Nick's Council Connection 16Feb2015

CedarRiverRRBridge.jpgFebruary 16, 2015 (Council Chambers, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613)

In Committee, we review street lighting cost transfer and Cedar River watershed developments. In Council, we have a full slate of important actions ranging from rental ordinances to a public safety building study. Also, save the date for the Prairie Rapids Project launch!

- Committee of the Whole (6:00pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA & PACKET) -

LED_StreetLight.jpg1) Street Light Transfer - Cedar Falls Utilities ("CFU") manages light poles and related maintenance. CFU bills the city for the energy consumption, approximately $350,000 per year. In this meeting, Council will review a recommendation directing CFU to charge the utility rate-payer for lighting expenses versus the city taxpayer. 

A central council budgeting philosophy has been to assess costs to beneficiaries, usually in the form of fees. For example, garbage fees are charged to the customer on his/her utility & city services bill. This recommendation would streamline the billing of street lighting from the provider to the beneficiary, or CFU to the rate-payer. This accomplishes two objectives: (1) adds capacity to the general fund; and (2) creates cost-sharing equity among property classes.

Previously, I discussed the general fund dilemma in my 2013 The Sky Doesn't have to Fall post. Since 2013, staff and Council have taken several measures to avert a general fund crisis. While nearby cities dip into their emergency, health, or agency levies, Cedar Falls manages most expenses through the general fund levy. This action frees capacity in the general fund and avoids tax increases.

Regarding property tax equity, the recommendation would assess street lighting expenses to rate-payers versus property tax payers. This approach is more equitable because tax-exempt properties like churches and UNI would be apportioned street lighting costs. From my perspective, I've never understood why certain properties, especially non-governmental properties, are tax-exempt. All properties receive the benefits of public safety, public works and other governmental services, yet the burden falls on regular tax payers which creates a defacto subsidy for tax-exempt properties. This recommendation is truly secular, a guiding principle which all levels of government should follow.

2) Iowa-Cedar River Watershed Coalition. This presentation reviews the function of our watershed and management strategies. Urban and agricultural practices have had an adverse impact on our water resources - from chemical pollutants to flooding. The Coalition is advocating for solutions to minimize the adverse impacts of human activity in our watershed. 

-Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA & PACKET)-

Special Order of Business

E.1 & 2) We hold a hearing and pass a resolution for the FY2016 budget (starting June 1st). If you didn't get the news, there will be no increase for residential payers (0%) and a slight decrease for commercial property owners. Credit is due to staff and council for their ongoing commitment cost reduction and efficiency. Cedar Falls is avoiding a crisis situation while other cities are struggling with rapidly increasing costs and stagnant property valuations. 

Old Business

F.2) I've discussed this item many times before. Ordinance #2836 will lower occupancy limits while creating a plethora of other requirements which will determine allowable occupancy in single family rental units. While I agree with the intent, I disagree with the proposed tactics which will increase rental costs, impair property values and exacerbate rental conversions throughout the community. There has been virtually no evidence presented demonstrating how occupancy reduction leads to the improvement of the health, welfare and moral status of any neighborhood. I predict this ordinance will cause more harm (unintended of course) than good, outlined in the infograph to the right.DensityInfographic.JPG

Many complaints center around changing character, which suggests people want to pick their neighbors and behaviors. 'Desirable neighbors' have flighted to lower maintenance, family-friendly homes with open floor plans and multi-stall garages as a result of our planning practices and loose money from the federal reserve. The change in neighborhood character is predictable. Today, a confluence of renters and owner-occupiers exist in traditional neighborhoods. Both dweller-types like the attributes of traditional neighborhoods likely for the same reason people lived here 50 years ago. Great neighbors, mature trees, distinctive homes, walkable streets, proximity to schools, downtown and University.

Maybe we just need to accept that neighborhoods change. I look back to my old neighborhood where I grew up. It was full of ranches, split-foyers and two stall garages. Spontaneous activities like potato sack races and red rover, red rover would happen as sure as the sun would come up. Today, the neighborhood is nice, but it is different - fewer kids, more cars and older families. It is a mixed neighborhood, and that's just fine.

