Jeff council sets priorities for fiscal year 2018

Housing is the Jefferson city council’s top priority for the next budget year, with entries to the city and obtaining grants close behind.

The council set priorities at a workshop following its regular meeting Tuesday. Each year for the past 10 years council members and the mayor have individually ranked a long list of projects on a scale of 1-3, with 1 being a high priority. The ranks are added for a total score, with a score of 6 being the highest priority.

The prioritizing helps the council and city staff as it prepares the budget for the fiscal year starting next July 1, and it helps staff set it work priorities as well.

Matt Gordon, who will likely be elected to the city council next month (there are three names on the ballot and three positions open), sat with the council for the meeting.

Housing has been at the top of the list since it was first added to the survey in 2014. “I think it’s being addressed. It’s just very slow getting all our ducks across,” council member Dave Sloan said. The council has no new plans, but discussed the 42-unit rental housing project proposed for the GCDC-owned land east of N. Elm St.

Building and zoning officer Nick Sorensen said work is continuing with the owner of White House apartments on S. Wilson to have them rehabbed, and with potential developers on the block near the water tower.

“There’s a lot going on every day when it comes to housing,” Sorensen said.
Entries to the city, is the next priority, scoring a 7. The council acknowledged that any grant received for the beautification of the east entry to the city will require matching funds.

The discussion moved into signage. City administrator Mike Palmer had reported to mayor Craig Berry the county supervisors’ desire that any signage refer to the “Courthouse Square” rather than the “Bell Tower Square.” Berry referred to “difficulties” Palmer had with the supervisors over the name.

Palmer explained the supervisors’ primary concern is with the directional signs, and that there are a couple planned that would direct visitors to the courthouse. There are other signs that direct people to the Bell Tower Square.

Berry is on the Bell Tower Community Foundation board. He said that group would prefer to see it called the Bell Tower Square. Greene County Chamber and Tourism president Ora Stevens was at the meeting. “We think it’s Bell Tower Square. That’s more identifiable that way,” he said.

The council has not yet approved the new city logo proposed via a city-funded Jefferson Matters: Main Street project earlier this year. Berry said that would be done after the November election.

The council encouraged the city staff to make finding potential grant funds a high priority, and specified that department heads should take the lead on that. Council member Gary Von Ahsen reminded the council that the Vision 2020 plan will include suggestions for grant availability. Palmer again reminded the council that matching funds would be needed.

The animal shelter was next on the priority list. It scored 14 points when it was added to the list in 2014, but has moved up to 8 points. Sloan reported that the preliminary estimate from Waggoner-Wineinger Architects for construction is not much less for the metal building now being considered than it was for the brick building discussed last winter. A 28E agreement with other county towns has been drafted and is under legal review before it is presented to those city councils.

Discussion of recreational assets included the plan being written by ISU student Zoey Mauck to connect the city’s parks to the schools and other public destinations. The plan includes a multi-use trail from Ram Drive to Greenewood Road on the west side of S. Elm St.

City engineer Jim Leiding of Bolton & Menk reported that the Iowa Department of Transportation did not deny a request to put a sidewalk in the right-of-way there, although the DOT will need to approve the plan. Bolton & Menk is working on a preliminary estimate.

Von Ahsen again referred to the Vision 2020 plan, mentioning that it includes a water park on the north end of the city. New city council member Matt Wetrich said, “I think we need a dog park as well. That probably could go under that category as well, as a recreational asset.”

Drainage improvements was further down the priority list, scoring 12 points. Discussion centered on drainage issues near Wild Rose Casino. The council has looked at a cost estimate of $4.5 million for a project on the west side of Highway 4, and $7.5 million for a project that would include the area east of Highway 4 to Power Lift.

“I think we need to re-explore that. I know it’s expensive, but if we get drainage situated out there, I think we can probably see more development. I think that’s what’s holding people back,” Sloan said.

Berry said it should be moved up on the priority list. “If it’s detrimental to economic development, it needs to be strongly looked at,” he said.

Residents in the north neighborhoods will be disappointed that railroad quiet zones scored 13, having scored 8 last year, but discussion was fruitful. Snyder & Associates of Des Moines has done the preliminary cost estimates for modifying crossings to meet the requirements for a quiet zone. Council member Larry Teeples suggested shelving that plan and having Bolton & Menk prepare a plan. That company did the planning for the quiet zone in Ogden.

Leiding said there is a “good possibility” of a quiet zone in Jefferson that would not require closing any railroad crossings.

The community golf course has slid down the list from 7 in 2014 to 13 this time. Von Ahsen, a member of the council’s golf course committee, said “it’s hard to decipher where we’re at” with financials, but they’re better than they have been. He said the committee will meet more often with golf course management.

Recycling is on the list at 14. City clerk Diane Kennedy has reported that residents are recycling less than they did 10 years ago, and that Greene County struggles to gather enough recycled materials to make selling them viable.

Wetrich suggested that staff work more at awareness and education to bolster recycling, particularly since more recycling could decrease the tipping fees the city pays for garbage disposal. Berry asked the council’s sanitation committee to discuss incentives for recycling via charges for garbage pick-up.

Handling emerald ash borer will be taken off the list for next year, not because it isn’t important, but because the council realizes that when city trees need to be removed due to EAB, there will need to be funds in the budget.

Click here to see the full list of council priorities.

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