Jeff council ready to sell $2.4 million in bonds

The Jefferson city council at its regular meeting Tuesday voted unanimously to borrow $2.4 million through a general obligation bond issue. The bonds will be sold at the council’s June 10 meeting so the bond issue can be closed by June 30, the end of the city’s fiscal year.

According to Tim Oswald of Piper-Jaffray, the city’s financial advisor, the bond issue will increase the city’s bonded indebtedness to $7 million. The city’s debt capacity is $12.75 million.

The debt levy, which is included on residents’ property tax bills, will increase from $2.15 (per thousand of taxable valuation) to $2.50.

Oswald estimates the city will pay $700,000 in interest over the life of the bonds.

The council held public hearings on four different loan agreements, all of which will be part of the $2.4 million bond. Included are:
• Improvements to alleys and municipal parks, a new fire truck*and an automated side-loading refuse truck, $1.275 million
• Improvements to the municipal building to include the entrance, and elevator and parking lot; improvements to the municipal swimming pool* and equipment for the municipal golf course*, $375,000
• Beautification of the east entry way (E. Lincoln Way to the municipal cemetery), $400,000
• A paved bike trail south from Sunset Road to Greenewood Road along S. Elm St, $350,000

The council held the first two hearings before anyone in the audience spoke. At that point, the council was asked for more explanation of how the money would be spent. During the third hearing, Mike Mentzer questioned the council about the process. “It seems like we’re wanting to float bonds on everything these days,” he said. He objected to spending money on the golf course and parking lots.

Council member Harry Ahrenholtz answered that the bond issue represents three years of capital projects but noted which projects have already been done. The remaining projects will each be voted on when the time comes.

Oswald explained the law requires holding public hearings for each bond because of their different purposes, but he recommends combining them at the time of the bond sale into one large bond to save money on professional fees (his own and attorneys’ fees).

Oswald said voters don’t need to approve the city’s bond issue, as they did with the 2018 school bond, because of a difference in Iowa law. The code allows a city council to undertake a bond issue for “essential purposes,” and every use the council is proposing fits the definition of “essential purpose.” He said a new municipal building or library, for example, would not fit that definition and would require a vote of the public.

The council also held a public hearing on amending the urban renewal area to allow $243,000 in tax increment finance revenues to be used for construction of a 10-foot wide “shared use path” on the north side of Central Ave from N. Elm to Maple St. The path will eventually be completed all the way to the new high school.

The council held a public hearing and approved a resolution okaying a grant application to the US Department of Agriculture for the new animal shelter. There is no dollar amount available yet for the amount that will be requested.

The council also set June 25 as the date of a special city election for a council person. Darren Jackson was appointed by the council at its April 23 meeting to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Larry Teeples. His appointment came on the recommendation of mayor Craig Berry. Jackson was sworn in as a council person soon after. He was to serve until the November general election.

However, voters filed a petition calling for a special election rather than waiting until November. Nominating papers can be obtained at the county auditor’s office at the courthouse. They must be returned by May 31 at 5 pm with signatures from at least 25 eligible voters of the city of Jefferson.

At the request of the fire committee, fire chief Jack Williams reported on the new ultra-high pressure fire truck purchased last summer. The truck was put into service in August and has been used at about 30 fires, the most recently at the food pantry.

Williams said on average the truck saves about 100,000 gallons of water per fire. It also saves fuel costs because it’s a smaller vehicle. ”In my opinion, it’s the best purchase we’ve ever made as far as fire service goes,” he said.

Assistant fire chief Dean Promes noted the advantage of being able to use a smaller hose, saying that by the time firefighters drag a 2-1/2 inch hose full of water they’re worn out, but the ultra-high pressure pump uses only a ¾ inch hose. That, and reducing the number of times firefighters have to enter a burning structure, makes the job safer.

As another comparison, Williams said the fire that at Larry’s Restaurant (in January 2012) required 470,000 gallons of water. He estimated they would have needed only 900-1,000 gallons with the new truck. There also would have been less damage to the adjacent building if an ultra-high pressure truck had been used.

The truck has been used for structure fires, car fires, hog confinements and even grass fires.

Council member Ahrenholtz reported he and Berry had attended a three-hour “workshop titled “Making Good Communities Great” earlier in the day. The workshop was held at the Extension office and led by Sandy Ehrig, economic development administrator of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. Organizations represented were Greene County Chamber and Tourism, Jefferson Matters: Main Street, Greene County Development Corporation, Thomas Jefferson Gardens and the Bell Tower Community Foundation.

Also at the workshop were representatives of the cities of Jefferson and Scranton as well as the county board of supervisors.

The goal of the group is to make a coordinated effort to get the best results possible from each separate organization. More communication between the groups will be important in meeting that goal.

An eventual result may be hiring a community development coordinator, although the funding for the position is unknown at this time.

The group will continue to meet and have “something in place” by the end of the year, Ahrenholtz said.

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