Nick's Council Connection (03Nov2014)

Council Meeting Date: November 3, 2014coffee.jpg

Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613

Some people must rely on the Connection like I rely on coffee. This seldom happens, but I could not publish the Connection last meeting due to work and family conflicts. The withdrawal symptoms will last only a little while, I will continue to publish the Connection and brew coffee like my life depends on it. In this issue, we talk audits, driveways, metro cooperation and so much more.

Committee of the Whole (5:30pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-communitytable.PNG

We continue to experiment with the televised Committee of the Whole. 5 out of 7 council members openly endorse holding the meeting in public view. Unfortunately, we will abandon the ‘community table’ and move back to the courtroom style to better accommodate camera and audio. At some point, I hope we engage a design firm to create a more people-friendly arrangement, maybe a horseshoe table design at the audience level. This would address the School Board’s primary resistance for holding televised meetings. I would also like to offer a more interactive experience for the presenter or anyone speaking on an issue - some may want to sit at the table to speak while others may have a full-blown multi-media presentation - good design could accommodate both styles. Perhaps an LED big screen instead of the 1990's projector would be good, especially if we could go halvsies with the School Board. So while improvements could be made, I am happy that broadcast will continue.

There are three major items in the Committee of the Whole agenda: (1) Comprehensive Financial Report; (2) Zoning Amendments; and (3) Jim Skaine's City Administrator Challenge.

audit.jpg(1) We receive an overview of the City's Comprehensive Financial Report for FY2014. Municipal finance complexity dwarfs most business finance. This isn't necessarily a good thing, but this is life when politics and finance mesh. You will find an alphabet soup of fund categories, expense classes and capital types. Financial statements are supposed to give a reader a reasonable indication of how the entity is doing now and into the future. After reading the 144 page report, I think we are doing well, but that's mainly because I have 5 years of experience with the financial mechanisms. But mostly, I have total confidence in our staff to manage the complexities of municipal accounting. Here are a few info nuggets:

  • Assessed values are going up, taxable values are going down (a function of commercial roll back, TIF classification, market adjustments)
  • We are at 7.1% of our total debt limit (this is phenomenal compared to our city peers)
  • Governmental Accounting Standards Boards (GASB) will require cities to report their pension obligations in 2015. This may be the most prudent rule issuance in our lifetime. Cities, like private business, must accurately reflect the liabilities of future promises. This will be interesting and will very likely change the way bondholders (the ultimate risk assessors) price public debt. Since Cedar Falls is a low debt city, our debt pricing relative to our peers should be favorable.
  • We had about $56MM in revenues and $46.5MM in expenses. 

There are too many moving parts to describe the line movements in this blog, but I do inquire about 'signals' in the report (warning or otherwise). The take away, ordinary revenues are higher than expenses, for last year anyway. But this is not a reason for a ticker parade, every city is required to operate a balanced budget in Iowa; how this is accomplished is a matter of policy (levy rate, expense control, reserve management, etc.).  Director Rodenbeck and her team do an outstanding job managing the financials while helping the Council make prudent decisions based on the realities of the dollars and cents.

(2) The Rental Task Force suggested several zoning ordinance amendments for neighborhood development. My quick observations:driveway.PNG

  • Driveway, hard surface: Shall consist of Portland Concrete Cement (PCC) pavement or Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA) paving. There are many suitable types of hard surface materials such as pavers, permeable concrete or event low temperature asphalt. I know the Portland cement and hot mix asphalt lobby is powerful, but we should avoid specifying winners and losers in code. Rather, our code should simply specify a ‘durable surface’ and a minimum life expectancy.
  • Flare-outs shall not be used as a parking or storage space. This seems like an unnecessary restriction. I can see why it shouldn't count a flare as a permitted parking space as far as rental accounting is concerned, but to ban people from parking on certain portions of the driveway is very restrictive.
  • Parking lots shall be hard surfaced. This requirement would mandate thousands in additional costs to rental properties and create more impermeable surface area for our already taxed storm sewers. I can see a need for delineation, but requiring hard surfacing, especially on a gravel alley, seems too dictatorial and is in conflict with affordable housing goals. Delineation with provisions for durable base (i.e. dust-free, storm water stable) works for me.

