned off.


City Council lets it be known: It’s not hand-outs to everyone who asks

In Chuck Wieneke, Monica Vernon, Tom Podzimek on June 17, 2009 at 8:41 am

Ask and you shall receive, it seems, can often be what happens with the City Council when a business shows up seeking a little financial consideration for doing something.

The current City Council has put something of an elaborate apparatus in place to try to help it judge whether a request for tax breaks or other incentives makes sense.

At its last council meeting, a council majority decided to use the apparatus and to follow what it was saying.

The upshot: Cedar Valley Heating & Air Conditioning won’t get a property-tax break of an estimated $75,000 over 10 years – about 44 percent of the total bill – if it builds a new 11,640 sq. ft. metal building to house its business at 60th Avenue SW and Fourth Street SW. Cedar Valley also intended to rent space in the building to four other shops.

In return for the tax break, Cedar Valley told the City Council it expected to retain four jobs and create three new ones, all with an average wage of $15 an hour.

Seven of the nine council members said they didn’t need time to think about the deal: They rejected it out of hand.

That was so even though council member Monica Vernon made mention of the issue that often can be the only one that guides such decisions. Aren’t we inviting this business to go to another community if we don’t grant the tax break? Vernon asked.

Other council members pointed to the five-point scorecard that the council established in May 2008 as part of an Economic Development Investment Policy.

The five points: Does the request facilitate significant investment that shows a strong commitment to the community? Does if help retain and create “high-quality” jobs? Does it add diversity to the region’s economy? Does it provide a long-term community benefit? Does it comply with sustainable development principles?

City staff credited Cedar Valley with only one “yes.”

The City Council majority thought that the one positive score — that the proposal created well-paid construction jobs — was a stretch. Council member Chuck Wieneke didn’t think $15-an-hour ranked as good pay for a trade job.

Council member Tom Podzimek put it most bluntly: “We’re not in the business to provide tax incentives to build a metal pole building,” Podzimek said.

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.

Melting snow serves as a reminder: What if it floods before new levees, flood walls are in place?

In City Hall, Floods, Jim Prosser, Tom Podzimek on February 9, 2009 at 9:46 pm

This week’s snow melt has a lot of water flowing into streams and rivers again, a fact that surely is getting some to wonder what the months ahead might bring.

With a certain queasiness in the air, the City Council on Wednesday evening will discuss ways to install temporary flood control methods should a flood arrive again this year or in the next several years.

Additional temporary protection would buy some time while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes a feasibility study on a new, permanent system of flood control levees and flood walls for the city. The study could take a couple years and it could take eight to 15 years for such a permanent system to be in place.

This week’s council agenda states that the council may take action and purchase an interim flood-control product.

The council first discussed interim flood control at its Dec. 17 meeting with Ken DeKeyser, the city’s storm water management engineer, and city consultant Stanley Consultants Inc., Muscatine, Iowa.

At the December session, the council learned about three products on the market for temporary flood control.

One product, Hesco Barriers, is a plastic lined basket in which sand is loaded.

A second product,  Quick Levee Builder, forces sand into a plastic liner.

A third product, referred to as a tiger dam, is a liner that holds water.

The consultant estimated that it would cost $1.5 million for the Hesco Barriers to protect the downtown, Czech Village, and the Time Check area to 22 feet, which is three feet above what had been the previous record flood level in Cedar Rapids of 19 feet.

The June 2008 flood hit 31.12 feet.

At the December council meeting, council member Tom Podzimek wondered if the ingenuity of some local engineers might lead to another, less costly interim protection system.

Just last week, City Manager Jim Prosser said interim flood control could cost anywhere from nothing – presumably little would be done – to $50 million.

Council sends city staff to the wood shed over buyout letter; Read the letter for yourself

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Floods, Tom Podzimek on January 31, 2009 at 12:08 pm

The City Council has gotten an earful in recent days from property owners apt to have their properties bought out in the future because they are will be in the way of the city’s proposed new flood protection system of levees and flood walls.

What got the phone ringing at City Hall was a letter — see it at these owners seeking signatures to allow permission for JCG Land Services Inc., of Nevada, Iowa, to enter on to their property.

To some homeowners, the letter was unclear and seemed to be seeking permission to allow some unknown company to invade a property to prepare for buyouts that the city has not yet committed to.

