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Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Wieneke’

City readies to take down 71 more flood-damaged homes, but not before councilman Wieneke questions costly caution over asbestos

In City Hall, Floods on May 29, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Seventy down, the next 71 or so at the ready, 1,150 or so to go.

The City Council this week gave the go-ahead to demolish 71 more flood-damaged properties.

The demolition of a first group of 70 properties, most of which were homes, was completed at the end of April.

This next group of properties is part of a group of homes tagged with red placards in the city’s worst-to-best system of purple, red, yellow and green placards. The purple-placarded homes came down first.

The decision this week to go ahead with 71 or so more homes did not come with some disagreement.

Council member Chuck Wieneke took great exception to the city’s plan to – as it did with the purple-placarded homes – treat the next 71 homes as too unsafe to enter. With that status, the city plan is that the properties can’t be checked for asbestos and the asbestos, if found, can’t be removed before demolition.

As a result, the entire property is considered to be asbestos-containing material, which requires special handling and increased costs during demolition.

Wieneke said he had “real heartburn” with the idea that the city would be paying what he said would be five times the regular demolition cost because of the decision about asbestos. He estimated the cost to demolish each house as it it had asbestos at $35,000 to $37,000.

He noted that many of the red-placarded houses have been entered by the homeowners with the assistance of city staff since the flood, and he didn’t see why city staff couldn’t do the same now to identify and mitigate any asbestos.

Wieneke said he’d be willing to walk into the homes.

City Manager Jim Prosser and Tim Manz, the city’s interim manager of code enforcement, countered, telling Wieneke that the city’s latest round of inspections found these 71 properties to be the worst of what is left standing and too unsafe to enter.

Manz said the structural instability of the 71 properties was similar to the purple-placarded homes that have now been demolished.

He noted that the city has another 140 homes that it has received permission from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to take down, and he said that group of homes likely will allow for asbestos assessment and removal before demolition.

Council member Justin Shields said it was best to err on the side of safety. Manz assured council member Tom Podzimek that the owners were being notified before the demolitions.

Bids for the work must be submitted to the city by 11 a.m. June 11.

The contract calls for an estimated 71 structures to be down by Sept. 25.

The city continues to await additional federal Community Development Block Grant funds, which it plans to use to pay for buyouts and demolitions of most of the 1,300 flood-damaged homes and other structures it expects to buy out.

FEMA has agreed to pay for demolitions of a few hundred of the worst-damaged properties.

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.

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.