(3) In this item, we review Jim Skaine's assertion that the city's recent restructuring and job title change was illegal. While I appreciate the vigilance of Mr. Skaine, I do not believe council acted improperly in any way. The restructuring was fully vetted and diligently executed. It seems the main concern on Mr. Skaines' mind is the reform effort to streamline city functions through a central administration point which will offer a new, necessary level of professional management and business efficacy for critical city functions.

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

Special Order of Business

fema_logo.gifE.1) This item is a hearing on our adoption of the Black Hawk County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan. This retains the city's eligibility for FEMA funds in the event of major disasters (of every kind imaginable). It's good to know this sort of planning is taking place, and it is no small endeavor. It covers mitigation and response plans from windstorms to crop failures and everything between.

E.2) Following the flood of 1993, the city constructed a new, 85,000 square foot warehouse at 317 Savannah Park Road for Clay Equipment which is no longer in operation. The Economic Development Administration (“EDA”) provided an 80% grant ($1.6MM) and the city paid the balance of $400K. The grant included a no-sale provision for 20 years. In 2001, the facility was leased to Standard Distribution including an option to purchase for $318,000 around this time. From my view, this 2001 agreement seems like a sweetheart deal. Assuming 4% appreciation, the building should be worth north of $4MM today on the open market. I just need to know what the 2001 council was thinking? I will ask the question. 

New Business 

F.1.C) In this item, we approve another ‘vehicle for hire’ license. I opined on this last May in my Beyond Benign post.  I am still uber.jpgbegging for an answer on whether ridesharing (for monetary exchange) is legal in Cedar Falls. After reviewing our code governing vehicles for hire, I've concluded new transit innovations such as Uber and Lift would likely be illegal. Has technology lapped our ordinances? Should we strike down or modify our code to accommodate new innovations in transit? 

F.1.b.2) This item receives, files and adopts the annual Pavement Management program from the last committee meeting. Each year, staff presents their 5-year recommendations for road major road repair and replacement.  The recommendations are based on numerous criteria such as road condition, vehicle count and major project coordination with utilities. Most importantly, it is objective, void of bent political influence. In 2015, the most expensive projects are full-depth concrete instruction which include portions of University Avenue, College St., and State St. Each year the city invests over $4MM in local streets, most of which comes from Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenues. 

F.3) In this item, we expand the parking restrictions for certain times of the year to accommodate expansion of the Farmer's Market. It’s all good!


Nick's Briefs



On January 24, 2014, Steve Schmitt and I penned and sent a letter to our Mayors and council to implore our entities to explore areas for metro cooperation. For whatever reason, the call for action created little traction. On October 29th, we called our own meeting. 3 council members from Waterloo and 2 from Cedar Falls met and discussed many areas of common concern and opportunity. The opportunities, both near term and long term, have too much potential to ignore. We touched topics from legislative priorities to regional waste water (sewer) treatment and much more.

We are beyond bus tours exploring the successes of decades gone by. We want to look to the future on all matters of mutual interest. We want to pick the low-hanging fruit while keeping our eye on the horizon. Until a formal, joint council process has been established, we plan to continue the small meeting forum inviting new council members and stakeholders into the discussion. Of course, the public is always welcome to join the fun. Here are some of the talking points:

Refuse/recycling | Public Safety | Transit | Community Planning/design | Recreation and Culture Services | Municipal Utilities | Shared assets, shared services | Sewer
Emergency Communication System & Response | Refuse/Recycling | Public Safety | Shared assets
Legislative priorities
Self-funded Debt | 411/IPERS Reform | Collective Bargaining Reform | Health Care Pooling | 28E agreements
Goal Setting Season

At the last four Committee of the Whole Meetings we covered all director reports - Public Safety, Developmental Services, Municipal Operations and Programs and Finance and Business Operations. Each director has given the 'state of the division' outlining policy and capital needs. By this time, most council members have submitted their goal setting questionnaire. For me, I am reminded why I love serving on city council - this is time for vision and execution. The goal setting session sets the tone, budget and policy direction for the next fiscal year. Many decisions of consequence are made and I encourage people to attend on November 14th, 4:00pm-7:00pm, at the Public Works facility.  Bring a snack so your stomach isn't misconstrued as a grumble (there are always a few).

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