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

Posts Tagged ‘City Hall’

City Council set to up its Statehouse lobbyist spending from $15,000 a year to $60,000 a year

In City Hall on June 30, 2009 at 6:27 pm

It’s not every year a City Council brings in some key local Statehouse lawmakers to a City Council meeting to applaud what they have done for City Hall and the city.

The current City Council, though, did just that.

By the council’s count, it had a good run this year at the Iowa Legislature.

The city got special consideration to hold an expedited local-option sales tax referendum for flood-recovery, a vote that succeeded and will bring in $90 million or more into city coffers over five years.

The legislature also gave cities the ability to institute a franchise fee of up to 5 percent of gas and electric bills; gave cities recovering from natural disasters the ability to sell bonds for public buildings without asking voters first; steered $20 million in I-JOBS earmarks to flood-damaged city facilities; and on and on.

Whether in response to what the council considers legislative victories or not, the council on Wednesday evening is prepared to up its spending on lobbying in and around the Statehouse from the just-ending fiscal year’s $15,000 a year to $60,000 a year in the new fiscal year beginning today.

In recent years, the city has contracted with former state Democratic legislator Larry Murphy of L & L Murphy Consulting, Oelwein, to do the city’s lobbying in Des Moines.

In the new fiscal year, the council proposes to keep Murphy and also hire Gary Grant of Grant Consulting LLC of Cedar Rapids. Grant was district director for Republican Congressman Jim Leach from 1993 through 2007.

The total contract for the two firms is for $70,000, which includes an extra $10,000 for lobbying in Washington, D.C., if necessary, Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, noted on Tuesday.

Drew said the expanded contract will provide the city with more help in developing a Statehouse legislative strategy and will provide additional lobbying and increased communication with state elected officials and state agencies.

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City Council poised to award city towing contract to lower-scoring firm after top scorer Darrah’s drops out in response to last-minute change in contract terms

In City Hall, Greg Graham on June 30, 2009 at 5:51 pm

City Hall is ready to turn over the city’s towing contract to the lower-scoring of two bidders after a last-minute change in the bid terms prompted the top-scoring firm to drop out.

Carmela Darrah-Chiafos, owner of the top-scoring bidder Darrah’s Towing and Recovery, on Tuesday said City Hall was ready to award a new two-year contract to her firm a week ago. Darrah’s has held the contract for many years.

But at the last minute, she said the city decided to make the length of the contract just six months, instead of the two-year period stated in the city’s bid documents. The contract long has been a two-year one.

“I was stunned,” Darrah-Chiafos said on Tuesday upon learning the city suddenly was changing the terms of the city towing contract.

She was informed of the contract change two hours before last Wednesday’s council meeting when the City Clerk’s office called to say that Police Chief Greg Graham made the change in the length of the towing contract because that’s the way Graham had done it when he worked for the Ocala, Fla., Police Department.

Darrah-Chiafos said it didn’t make sense for her business to invest in equipment to continue to service the city contract if the contract was only guaranteed for six months. Her bid was based on a two-year contract, not a six-month one, and so she withdrew it, she said.

In city documents provided to the City Council and the public, city staff members acknowledge that Darrah’s scored “higher” than a second company, Pro Tow LLC, and that Darrah’s withdrew because of the change in the length of the contract.

The initial bid documents posted on the city’s Web site state that the contract was for two years, not six months.

A three-member City Hall committee — Sandi Fowler, assistant to the city manager; Cory McGarvey, a police sergeant, and Dennis Hogan, the city’s fleet services manager — scored proposals from Darrah’s and Pro Tow on five criteria. Darrah’s received 91.66 points, Pro Tow, 77.49 points.

Darrah’s won on four of five criteria.

The average age of Darrah’s equipment is 6.9 years, Pro Tow’s, 12.9 years, according to the committee.

During site visits by committee members, Pro Tow’s surveillance cameras weren’t working “due to a lightning strike.” Pro Tow did not have two-way radios installed “at this time.”

