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

Posts Tagged ‘Tom Podzimek’

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.

Advertisements

Council wrestles over hiring local firm vs. hiring “more responsive” one and sides, 5-4, with the Minneapolis outfit

In City Hall, Floods on April 25, 2009 at 8:14 am

Do you hire a professional firm because it’s a local one with a less expensive proposal even if a City Hall review team has concluded another firm from out of state has a better proposal and brings more horses to the task?

That was the central question this week that provoked a spirited debate among City Council members, who, in a rare 5-4 vote, awarded the contract to ProSource Technologies Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.

The city will pay ProSource an estimated $516,400 over six months for the firm to provide data required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the estimated 1,300 flood-damaged homes and other flood-damaged properties that the city hopes to buy out.

The contractor will obtain right of entry to properties, verify ownership, document the property’s legal description, check an owner’s insurance coverage at the time of the flood and notify lien holders of the intent to demolish a property.

ProSource’s proposal charges the city $380 per property while a bid by AllTrans Inc. of Cedar Rapids would have charged $350 per property for the work.

The City Hall’s review team concluded that ProSource and a third contractor, JCG Land Services of Cedar Rapids, were the top two of four proposals based on of the four contractors’ overall proposals, experience, method of approach to the project and cost.

Council members Tom Podzimek, Monica Vernon, Jerry McGrane and Pat Shey voted to award the contract to AllTrans Inc., while Mayor Kay Halloran and council members Brian Fagan, Kris Gulick, Justin Shields and Chuck Wieneke supported the city staff recommendation to award the contract to ProSource.

Podzimek argued that the council has spent some time over many months discussing what steps it might take to purchase more products and services from local companies. It didn’t make any sense to talk about buying locally if the city wasn’t, too, going to look at hiring locally as well, he said.

Podzimek said this contract related to property acquisitions was a chance to use a local employer with local employees and a chance to give a young, local firm the opportunity to build skills that the firm then could use to bid on other jobs. The city would be using its disaster recovery, he said, to help beef up the resume of a local firm for other disaster recovery projects.

The inference was that the Cedar Rapids firm then could become the out-of-state consultant – the council here as gotten some criticism for hiring out-of-state consultants – that other cities in other states might hire.

On the other side of the debate, council member Shields used the example of a boiler and said he didn’t want anyone building a boiler under the theory that, let’s give this person the job, “You got to learn sometime.” Cedar Rapids needed to hire “the very best,” he said.

Disagreeing with Shields, council member Vernon – she and Shields have been a one-two punch in recent weeks in trying, unsuccessfully, to arrange to have a new flood-recovery chief sidestep City Manager Jim Prosser – said the contract to assess properties for buyouts was a “great opportunity” to buy local and award the contract to the low-cost bidder. She said the contract involved “basic things” for which previous like experience might not be as important as other work the city needs to be completed.

Both Rita Rasmussen, the city’s senior real estate officer, and Prosser emphasized that the local firm did not provide a “detailed scope” of plans of how they would deliver the service.

Rasmussen told the council that the city’s proposal review team had concerns about whether AllTrans had the capacity to do the work in a timely manner. AllTrans did not address “capacity issues,” she said.

Council member Kris Gulick asked, specifically, about “adequate staffing,” and he wondered how many staff members AllTrans would bring to the job and how many ProSource would. Rasmussen said AllTrans listed four employees while ProSource said it would bring many more than that to the job.

The 5-4 council vote backed a resolution awarding the contract to the Minneapolis firm ProSource because it had submitted the “most responsive and responsible” proposal.

In hiring professional firms, cost is only one of several variables that jurisdictions look at in a competition for a city contract.

In matters involving price bids — street contracts, for instance — jurisdictions must pick the lowest responsible bidder.

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.

First post-flood victory for new ‘affordable’ replacement housing: Cedar Pond Townhouses to go up on a part of what had been Chapman Fun World

In City Hall, Floods on March 26, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Neighbors out along Wilson Avenue SW near Williams Boulevard and Westdale Mall lost out this week on their attempt to block the construction of 90 rental units on about 11 acres of land.

Part of the site used to be home to the Chapman Fun World, but for opposing neighbors, the fun is long gone. Some 224 people signed a petition against the development, called Cedar Pond Townhouses.

The 6-2 City Council vote in favor of the development clears the way for the first newly built, affordable rental housing to be built to replace affordable housing lost in the June 2008 flood.

Much has gone into City Hall’s effort to do just that, build more affordable housing, since the first months after the city’s flood disaster.

