The City of West Liberty claims there is “nothing more they can do” to settle what seems to be a dispute on an E 28 agreement between local city and rural fire districts that expires Wednesday, June 30, city council members talking about the fire and ambulance district services at their Tuesday, June 1 meeting.
The city will host a work session on Tuesday, June 15, to review the draft of the agreement and are inviting rural fire district trustees to the 6:30 p.m. meeting at the West Liberty Public Library, previous to the council’s regular meeting at 7:30 p.m.. The districts include Atalissa and four Muscatine County townships, a Johnson County township and two Cedar County townships. The agreement had been extended three months in late March, but the city reports no township officials have signed the new agreement at this point.
“There will be no agreement extension if the other side doesn’t sign,” said city council member Kara McFerren, pointing out she’s not sure the public realizes the dire situation, pointing out the city has done everything to keep the agreement in place. “We’re waiting on the other side,” she said.
City clerk Lee Geertz said the city wants to “work together” and “move forward” on the agreement, but is not getting cooperation from the rural fire districts. Councilman Dave Smith emphasized, “We gotta make this happen,” asking for continuation of talks between the groups.
Another meeting between the groups was held Thursday, June 3, at the temporary city hall in the WeLead building but was not well attended. Read more about the issue on page 16 as the city released information this week.
In other business, the city’s third reading of a Golf Cart. ATV, UTV ordinance went back to committee following suggestions by councilman Robbie Rock on breakdown requirements of those type of vehicles.
The changes force the issue back to committee and the process will have to begin all over again. “Unfortunately,” said Diane Beranek, a council member who was Mayor Pro-tem at the meeting for Robert Hartman. “Sorry, but it will be back,” she added following a 4-0 vote against passing the ordinance as it reads.
The city did approve a loan agreement water revenue refunding bond in the amount of $1.3 million as well as a resolution authorizing and approving a loan agreement water refunding in the amount of $935,000.
Regarding the remodeling of the current city hall and the Waldo C. Meyers building, a change order was approved for $4,025.30 for S.G. Construction LLC to lower a bullet resistant storefront with pass-through trays and refinishing walls to match newly constructed walls in the reception area room.
In interim city manager Elizabeth Hansen’s report, she acknowledged that the new Buysee residential development proposed for the northeast side of West Liberty is awaiting updated cost estimates on building the subdivision. The proposal is also being reviewed by city engineer Leo Foley and will be the subject of a June planning and zoning committee meeting.
The city auditor and city clerk are working diligently in hopes of presenting the fiscal year 2020 audit by the end of the fiscal year or June 30.
Hansen said she is doing background checks on both the police chief and city manager position candidates. The finalists for the police chief position will be interviewed this Thursday, June 10 and the city manager candidates on Thursday, June 17.
She also reported the employee manuals are being updated and legal review is being obtained. An update on goals and planning for city leaders was also released.
It was noted the Milestones Area Agency on Aging is looking for a new place to serve meals. The senior meals used to be served at the West Liberty Community Center but ended with the pandemic. Joe Taylor, the Director of WeLead, has asked area restaurants to look into the possibility of taking over the three-times-a-week meals.
CITY ISSUES STATEMENT ON RURAL FIRE ISSUES
On Thursday, June 3, an email from Attorney Bill Tharp informed the City that Rural Trustee Board Members of the Fire District and Ambulance Board would not be available to meet with the City’s Safety Committee for a scheduled meeting on June 3.
This meant no further discussion on passing a new 28E Agreement, which would officially put in place plans for the West Liberty Fire Department to provide service to rural areas would happen at this meeting.
“The City of West Liberty will continue to provide Emergency Service to our Rural Community Members if our support is needed,” says West Liberty Mayor Hartman.
However, there is concern that the City’s insurance will not cover the emergency response beyond city limits if an agreement is not brought forward to the council for approval. This concern is still being reviewed by the City.
Back on April 25, 2021, the City Council held a special meeting where it unanimously passed an amendment to extend the Fire District and Rural Ambulance 28 E Agreements from July 1, 2021, until September 30, 2021.
