Council covers water and TIF

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, January 25, 2017
The city council met Tuesday, Jan. 17 to discuss yard irrigation meters, put TIF funding into place and approve pay estimates.

To begin, the city will no longer provide yard irrigation meters, though it will continue to honor private irrigation meters put into place by West Liberty residents.

“There is no benefit that we’re seeing, maybe to the resident in a small fraction,” City Manager Lawrence McNaul told the council of the city program.

“We’re one of few communities I visited that offers anything like this,” he added. “The expense doesn’t outweigh the benefit.”

The meters allow residents to subtract the sewer portion of water usage in their yard from their utility bills by tracking an outdoor water source, such as a hose.

In 2016 the city reports that meters were distributed to 40 residential and three rural homes, with cost savings averaging between $.05 to $6.64.

Basically, a majority of the users received less than a $1 in savings, in all residents saved $67.38. According to McNaul, the amount of effort to distribute and collect meters doesn’t outweigh the benefit.

“When you look at the refunds, that’s a lot of time and hours put into it for minimal benefit,” said Manager McNaul. Water Superintendent George Pearl concurred.

The reason the city brought this before the council now has to do with the condition of the city meters it hands out for use from April to October.

The 30-year-old meters are breaking down, many of which just straight up need to be replaced. However, it costs around $130 per meter for replacement.

Council Members Diane Beranek and Cara McFerren asked if there was an alternative to using the meters. They were informed residents can purchase private, permanent, meters.

“So we will still honor those that have permanent water irrigation systems,” asked Mayor Robert Hartman. He was given a yes by Manager McNaul.

Therefore residents can still use meters to eliminate the sewer portion of water usage in their yards. The city will just no longer provide meters during the summer season.

City Manager McNaul did note that the West Liberty Fire Department does fill up pools for a fee if residents schedule a time, eliminating that cost from the water/sewer bill.

Next, the city is moving forward with plans to give Corallvile based developer Alta Ventures around $220,000 in tax credits over a period of several years, known as Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) funding.

The TIF is for the housing development located on Short Street.

According to developer Tania Elguezabal they have completed three four-unit buildings for a total of 12 units, all of which are already occupied.

“It’s been very successful, we have brought in a lot of residents from other communities, from Muscatine, from Iowa City, from Des Moines,” Elguezabal told the council.

For phase two, she plans to add three more buildings during the spring. Seeding also needs to be done, though phase one already included parking and street work.

West Liberty has an Urban Renewal Plan, which allows it to grant tax incremental financing (TIF) funding to projects that will enhance the quality of life in town, therefore resulting in growth.

So what is TIF? In essence, the city gives financial aid through a graduated scaling of property taxes.

Simply put, the taxes are reduced for several years allowing them to develop, with the knowledge that the project will bring an increased tax value to the city in the future.

Therefore, TIF payment doesn’t come directly from the city, but from property tax revenues generated within the urban renewal area of West Liberty.

Alta Ventures will be the first developer in-a-while to benefit from TIF funding in West Liberty. Located right by West Liberty Foods, the condominiums provide housing for some employees.

“None of them have sold right now,” said Elguezabal. “It takes a process to get them to be condominiums, and we just finished that.”

So, while the units have been filled with renters, they can also be sold. However, Elguezabal commented that so far they have good tenants.

The council still needs to approve additional readings and a final developers agreement.

However, during the Tuesday, Feb. 7, city council meeting, the council will receive objections if they exist.

Finally, the council approved a pay estimate totaling $212,000 for the wastewater plant improvement project, which is coming out to a total price of $3.6 million.

City Engineer for Veenstra & Kimm Leo Foley informed the council that the project is around 92 percent done, with full completion scheduled for February.

The wastewater plant has been undergoing an Iowa state mandated facelift that includes installing ultraviolet (UV) disinfection and updating the facility.

The council also approved a pay estimate of $237,000 and a change order totaling around $4,500 for the water plant improvement project.

Iron removal filtration was installed in 2014, now a secondary filtration system known as (RO) Reverse Osmosis is being installed. However, the RO units are still in Florida.

The estimated date of completion is in September. When completed, the filter should not only remove hardness from West Liberty water but make it taste better.

In other news…

-The council approved its regular council meeting minutes from Jan. 3, 2017, the CH2MHill/OMI Monthly Client Report for December, 2016, the City Clerk’s Report for December, 2016 and the City Treasurer’s Report for December, 2016.

-The council approved a Vendor/Voucher Claims List in the amount of $409,600.90 Less Payroll.

-A public hearing for the fiscal year 2017/2018 budget has been set for Feb. 21, 2017, at 7:30 p.m, coinciding with the biweekly city council meeting.

-Council Member Cara McFerren insured that a late fee charged to MUSCOM, a community wide emergency dispatch service, was removed since the charge was due to billing cycles between West Liberty and MUSCOM being on different schedules.

-Council Member Melody Russell asked Police Chief Kary Kinmonth to review school zone speed signs on Seventh Street.
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