The City Council created a Replacement Housing Task Force last September and then it successfully lobbied the federal government to increase a key federal funding tool – federal tax credits – for the state of Iowa.

The Cedar Pond development will use tax credits and some local financial incentives for much of its funding. For the tax-credit financing piece, private investors pay money upfront for a housing project’s construction and, in turn, have their federal tax liability reduced.

The upfront money allows the developer to take on much less debt, and, as a result, the developer can and must keep rents affordable. At Cedar Pond, only those earning at or below 60 percent of the average medium income for Linn County can rent the units.

The opponents made good arguments on Wednesday evening about potential problems with water runoff from the proposed development and about traffic problems that already exist in the area.

District 5 council member Justin Shields — this is his council district — was convinced. He said the site was too wet for the development. And he said he had heard before how a developer’s engineers were going to take care of everything, and then they do not.

But in these discussions about affordable housing, a central concern, too, is just who might live in affordable housing.

It’s clear it’s an issue, not so much by what opponents say, as what proponents and the developer say.

In this instance, Greg and Candace McClenahan, of EverGreen Real Estate Development Corp., Prior Lake, Minn., are the developers, and Candace McClenahan emphasized to the City Council and to the opponents in the audience that people who live at Cedar Pond must have jobs so they can pay up to $570 in rent and $78 a month for utilities each month for a two-bedroom apartment and $670 and $101 for utilities a month.

There is even a new term — work force housing — for these kinds of developments, which Mayor Kay Halloran used to express her support for the project. Given the affordable housing lost to the flood, this is “new housing for our work force,” she said.

Council member Tom Podzimek took exception to neighbors who called the rental development incompatible with the area.

“Affordable housing doesn’t seem like an incompatible use,” he said.

At the end of the day, the opposing neighbors had a tough case to make, in large part, because an early development on the same site had been given approval a few years ago. And that development had three-story buildings, not two-story ones, and it had 38 more rental units.

The McClenahans also came along with a plan at a good time when the City Council was eager to replace some of what the 2008 flood destroyed. And the McClenahans spent much time refining their plan and scaling it back as they worked to please the city’s Replacement Housing Task Force. Task force member Ben Henderson told the council just that on Wednesday evening.

Two members of the City Planning Commission also came to the council meeting to explain why the commission earlier had backed the project.

Chris Dostal, a 2005 City Council candidate, was among neighbors arguing against the development because of the traffic nightmare that he said already exists on and around Wilson Avenue SW. But the timing of that argument wasn’t the best either: the city’s multimillion-dollar viaduct project on 33rd Avenue SW will be ready for traffic in the fall and should reduce traffic on Wilson Avenue by a third, a city engineer said.

Cedar Pond now heads to Des Moines to secure tax credits from the Iowa Finance Authority. This comfortable territory for the McClenahans: They’ve built 11, regulation-heavy, tax-credit projects in Iowa and Minnesota in the last 12 years.

Three other new, new-construction, tax-credit projects have been proposed for Cedar Rapids since last September. One intended for the former Ellis Golf Course chipping area has been abandoned in the face of neighbor objections. A second at 1100 O Ave. NW is opposed by neighbors and has gotten a lukewarm reaction to date from the City Planning Commission. A third project, planned for the Oak Hill Neighborhood has yet to secure tax credits.

Bike racks are turning up on city buses here: Are Cedar Rapids bicyclists and local bus riders the same people?

In City Hall on March 21, 2009 at 9:19 pm

It seems so Seattle or Madison or Ann Arbor or Iowa City.

By May 1, the city of Cedar Rapids will have installed bicycle racks on the front ends of 27 of the city’s new and newer buses.

Some of the racks are in place now, though Brad DeBrower, the city’s transit manager, reports that no bicycle enthusiast or bus regular has yet inquired about them. He is planning a public service announcement once most of the racks are in place.

Almost to a person on the city’s nine-member City Council is a desire to make the city more welcoming to bicyclists, both those who are out for a ride and those who want to use a bicycle to commute to work.

Even now, the city is attempting to become the state’s only bicycle-friendly community, a status bestowed on a city by the League of American Bicyclists. Bike racks on buses are part of trying to get there. Places like Madison, Wis., and Eugene, Ore., and Ann Arbor, Mich., are bicycle-friendly places.

The City Council also has been insisting that major street projects in the city take into consideration bicyclists and pedestrians, which can mean wider-than-normal sidewalks along major streets.

As for the bicycle racks on city buses, the idea is a captivating one. For instance, the rack-on-bus amenity would allow someone to ride a bike to the bus stop, place the bicycle on the bus bike rack and ride the bus to work. Once the work day is over, the bicyclist then could peddle home.

