City Council Approves Supporting Blue Zones Project

Oskaloosa City Hall

Oskaloosa City Hall

By Eduardo Zamarripa, CRI Weekly News

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Oskaloosa City Council approved supporting the Blue Zones Project on a 4-3 vote on Monday nightCouncilmen Jason Van Zetten, Aaron Ver Steeg and Tom Jimenez voted against the project.

After heavily discussing the issue in its last few meetings, the council did not have any discussion on the topic and approved the motion.

The council’s support means the city will work towards achieving Blue Zones certification. In order to achieve certificationthe city has to select community policy pledge items that total at least 17 points (each item has a point value). The council selected those items in its meeting last month, and now had to vote stating support for those items.

Here are a few examples of the items selected by the city:

  • Adopt a comprehensive smoke-free policy for all indoor workplaces and public places and a comprehensive smoke-free policy for all outdoor workplaces and/or public places (three points).
  • Establish a healthy food-and-beverage policy at city-sponsored youth sporting events (one point).
  • Adopt healthy vending standards in municipal buildings and public parks (one point).
  • Restrict mobile vending of unhealthy foods near schools and public playgrounds (one point).

The council also approved appointing Jon Zobel to the Water Utility Board of Trustees on a 6-1 vote. Water Board Chairperson Pete Settimi’s term expires on June 30. Settimi indicated to the council he’d accept reappointment to the board. But the council received applications from Jeron Blanchard, Deb Philpot, Wyatt Russell, Michael Vore and Zobel.

“As I was thinking of making this appointment, I was thinking about how the water board and the city council have had some difficulty in the past with communication, and I believe some of that had to do with a difference in what we believe to be the emphasis of what our bodies were trying to accomplish,” says Oskaloosa Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt.

Krutzfeldt also referenced the inability of the council and the water board to work together towards saving money. The PFM Group from Des Moines conducted a study on how to make operations between the two entities more efficient, but those conversations eventually fell through.

“And then I guess what really frosted a lot of people was that at the same time that we were talking cost reduction, and not getting that done, they (water board) came back and said, ‘well, we need to do increases in the rates,'” Krutzfeldt says.

Krutzfeldt recommended appointing Zobel to a six-year term. Councilman Tom Walling voted against appointing Zobel. Walling says he has no issue with Zobel’s appointment, he just felt there was a better candidate from the six applicants.

The city is also currently in a legal battle with Water Board Trustee Errin Keltner. Three weeks ago, a judge ordered Keltner to be reinstated as a water trustee until a court determines the legality of Mayor Krutzfeldt’s removal of him from that position.The city council gave its support in April for Krutzfeldt to remove Keltner as a water trustee. Krutzfeldt says Keltner needed to communicate and cooperate more with the city to make water and city operations more efficient and effective. Krutzfeldt ordered the removal with authority from Section 372.15 of Iowa Code, which governs city officers.

But Keltner says water trustees are not city officers and the department is governed by Section 388 of Iowa Code, which governs public utilities. Keltner says the mayor does not have authority to remove him, so he’s challenging the mayor in court.

The city council is also considering a request from the Mahaska County YMCA to establish an annual financial partnership with the city that would cost $193,035 annually. YMCA Board Member Jim Blomgren, and Board Treasurer Dave Fitch, spoke to the council about the request.

Blomgren says the YMCA receives a significant amount of funding from United Way ($60,000 in 2013), and raises approximately $120,000 throughout its annual funding campaign. The YMCA has also received grants from the Mahaska County Community Foundation and the George Daily Family Trust. However, the YMCA is still struggling financially. Blomgren says these funding sources are not guaranteed each year, and can’t be expected to increase in the future. That’s why the YMCA is requesting help from the city. Fitch says the YMCA is “working hard” to keep the doors open.

“We’ve been successful in surviving by raising money in the community,” Fitch says. “I think what’s hard for us right now is we’re raising money to pay payroll.”

In fiscal year 2013, the YMCA served almost 30 percent of the people who work, or live, in Oskaloosa. The YMCA is proposing a 28E agreement with the city to cover the cost of aquatics and facilities-related costs over the next 2-3 years.

“We provide child care, we provide health and fitness, we provide summer camps,” Blomgren says. “We believe that an effective and functioning YMCA also provides quality of life improvements, and economic development opportunities.”

This item is not included in the city’s budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Approving this contribution means the city will have to change the fiscal year 2015 budget and restructure services offered by the city. Van Zetten doesn’t think providing funding for the next 2-3 years will fix the YMCA’s problems.

“Losing this would be a big punch to the community. So we really need to figure out how to make this work,” Van Zetten says. “A $600,000 band-aid, it’s an expensive band-aid for, quite honestly, we have no idea what’s going to be at the end of the tunnel on that one.”

Van Zetten says the city needs to work towards developing a comprehensive plan on how to work with the YMCA.

“I mean, we can’t lose the ‘Y,” Van Zetten says.

The council agreed to table the discussion and hold a work session on the YMCA’s request.

Lastly, the council also unanimously approved a site plan to begin construction of the new Hardee’s location at 312 A Avenue West. The proposed site will have two entrances from A Avenue West and another entrance from High Avenue West.

The next city council meeting is July 7 at 6 p.m.

 

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