Supervisors question Vision 2020 when they’re pitched on more consulting fees

The Vision 2020 process identified eight areas for growth; housing was one of them.

The limits of the Vision 2020 county-wide community planning project were learned by the Greene County supervisors Monday when they were “pitched” on a $100,000 consulting contract to implement the housing portion of the plan.

The county paid $24,000 of the $98,000 total cost of the project. The city of Jefferson paid $24,000, and Greene County Development Corporation committed to pay whatever the remainder was after soliciting contributions for the project. As the GCDC board promoted participation the supervisors were told the Vision 2020 plan would be different from other comprehensive plans in that it would provide sources of funding for the projects identified, and there would be help in securing those funds.

Work on the plan began last April as what GCDC director Ken Paxton called a “dream team” of professional community developers held focus groups to determine community needs, and then helped a steering committee determine priorities. The final Vision 2020 report was submitted in November.

The “dream team,” Community 360, was a consortium pulled together by Zack Mannheimer, who had demonstrated considerable success in planning and implementation with the Des Moines Social Club.

On Monday, Mannheimer was with Terry Lutz of McClure Engineering for a supervisors’ agenda item labeled as “information regarding Iowa Finance Authority funding available.” Mannheimer has become an employee of McClure Engineering since finishing the Vision 2020 plan.

The supervisors knew of Mannheimer’s new employment because he and Lutz had met with supervisors John Muir and Dawn Rudolph, and also supervisors Tom Contner and Mick Burkett, in a pair of meetings in Paton last week. They apparently discussed a possible housing development in Paton and how to participate in funding it, possibly through a county housing fund that could lend money to developers. The discussion was of a $3 or $4 million county housing fund, with tax increment financing providing $1 or $2 million, private investors putting in $1 million, and the last $1 million coming from the state.

To begin his presentation Monday, Lutz provided the supervisors a proposal for developing a county-wide housing program. Program and policy development, financial modeling, and implementation of the project would be at a cost to the county of between $80,200 and $111,100. Of that, between $67,000 and $91,000 would be paid to McClure Engineering.

He said his discussion was a continuation of last week’s small meetings. “We want to talk about how we go forward. To date on this housing thing we’ve been working for free. We love everybody, but we need to get paid for what we do,” Lutz said.
He said that over the weekend he put in writing “our thought process in terms of how we get from where we’re at today with these housing initiatives to actually getting the projects built.”

He asked that McClure Engineering be engaged to move the projects forward.

Muir’s first question after Lutz finished reading and expanding on his document was where Vision 2020 stops and Lutz’s proposal starts.

“With Vision 2020 we were asked to come up with a plan of how to execute all these things,” Mannheimer answered. “This became a whole separate idea of how to do a county-wide housing execution. The housing study we did as part of 2020 was to figure out the concerns and how to address them. Now it’s time to execute.”

Mannheimer said the only thing he was asked to do as part of Vision 2020 was a pro forma for a housing project in Paton. On that $1.1 million, 16-unit rental housing project, there was a $370,000 shortfall in financing available. Bonding may be possible, but Mannheimer said Lutz’s proposal was to create a model that would be an alternative to bonding and could be used for other projects.

“This whole idea of working with the county never came up during the [Vision 2020] process. This came up after the fact,” Mannheimer said.

“We had $24,000 invested with 2020, and we made it very clear from the start that we were investing because it would be county-wide,” Muir said.

Lutz said he is also presenting his proposal to Montgomery County, and it “starts from scratch.” The program and policy development phase, which Lutz tagged at $15,000 to $22,500, has been started in Greene County with Vision 2020. “It’s hard for us to tell where the lines cross. It isn’t that clear,” Lutz said.

Lutz said he and Mannheimer have been “working with” the Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) on ways to use the remaining $2.5 million of a $5 million Workforce Housing loan program established in 2014. (GCDC lobbied the supervisors and the Jefferson city council in 2015 to borrow $1 million from that fund at 1 percent interest to lend to JCorp to fill a financing gap in the Water Tower rental housing complex. The supervisors and the city council declined to take out the loan.)

Lutz surmised the funds haven’t been used because there isn’t a framework to follow and no one is willing to pay a consultant for help.

He said he and Mannheimer have discussed with IFA the possibility of lending $100,000 interest-free for three years to cities or counties working to create housing programs.

Lutz said he talked with the governor about his proposal. “She’s ecstatic about it,” he said.

“We’re telling cities and counties that if they want to address the [housing] problem, we believe we have a solution. We know we can bring the rest of this together. We’re confident in our ability to do it. We just have to get paid for it,” he said.

Mannheimer said a housing fund could be viable for 20 years and incentivize new construction and possibly home rehabs all over the county.

The supervisors declined to give Lutz an indication of whether they’re interested in engaging McClure Engineering as proposed, with Muir saying there was a lot of conversation they needed to have first.

After other agenda items were taken care of, the supervisors returned to discussing Lutz’s proposal.

“I feel we have to go ahead with something,” supervisor Mick Burkett said. “I feel like we’ve spent a lot of taxpayer money that hasn’t helped a whole lot. We funded 2020, and I can’t see it’s done anything. All we’ve got is these big ideas.”

Supervisor Pete Bardole, who is on the GCDC executive board, said Vision 2020 wasn’t done the way it was presented. “The initial thing was that it wasn’t just a report given to you to implement, but it was a report given to you that they were going to help implement.”

Auditor Jane Heun suggested IFA funds could be accessed without McClure’s help.

“The problem is that we gave $24,000 for this. Perhaps it was naïve to think they were going to take care of us forever. But what they presented today is exactly what we thought they were going to do for the original $24,000,” Muir said.

Supervisor Dawn Rudolph asked if anyone has a different plan, and said “We need someone to guide us through a project.”

Bardole went through the written plan project by project, and concluded the results of Vision 2020 are not what he expected. “It’s been under my skin for a while. I’m really disappointed. I don’t think it’s what was sold to us.”

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