The City Council took this step in an effort to allow sufficient time for fair and thorough discussions of the 28 E Agreements with the Rural Trustee Board Members of the Fire District and Ambulance Board.
The City sent signed copies of the amendments, and resolutions documents were delivered, electronically to Attorney Tharp and received a response verifying his office had received them.
On May 18, 2021, Mayor Robert Hartman directed the Public Safety Committee to set a meeting with the Rural Trustee Board Members of the Fire District and Ambulance Board to continue the discussions. Mayor Hartman directed the discussion to include the amendments to extend the current 28 E Agreements through September 30, 2021; to review the current drafts of the proposed new 28 E Agreements and continue negotiating the few outstanding items.
As per the Mayor’s orders, the Public Safety Committee did set a meeting on June 3, 2021, at 7 p.m. at 119 E 3rd Street with the following agenda:
Public Safety Committee Meeting
June 3, 2021, 7:00 pm
Public Safety Committee Agenda:
1. Discussion does the Rural Trustees have an intent to sign extension of the 28 E Agreements until September 30, 2021
2. Discussion and review of the draft 28 E Agreements to send to Council for their review
3. City recommendation to hire a consultant for a comprehensive plan for the Fire and Ambulance Operations.
The City of West Liberty initially received a note from one Rural Trustee member who planned to attend, but the previously mentioned email was received then from Attorney Tharp at 2:39 p.m.
It stated with regards to the meeting and discussions:
From: Bill Tharp
Sent: Thursday, June 03, 2021, 2:39 PM
To: Lara Lozano
Subject: Please Send to City Council and Others Emails to City Have Been Sent and Send a Copy to Our Clients.
Dear City of West Liberty of Iowa:
This is a communication regarding a work session, committee meeting, or other meeting involving the West Liberty Rural Fire District and Ambulance Board as well as the members of the West Liberty Fire Department and Ambulance Service proposed to take place on June 3, 2021.
First, my clients will not be attending the meeting tonight. As the Rural Trustees explained on February 11, 2021, at the Public Safety Committee meeting, they needed the matter resolved, but would not be able to meet on April 1 or for the foreseeable future after that date since they would be in the fields.
That is why the City and the Trustees agreed to allow the 2007 agreement for fire protection and ambulance service to automatically renew on April 1 so that the City could get its accounting together allowing a 28E Agreement to be signed and filed by July or August, it was hoped.
The City turned around and sent a document, to whom and by which manner it is still unknown, around April 1 in an attempt to terminate the agreements. Although ineffective to terminate the agreements, it did not change the fact that the Rural Trustees are unavailable for a meeting per the reason given on February 11, 2021. In a farming state, weather conditions can dictate schedules – or crops ultimately will not be harvested, something public policy demands we avoid.
Also, my clients are not attending this meeting upon my advice as their counsel. My clients wisely chose to follow my advice. This meeting will be addressing issues where litigation has been threatened or is imminent, and possible disclosure of information may prejudice my clients. I have noticed that the City has used similar language when matters concerning the respective parties are involved, so I am certain that it fully understands why my clients should not attend.
It is challenging to find a time in which my clients can meet, but it is anticipated that the representatives will meet on Tuesday. At that time, the representatives will finally be at an official meeting where they can discuss the resolution passed by The City of West Liberty, Iowa, in late April extending the agreements for rural fire protection and ambulance service until September 30, 2021, as that resolution was passed at the meeting in late April. Paperwork will either be delivered or I will inform the City that my clients are refusing the extension of the agreements.
The City will be updated either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
William B. Tharp
Attorney and Counselor at Law
The West Liberty Public Safety Committee held its meeting on June 3, 2021, at 7 p.m.
Council Member Rob Rock, Committee Chair, called the meeting to order at 7:05 p.m. In attendance for the meeting: Council Member Dave Smith, City Clerk Lee Geertz, and City Attorney Jamie Bosten. Absent per invite from the meeting: Rural Trustee Board Members: Richard Brand, Austin Maas, Mark Madsen, Jerry Anderson, Alan Feldman, Fire Chief Sickels, Assistant Fire Chief Christensen, and Firefighter Eric Christensen.
