City Council Discusses Possible Water Department Merger

Oskaloosa Iowa City Hall

City Hall – Oskaloosa, Iowa

By Eduardo Zamarripa, CRI Weekly News

Oskaloosa, Iowa – On Monday night, the Oskaloosa City Council discussed potentially asking voters whether the Oskaloosa Water Department (OWD) should become a part of the city.

Currently, the OWD is its own separate entity (it has remained that way since 1922). The City Council appoints representatives on the Water  Board of Trustees. That board is in charge of overlooking the OWD.

The discussion occurred after Councilman Jason Van Zetten gave a report on the last board meeting he attended.

Van Zetten said the OWD’s General Manager, Chad Coon, is earning $68,400 a year. Van Zetten said Coon conducted a research to evaluate how much general managers and office managers make in a similar community. Coon proposed to the board earning $97,545 annually based on this study. If the proposal is approved on the board’s meeting on Nov. 1 at 2 p.m., the change in salary would be effective on June 2014.

Van Zetten added that the board is also considering raising the office manager’s salary. Van Zetten said she is making around $52,000 or $53,000 a year, and based on Coon’s research, the OWD is looking to raise her salary to $63,983. In addition to that, the board approved a monthly employee appreciation lunch that will be funded by the sale of scrap metal.

Van Zetten then discussed a shared services study between the City of Oskaloosa and the OWD conducted by the PFM Group in April. The study suggested nine recommendations that could potentially save about $400,000. Since then, there have been no further developments regarding that study. Van Zetten had an issue with the OWD raising salaries because, according to Van Zetten,  the OWD hasn’t collaborated with City Council to help save Oskaloosa money, and when it hasn’t followed up with the shared services study.

“I’m not going to speculate on where they’re (OWD) going to try and find the money. But it’s pretty obvious, at some point, listen, you’ve got roughly $400,000 that you could save, you also spent money on the new facility out there, with all the upgrades that are coming with that, you’ve got salaries, you’ve got this free lunch program, rates are going up sooner or later,” Van Zetten said. “I’m a point here, I think we’ve hit the wall.”

Van Zetten suggested sending a letter to the board asking them to put raising salaries on hold, get rid of the employee appreciation program, and get back to the shared services study so both entities can collaborate to save money. He then brought up the possibility of asking the public to vote whether both entities should consolidate or not.

“We’ve tried to bring them to the table. We’ve brought in a third party (PFM Group). I don’t know what else we can do at this point. It’s time that we either get them out of that seat, and we let the public vote on it and let them let us know, this is either, worthwhile for us to keep this separate, or we want to start saving some money. Because they are not coming forward on their own behalf at this point,” Van Zetten said.

Councilman Aaron Ver Steeg brought up the possibility of removing members from the Water Board of Trustees. However, Councilwoman Scottie Moore had a different take on the issue.

“We’re separate entities, how would we have felt if had they come to us when we were getting ready to set Mike’s (City Manager Michael Schrock) salary, and gave us some input on what they thought his salary should be? Think about that.” Moore said. “Right now, the voters want us separate and that’s the way we have been.”

Moore added that maybe the issue should be put up for a vote to let the constituents decide, but that it’s not the council’s role to give advice on raises, or its lunch program. Ver Steeg chimed in on both perspectives.

“I think Chad (Coon) and the staff over there should be on an annual review as far as their salary,” Ver Steeg said. “I agree with that. But I also agree that I don’t they’ve really tried that hard to work with the city.”

The council unanimously agreed to send a letter to the board that says the council will hold quarterly meetings on the third week of that month to discuss how the council and the board can work together.

“We want to work with them. That’s what our goal is,” Moore said.

In addition to that, the council received three presentations during the “requests from the community” portion of the meeting:

  • A report on quarterly activities by Executive Director of the Mahaska Community Recreation Foundation Sherry Vavra.
  • A follow-up presentation from Miranda Cummings of State Farm Insurance regarding the “Celebrate My Drive”campaign.
  • A presentation and discussion on the findings associated with the U.S. Highway 63 Corridor Location Study by Beth Danowsky.

Danowsky discussed a transportation study done from 2009 to 2011 regarding U.S. Highway 63. Danowsky said U.S. Highway 63 is inadequate to serve industrial freight because of congestion and steep grades and curves. She also said crash rates are 36 percent above the statewide average on this highway. Danowsky said the next steps on the project are to support the Department of Transportation to pursue a NW Bypass around Oskaloosa, support efforts to improve the highway from North Montezuma to Interstate 80, and to perform an economic impact study.

City Council unanimously approved the following items:

  • A resolution adopting the proposal for employee health insurance from Sun Life Financial with Wellmark as administrator.
  • A site plan to redevelop the property at 1405 A Avenue West to add a Jimmy John’s restaurant and drive-thru. Jimmy John’s will be located on the West side of the Shoe Department.
  • A resolution approving the “agreement under Iowa Code Chapter 28E for emergency hazardous materials assistance.”
  • A resolution scheduling a public hearing for Monday, Nov. 18 to consider levying a special assessment against private property for cleaning up a property at 411 North B Street.
  • A resolution levying a special assessment against private property for weed-cutting.
  • An ordinance to vacate and sell 120′ by 16.5′ of the East-West public alley adjacent to 413 North A Street.
  • A resolution establishing a “Little Free Library” partnership with the Altrusa Club of Oskaloosa.
  • A resolution scheduling a public hearing to amend real estate sign regulations.
  • A resolution scheduling a public hearing to amend Chapter 17.08 of the city code by changing “permitted uses by zoning district” to conditionally permit ‘laundry services within the “mixed use urban corridor zoning district and community commercial zoning districts.”
  • A resolution scheduling a public hearing to rezone the property located at 811 A Avenue West from “mixed use urban corridor with a avenue commercial corridor overlay district” (UC/AV) to “general commercial with a avenue commercial corridor overlay district” (GC/AV).

The current zoning ordinance was developed and adopted in the year 2000. Anytime ownership of a property changes, or a current owner wants to construct new business, they must comply with this zoning code. In an urban corridor district, businesses such as a hotel, food store, or car dealership are permitted to establish and operate in this zone. What’s not permitted is agricultural sales and services, which posed a problem for KB Auto Zone owner Kelly Bryan, because Kelly plans on building and operating a seed storage and delivery facility on the north part of his lot.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Nov. 4 at 6 p.m.

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