It remains to be seen, though, if the marriage of the bicycle and the city bus actually works in Cedar Rapids. Are the people who ride bicycles here the same people who ride the bus?

Look for council member Tom Podzimek — a proponent of public transit and bicycles — to have a bicycle hanging off a bus some time soon.

The Tycoon closed for St. Pat’s; City Council backs police remediation plan to reform rowdy bars

In City Hall, Police Department on March 16, 2009 at 5:52 pm

The owner of downtown bar The Tycoon managed to convince five council members to put his expedited case for  liquor-license renewal on the agenda of a special noon council meeting on Monday. The meeting had been called for another reason, the selection the city’s new Local-Option Sales Tax Oversight Committee.

Why the rush for the bar? Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day. What bar doesn’t want to be open for St. Patrick’s Day seemed to be at least part of the reason The Tycoon’s plight surfaced at City Hall on Monday.

The Tycoon shouldn’t have bothered.

For starters, The Tycoon needed a quick license renewal because it had failed to abide by the city procedure that requires a 30-day notice for such a renewal. The 30-day period gives the Police Department time to conduct a routine check to see if the bar’s license should be renewed.

Council member Justin Shields was sympathetic to The Tycoon when he first moved see if the bar’s license renewal could be expedited.

But Shields withdrew his interest in the expedited renewal after a presentation by Police Chief Greg Graham and comments by City Manager Jim Prosser.

Graham noted that police had been called to The Tycoon 17 times since the first of the year, a “high” number for a bar of its size, especially so since the bar has been open only two nights a week, the chief said.

Many of those calls to the police were from the bar owner or bar employees, noted Graham, which he said was a good thing.

“But clearly, he’s not doing enough,” the chief said of the owner, Tim Bushaw.

Graham said bar owners can take steps to reduce the need for police calls by making sure they have an adequate number of employees on duty, by banning misbehaving customers or by not serving too much to those who have had too much to drink.

The Police Department’s plan had been to handle The Tycoon much as it handled the R & R Corner Bar, 700 E Ave. NW, a few months ago. That plan would give the bar a six-month license if the bar owner was willing to sign an agreement to improve bar behavior and so cut down on the number of police calls.

City Manager Jim Prosser called the effort “problem-solving” and not punishment.

“We are not security for bars or other liquor establishments,” he said.

One possibility on Monday was to grant The Tycoon an expedited liquor-license renewal if it was willing to enter into an agreement with the Police Department to find a way to reduce police calls to the bar.

But Shields withdrew his interest, saying the owner’s version of police activity at the bar had not squared with the Police Department’s documentation of calls.

In the future, council member Tom Podzimek said businesses that miss important deadlines like this need to pay penalties to the city. Those penalties will help people meet deadlines and will help the city defray extra costs that come when it tries to expedite services, he said.

The Police Department had to hustle its review of The Tycoon after the owner managed to make it in expedited fashion to Monday’s council agenda.

Council majority repels ‘overthrow’ of city’s government; questions remain about possible strings attached to private-sector help

In City Hall, Floods on March 11, 2009 at 7:55 pm

City Council member Tom Podzimek last night said he wasn’t going to let three of the nine members of the council “overthrow” the city’s council/manager form of government.

On a 6-3 vote, the council majority agreed with Podzimek.

At issue was an idea pushed by council members Justin Shields and Monica Vernon for the city to hire a new staff person who would be flood coordinator or what Vernon last week termed a flood CEO.

The point of contention was this: Shields and Vernon –- both who have been lone voices on the council for months saying that City Manager Jim Prosser has too much power -– insisted that this new person report directly to the nine-member City Council, and not to Prosser.

In fact, Shields turned bitter when six council members endorsed the idea of getting some help for the city’s flood-recovery effort but in stronger terms insisted that that person report to Prosser.

“I don’t know what the big issue is with who he is going to report to,” Shields said. “… You people just have something in your mind that says the city manager is in complete control of everything. I just don’t understand that.

“We hired the city manager. He reports to us. But we can’t hire this person and have him report to us and ask those two people to work together very closely to get a job done for the citizens of Cedar Rapids?”

He and Vernon, though, were on the short end of the vote along with council member Jerry McGrane.

The vote result proved a strong endorsement of the central role of a city manager in the city’s just-3-year-old council/manager government, while at the same, it left puzzling questions about an unnamed private-sector person or persons who has dangled money at the council to help pay for the new flood help.