Jon Galvin, vice president of the Northwest Neighbors, fired off a letter to City Hall telling it to take care of first things first: Buy out the properties, and then worry about the rest.

Council members across the board acknowledged that the letter was less than artful, and council member Brian Fagan asked city staff to write a new, clearer one. There was the suggestion, too, that staff run a draft of such letters past a few citizens to see how the letter might be improved before launch.

Council member Tom Podzimek said the letter caused citizen headaches while a clearer letter would not have.

“This isn’t anything harmful,” Podzimek said of what the city is asking in the letter. The letter, he said, only makes it seem so.

The letter seeks to get permission from property owners so surveyors and geologists and others can walk on property to conduct tests needed to build a new flood system. Having to find a property owner – particularly when most of the properties are not inhabited – at the time the work is being conducted would add months to the work, city staff added.

Of the 750 or so parcels so far identified as ones slated for possible buyout in the future, 192 are in an area closest to the Cedar River that is proposed to become a greenway.

To date, 157 owners in the proposed greenway have signed buyout agreements with the city, 22 have declined and 13 have not been located.

Another 554 property owners likely will be subject to buyouts because they are in an area identified as a possible construction area for levees and  flood walls.

A third group of property owners also may have their homes bought out: Those are ones whose homes are beyond reasonable repair and are outside the proposed greenway or construction area.

As the city pursues federal money, the hope is that some will arrive to be used to buyout homes more quickly than had been thought, city officials have said. 


Proposal for new dog park gets council member Podzimek howling

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Justin Shields, Tom Podzimek on January 30, 2009 at 10:46 am

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is proposing to spend $125,000 to create a new dog park on city property near the Gardner Golf Course at Highway 100 and Highway 13.

At a Thursday evening budget session, council member Tom Podzimek said the spot was far removed from most of Cedar Rapids and seemed, instead, a great place for the taxpayers of Cedar Rapids to pay to provide a dog park for the use of residents of Marion and Linn County. Council member Justin Shields agreed.

Julie Sina, the city’s parks and recreation director, noted that the dog community liked the site, and she pointed out that users pay a fee to use it.

That prompted Podzimek to suggest that non-residents should pay double what city residents pay for the use of such a facility. Taxpayers in Cedar Rapids pay for all kinds of services non-residents use with little or no cost, he lectured.

Sina noted that some of the city’s recreation programs do give discounts for Cedar Rapids residents.

For his part, Shields wasn’t sure about charging high extra fees to non-residents. He said it was unclear where such a practice would stop. Should nonresidents pay double to golf or to listen to the opera? he asked.

Council member Chuck Wieneke said the answer was a local employment tax, which he said would make people who work in Cedar Rapids but live elsewhere help pay for city services and amenities.

The council said it will make big decisions in the next week or two about its budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Property taxes are expected to jump because of the loss of revenue from properties damaged in the June flood and because of increased costs to the city associated with flood recovery.

City Hall remains in pursuit of coolness as Bicycle Friendly Community

In Tom Podzimek on January 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm

City Hall is pushing ahead to qualify Cedar Rapids as the only Bicycle Friendly Community in Iowa.

The City Council gave its staff the go-ahead last May to investigate what it would take to achieve such a bicycle status, a direction that came with the caution that achieving the status isn’t easy.

The League of American Bicyclists ( bestows the recognition, and coommunities like Madison, Wis., Eugene, Ore., Fort Collins, Colo., and Ann Arbor, Mich., enjoy the status.

City staff reports to the City Council that it now is forming an action plan on how to secure the status.

Among the requirements are for a city to provide bike racks on most city facilities and to equip buses with bike racks; to identify low-volume roads as touring routes; and to implement a “compete streets” policy that provides accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Council member Tom Podzimek, who has the led the campaign for the bike-friendly recognition, on Wednesday noted that the Mayor’s Annual Bike Ride and Bike-to-Work Week will be coming up in the months ahead.

Houser bests Oleson, 4-3, in a small vote for a small job at Solid Waste Agency

In Justin Shields, Linn County government, Solid Waste Agency, Tom Podzimek on January 21, 2009 at 7:43 am

Most don’t run for elective office so that can shrink from tasks and responsibilities.

Such was the case at Tuesday’s first monthly meeting of the year for the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency Board as the board prepared to elect officers.