Conversely, Darrah’s had in good working order a radio and computer-aided dispatch system integrated with surveillance cameras.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office lists Marilyn Philipp as company representative of Pro Tow at 941 66th Ave. SW.

The City Council is slated to vote on the six-month towing contract at its Wednesday evening meeting. The current contract expired Tuesday night.

Renovation getting closer for smaller flood-damaged venues; Ellis pool, trails, police locker room, Jones golf clubhouse and Third Avenue parkade

In City Hall, FEMA, Floods on June 23, 2009 at 11:31 am

Having just passed the one-year mark of the June 2008 flood, the city is getting closer to beginning work to renovate a few of its smaller flood-damaged facilities.

This week, the City Council will hold a public hearing to discuss renovation plans for the flood-damaged Jones Golf Course/Clubhouse. The estimated cost of the work is $292,000.

Also, the council will hold a public hearing on a $330,000 repair of flood damage to the Cedar River Trail, the Sac and Fox Trail, the Ellis Trail and the A Street levee.

In addition, the council will hold a similar public hearing on July 8 to discuss repair plans for the flood-damaged Ellis Park pool, the cost of which is estimated at $367,000.

A second public hearing on July 8 will address $400,000 in repairs to the flood-damaged locker room area of the Police Department.

Also on that date is a public hearing on repairs for the flood-damaged Third Avenue SE Parkade. Renovation is expected to cost $731,000.

Meanwhile, City Hall on Tuesday is holding the first of three open houses to obtain public input as it decides what to do with the city’s major flood-damaged buildings, including the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall, the library, the bus depot and Paramount Theatre. Other open houses will follow on Aug. 18 and Oct. 6.

Fast change in City Council agenda can’t conceal the thought that University of Iowa business manager ranks as front-runner for City Hall flood-recovery post

In City Hall on June 22, 2009 at 5:12 pm

George Hollins, the University of Iowa’s business manager who has worked on the university’s flood fighting and recovery, appears to be the front-runner to fill a new city of Cedar Rapids post, flood-recovery director.

Late Monday afternoon, City Hall released the weekly City Council agenda with agenda item #39 stating, “Resolution approving the appointment of George Hollins as flood recovery director.”

A short time later, City Hall released an amended agenda showing item #39 crossed out.

Conni Huber, the city’s human resources director, said late Monday afternoon that all four finalist candidates remain candidates for the job.

Thirty-one people applied for the new post, and a nine-member selection committee picked six to interview.

Greg Eyerly, the city’s utilities operations manager, Tom Watson, Palo’s flood-recovery manager, Sara Jones, an emergency management planner in New Jersey, and Hollins are the four who remain in the competition.

This City Hall flood-recovery job is unique for Cedar Rapids because of how it will be financed — the private sector will pay some of the cost — and because it was created at the urging of Rockwell Collins, the city’s largest employer.

Hollins was earning $116,400 in salary at the University of Iowa in the 2008 fiscal year.

Let the shooting continue: Police Department says the 2008 flood has helped it comply with State Ombudsman’s questions about shooting range

In Police Department on June 17, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Neighbors next to the Police Department’s regional outdoor shooting range have been trying to get someone to do something to quell some of the range’s racket for years.

The Iowa Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman spent the last couple years reviewing the matter before, in April, sending City Hall a letter suggesting that the shooting range, at 2727 Old River Rd., SW, violated state law.

In the letter, Bert Dalmer, assistant ombudsman, noted that the particular section of state law in question falls under a section of state law that prohibits hunting near buildings and feedlots.

Nonetheless, Dalmer said the law prohibits discharging a firearm within 200 yards of a building “inhabited” by people without the consent of the owner or tenant.

City Hall now has answered back. In short, the city says the shooting will continue.

In a letter to the state office signed by Police Chief Greg Graham, Graham says he “doesn’t necessarily agree” with the office’s analysis.

Graham hones in on the word “inhabited.”

He notes that the 2008 flood drove residents out of two of three homes within 200 yards of the firing range.