Mayor Hartman was absent due to a conflict with his work schedule. Complete minutes will be published on the website within the next seven days, and those minutes will reflect that the Public Safety Committee reviewed the message from Attorney Tharp and appreciated his indications that a response from the Rural Trustees would be coming next week Tuesday or Wednesday.
In an effort to be ready to continue the important work in this matter, the Public Safety Committee has set another meeting for Wednesday, June 9, at 1 p.m. to review the anticipated response and work towards a resolution.
West Liberty City Clerk
EMERGENCY SERVICES WILL CONTINUE
Rumors that the city is going to cut off Fire and Emergency services to rural West Liberty are false
Friday, May 7 – Rumors have circulated that the City of West Liberty is working to discontinue Fire and Emergency Services to rural West Liberty. This information is false.
Rather, the City is attempting to update and renew an agreement between it and the Rural Fire Board of Trustees that will continue emergency services to rural areas.
The Problem: The current agreement, referred to as a 28E agreement in Iowa Code, was not filed correctly; therefore, it is not officially recognized by the State of Iowa. This creates a liability for the city and the fire department, one that must be addressed as soon as possible.
The Solution: The West Liberty City Council held a special meeting on Wednesday, March 31, after members of the council met with the Fire Board the previous day to discuss the issue.
During the special meeting, the council approved a resolution terminating the problematic agreement on June 30, 2021, with the intent of entering into a new 28E Agreement with the Fire District.
On Sunday, April 25, the city council held another special meeting where it passed a resolution to extend the deadline for an agreement from July 1 to Sept. 30.
Right Now: The city is waiting to receive an official agreement from the Fire Board of Trustees. When it does, it will approve the new 28E agreement as per Iowa Code. This will officially continue emergency service to rural West Liberty.
However, the city and fire department will not discontinue emergency service to any area it currently serves now or in the future.
We agree that all citizens, inside and outside of city limits, are worth protecting. Fire and Emergency Services will continue serving rural West Liberty, there is no plan to stop it.
The City of West Liberty looks forward to working with the West Liberty Fire and Emergency Department as well as the West Liberty Fire Board of Trustees.
Questions and Answers
Q: Is the West Liberty Fire Department a part of the City of West Liberty?
A: Yes, the Fire Department, like the Water, Sewer and other departments, is part of the city. This is because they draw from the city’s General Fund. City departments get to choose how to spend their part of the fund within the law and city code, but their primary source of income, including the fire department, comes from the city.
Q: Is the City trying to get rid of the Fire Chief?
A: No, the city is not trying to remove the Fire Chief. Currently, the Fire Chief is a volunteer position that receives a stipend. The Chief oversees the fire department, including day-to-day operations and the budget. Given the growth of our town, we are moving towards making the Chief a full-time position. However, that is still in discussion.
Q: Why is the City deleting comments on social media?
A: The city uses social media to put out information to the public. Normally comments are allowed, but they are not required. When comments defame members of the city and its departments or spread false information, they can be removed as per city code.
Q: How can I make my voice be heard by the city council?
A: You can contact the city by phone (319-627-2418) and ask to be put on the agenda for the upcoming city council meeting. Every regular city council meeting has time for Public Comments and Correspondence, during which members are allowed to speak from 2-5 minutes to speak. To be on the agenda you must contact the city the Thursday prior to the Tuesday meeting.
Q: Why does the city keep having issues with the live feed during city council meetings?
A: The city had to rethink several aspects of how it operates during the Covid-19 outbreak. For city council meetings, it began using Zoom and Facebook Live. At times software updates and unforeseen issues arise. When this happens the city attempts to provide an alternative as quickly as possible. The city never has the intention to shut down a live feed. It should also be known all city council meetings are now being stored on YouTube. We will continue to stream city council meetings live.