There is a loud cry to just do something. Action for the sake of it is irresponsible. It isn't until we fully vet and consider the short-term and long-term effects of each intervention that we have done our job as a council. When a doctor treats a patient, the doc doesn't prescribe every available medicine. That would surely cause more harm than good. We are piling on interventions, and will never know what works with any certainty. There are other sensible approaches to neighborhood vitality than trying to regulate relevance through occupancy and character standards. 

It sure seems this ordinance will become law. As a last measure, I will request that we continue to evaluate key measures so we can assess the effectiveness of our actions:

1) Neighborhood Tranquility: nuisance violations

2)  Rental Proliferation: single family rental conversions (number and density)

3) Rental Cost of Living: cost of rent by dwelling type

4) Property Valuation: single family home price, days on market, etc.

paved.jpgF.3) From my last post on the same item (2nd reading): This is the continuation of a hearing for amending code Chapter 29 - driveways and residential parking. While I'm pleased with certain modifications relating to qualified hard-surface materials and visitor parking requirements for duplexes , I continue to take exception to the broad hard-surfacing requirement. Eventually, every driveway in the city will need to be paved despite many granular driveways working over a century in the core of town (new subdivision driveways are already required to be paved). This is an implicit tax to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars to our core neighborhoods. Sure the driveways will look 'nice' and conform to a certain suburbia ideal, but the expense doesn't justify any purported benefit. I discussed in previous posts (November 3, 2014 and January 5, 2015)

G.2.g) This is a proposal to conduct a 2025 Vision plan for the city at a cost of $11,500. Every 5 years the Mayor organizes a large group of staff and community leaders to define a 10-year vision for our community. I participated in the 2020 plan and can attest to its good intention. But then I calculated the massive amount of hours (20-30 citizens and weeks of meetings) and compare it to the benefits. In the visioning process, we spend a great deal of time identifying what we have done, then we identify what we want to do (much of which is in the works, its the nature of planning). Then the Vision document rests on the shelf and rarely permeates into our council goal-setting discussions or any other strategic guidance. Many other organizations 'sign-'on' to the Vision plan too, but their engagement wanes . This activity feels good, but it isn't a guiding force for our future. Still, I recognize the immense benefit from bringing leaders together, but I desire more from the consuming process. This visioning should come from our mayor and council - the agents of constituents. I suggest we review the process in its entirety to improve buy-in, outcomes and accountability.

G.2.l) This item relates to a professional services contract for a public safety facility. Broadly speaking, public safety includes police and fire protection. Police and fire logistics require complex analyses to determine the best methods of resource and response management. Staff is recommending Invision Architecture to lead the needs assessment and facility recommendations (site and layout) to address public safety matters from incident response time to work flow requirement. The contract fee will be $65,000. The report is expected to be completed by June 2015.

- Nick's Briefs - 

Gateway.pngPrairie Rapids, Save the Date!The Cedar River is the defining feature of Cedar Falls. The river powered nascent industries, cooled our ice boxes in the summer and was a source of many recreational activities. Today, the river represents a bygone feature in many minds, a threat more than a natural asset. Thankfully, a passionate group of residents are bringing forth a new vision for our namesake river. The vision will embrace the river's natural beauty. It will enhance aquatic life, provide recreation and leisure opportunities remaking and renewing the river as the defining feature of Cedar Falls. The stars have aligned to bring people and resources together to translate vision into reality. To support the vision, Single Speed Brewery is unveiling Whitewater Black Beer at 6:00pm on February 25th to support the Prairie Rapids project. $1.00 of each pint sale will go to the Prairie Rapids project, a fund held by the Cedar Falls Community Foundation dedicated to river enhancements.

Keep reading to learn more about the project here: The Prairie Rapids Project.

Special thanks to Single Speed!

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