In fact, immediately prior to the vote last night, Shields said the council ought to check to see if the private-sector entity ready to pay 80 percent of the cost of the new employee was still willing to pay if the person reported to Prosser.

Vernon, though, suggested that the council vote on the matter and check with the person or persons later about helping pay.

A week ago, Vernon identified the person as a local “captain of industry.” A week ago, too, Shields and Vernon said the entity would pay the entire cost of the new employee, But last night they said the entity would pay just 80 percent of the cost.

No one on the council made any effort last night to ask about or shed light on where the private-sector money would be coming from.

In truth, Shields and Vernon weren’t even close to finding a majority on the council.

“Who drafted this?” council member Brian Fagan asked about a proposed resolution that would require a new flood-recovery coordinator report to the council.

Fagan said he had a “fundamental disagreement” with the proposal to fill such a position if it meant that person would bypass the council’s existing CEO, Prosser.

Council member Kris Gulick agreed. In the week since the idea of a flood CEO was proposed by council members Shields and Vernon, Gulick said he had sought out experts on how a council/manager government should work. He said he found “very few” who thought it a good idea to have “two bosses” making demands on the same city staff.

Podzimek, a contractor, called himself just “a simple carpenter.”

But he said that the line of authority that Shields and Vernon were proposing for a new flood coordinator was like building a house and having the job turn tough. He said he didn’t need a second contractor “crisscrossing over me,” taking his carpenters and electricians this way and that “when I’m still trying to build my home.”

Vernon did extract this from her council colleagues: The council will help Prosser interview and select the new employee, called a flood recovery program coordinator.

SEE PREVIOUS POST: Private sector and recurring theme at City Hall.

Enforcement of Ellis Harbor boathouses and houseboats the job of the state DNR, City Hall concludes

In City Hall on February 17, 2009 at 6:12 pm

The Ellis Boat Harbor apparently will live on, but the City Council says it wants the owners of boathouses there to deal with the state of Iowa, not City Hall. 

If you remember, it was the Iowa Department of Natural Resources that took an interest in the semi-permanent boathouse community at the harbor after last June’s flood ransacked the harbor and sent some of the houses down the Cedar River and into a railroad bridge. 

The DNR, which has jurisdiction of the river, suddenly was paying attention to the Ellis Harbor community as it had not done before the flood. The state agency declared that the boathouses were illegal. It said Iowa law does not allow such structures with sides and roofs on Iowa waters. 

In the intervening months, though, the DNR, city officials, representatives of the boathouse community and others have met to address the future of the Ellis Boat Harbor.

On Tuesday, Jeff Kraayenbrink, of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, explained that the DNR has agreed to allow each owner of a boathouse in the Ellis Boat Harbor to seek a variance from state regulations so the owner can keep the house in the harbor. The variances, though, require homes to follow state law on the disposal of wastewater and other matters. 

Kraayenbrink asked the City Council if it wanted to have the houses obtain Class II dock permits or Class III dock permits. The first required the city to be more heavily involved in the permitting and enforcement of the houses, and the second option leaves all the work to the state.

A council majority indicated that it favored the Class III dock permits so that boathouse owners deal directly with the state on variances, wastewater disposal and code enforcement. 

Bill Wright, an assistant city attorney, said the city opened itself up to fines and other liability for boathouse violations if they played a more central role in the permitting and enforcement.

Those with houseboats — the ones that can move in the river — also must work with the state in obtaining a permit and disposing of waste. 

The city will continue to lease the shoreline for the harbor.

The city’s Riverfront Commission favors the Class II permit. The commission feels more city involvement would give the City Council a chance to show its support for the harbor, council member Chuck Wieneke, who attended many of the meetings with the DNR, told the council. 

On the other hand, the DNR prefers the Class III permit so it could deal directly with the boathouse owners. The city attorney and city manager also support the Class III option. 

Council member Tom Podzimek on Tuesday said he didn’t see why two layers of government needed to be involved along a river that the DNR has responsibility for.

Under the new arrangement, the tenant will have responsibility for disposing of waste. 

One houseboat owner at Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern about the disposal of waste. Now, the city has had a container at the harbor for owners to dispose of waste, and without that, he worried more waste would end up in the river.

Kraayenbrink said about 70 boat houses remain in the harbor, down from about 130 before the flood. 

The city is awaiting a determination of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the amount of flood damage to the harbor before the city readies it for use again and before Alliant Energy restores electricity to it.

One point that harbor residents are fighting the DNR on is a decision by the state agency not to allow the transfer of leases for boathouses. Owners are appealing that decision.

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.