The nine-member board is comprised of Mayor Kay Halloran, Cedar Rapids council members Tom Podzimek and Justin Shields, three other council-appointed members, two Linn County supervisors and Charlie Kress, Marion’s representative.

Podzimek is the board’s chairman for a two-year stint, so there was no vote for the position of chair.

The board, though, did need a vice chairman as Linda Langston, Linn supervisor, gave up her slot on the board to newly elected supervisor Brent Oleson. Oleson has argued that his supervisor district should be represented on the solid waste agency board because it represents Marion, the site of the solid waste agency’s Site 2 landfill. Mount Trashmore, the agency’s site 1 landfill, is in Langston’s district, she has noted.

At the meeting Tuesday, Kress jumped into the fray and nominated Oleson, a Marion resident who was attending his first meeting of the board, as vice chairman. Later in the meeting, Oleson was honest enough to preface a question about the expenses related to landfill closure, a signal that he was just getting his feet wet on solid waste.

Someone else nominated long-time Linn supervisor Jim Houser for the post.

It was a little uncomfortable: The post doesn’t matter much, and here were two supervisors positioned to compete for the spot.

There was no, “Why don’t you take it,” or “No, why don’t you?” And once that was decided, who doesn’t, after all, want to come out on top in a matter when people are picking between you and someone else?

With just seven board members in attendance, the vote was first on Oleson. Kress and Podzimek raised their hands, and there was Oleson’s hand for himself.

Shields, Pat Ball, the city’s utilities director, Mark Jones, the city’s solid waste/recycling manager, and Houser voted for Houser.

City Council is out there on energy issue with Obama — 30 minutes after his inaugural speech

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Jim Prosser, Monica Vernon, Pat Shey, Tom Podzimek on January 20, 2009 at 7:19 pm

The City Council spent its lunch hour Tuesday – 30 minutes after President Barack Obama finished his inaugural address – talking about how city government and the city as a whole should use energy in a way that doesn’t compromise the lives of generations to come.

Obama had just said: “… and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.”

Most of the nine-members on the council — whether they support Obama or not — can sound a little bit like him when it comes to thinking about the future.

“Sustainability” and a look out for the future has been a constant theme of this council and of City Manager Jim Prosser.

Developing an energy management plan is among the council’s top priorities.

In an hour-long discussion Tuesday, council member Pat Shey might have provided the best suggestion on how the council could begin to move on an energy policy and an energy management plan. He said the council should lead by example.

In the post-flood era, the council can do that, others said, by making sure that the city builds energy-efficient, LEED-certified buildings to reduce energy use in the future. The city, they noted, will be renovating or replacing many flood-damaged city buildings in the years ahead.

Shey also called on the council to create an energy-management scorecard, which local developers would be required to complete so the city had a sense of how energy-efficient and sustainable any proposed project might be.

The city already has such scorecards for smart growth and infill development, and Shey said the energy scorecard could be used like the others to make it clear — “It raises the consciousness,” he said — of what the council is trying to promote in the city.

“But we need to start with us,” he said.

Council member Monica Vernon and others said that any energy plan needs to start immediately and be applied to all the construction that is coming in the city as flood-damaged homes and apartments and businesses are rebuilt.

Building codes can be revised as a way to help bring desired energy practices about, she and council member Chuck Wieneke said.

Council member Tom Podzimek pointed to Portland, Ore., and said that city posts on its Web site the millions and millions of dollars it has saved over the years by having an energy management policy in place.

Such an effort can make a city “a beacon,” Podzimek said.

Podzimek and Wieneke agreed to work with the city staff on the formulation of an energy policy and plan.

In signing on with Podzimek, Wieneke said, “Tom wants to deal with the universe, and I can kind of hone it down to the planet.”

Podzimek had been talking about the council’s need to focus on energy production, distribution and consumption as it develops an energy policy.

But he also looked ahead and suggested a very specific step the city might consider taking to ready for the future.

Any time the city is replacing parking meters downtown, he said the city ought to install meters with plug-ins for the fast-approaching time when people can plug their electric cars into them.

“We know that’s coming,” he said.

After the meeting, he said the city would need to put a pencil to paper and work out whether it made financial sense now to buy some electric cars in the near term and install plug-ins to see how it worked.