A third resident has rebuilt his house, and in this instance, Graham says the Police Department can close down a section of the range so the remainder of the range is not within the 200-yard distance of this residence’s house.

A fourth structure is a truck repair shop, not a residence, and Graham argues that the word “inhabited” only applies to residences.

Don Sedrel, a retired firefighter who has most persistently complained about long hours of racket and some stray bullets, lives farther than 200 yards from the shooting range.

In a return letter to the city, the state’s Dalmer said his office is reviewing the city’s response.

Of note, the city has proposed building a new Public Safety Training Center, perhaps at Kirkwood Community College, that would include a shooting range. In seeking funding for the center, the city has pointed to the state agency’s probe of the current shooting range as a reason to build the new center.

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.

Salvage company ready to tussle with Board of Adjustment; salvage-yard blues may be returning for KZIA radio

In City Hall on June 15, 2009 at 2:37 pm

KZIA Z102.9 radio may need to rev up anew.

The local radio station took to the airwaves last December to make the case against a salvage company that wanted to open a salvage operation at 2525 12th St. SW next to the radio station’s studio.

The radio station’s position prevailed. The Cedar Rapids Board of Adjustment turned down the request of A-Line Iron & Metals Inc. of Waterloo, concluding that the salvage company’s plans were incompatible with the neighborhood.

The salvage company went to court, challenging the Board of Adjustment’s ruling, and now a trial is slated for July 30, according to court documents.

The Board of Adjustment is meeting this week, likely in closed session, to discuss the litigation.

Prior to the board’s December decision to deny A-Line Iron’s request for a conditional use permit to site a salvage yard on 12th Street SW, the city’s City Planning Commission, which is a recommending body, had approved the plan.

The board, though, has final say on conditional use permits.

City secures Iowa Power Fund grant to help with its 21st Century Green Energy Project; one day burning sewage sludge and garbage may produce steam here

In City Hall on June 10, 2009 at 4:22 pm

The city on Wednesday secured a $253,406 Iowa Power Fund grant to help finance the city’s plans for a 21st Century Green Energy Project.

The city must match the grant.

Greg Eyerly, the city’s utility operations manager, on Wednesday said the city also secured a $1.29 million federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant award in April to help in the city’s energy planning.

He said the city is studying how it might replace the old incinerator at its Water Pollution Control facility, which has been temporarily brought back to life after last year’s flood, with a system that could burn sewage sludge, other kinds of biomass and municipal garbage and at the same time generate steam energy for the downtown and elsewhere.

“It’s viable,” said Eyerly, who is among five candidates competing for the city’s flood-recovery director post. “St. Paul, Minn., is doing it, and we have better and more-reliable fuel sources than they do. It’s why we are studying it.”

City will try once again to sell surplus city property next to Ellis Golf Course; relax, though; no apartments; two $72,500 lots for high-end homes

In City Hall on June 10, 2009 at 2:57 pm

The city has had the idea of selling excess city property for a couple years now, and last night the City Council agreed to sell some.

In one instance, the council will sell two quarter-acre lots in the 2100 block of 20th Street NW next to the city’s Ellis Park Golf Course.

Rita Rasmussen, the city’s senior real estate officer, said each of the lots is appraised at $72,500, and she said the city anticipates that single-family homes will be built on them. The city will accept sealed bids on the lots.

By the way, the two lots are not part of a 6-acre city parcel that used to be home to the golf course’s practice chipping area. Late last year, a developer gave up on a proposal to build affordable apartments on the chipping-area after neighbors in single-family residents objected.

The council last night also approved the sale of a .45-acre site at 6900 Council St. NE. The city earlier had purchased the property, which at the time had a house and garage on it, for $216,000. The city demolished the buildings, carved off some of the land to widen the intersection at Council Street NE and Boyson Road NE, and now is reselling what is left.

Rasmussen said the city must give the previous owner right of first refusal, and the previous owner wants to buy it. The land now is appraised at $115,000, she said.