Nick's Council Connection (12 August 2013)

Council Meeting Date: August 12, 2013OpenMic.jpg

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

You gotta love living in Cedar Falls. From the Taylor Morris benefit and Cedar Valley Trails Festival, there is no shortage of things to do or to love about Cedar Falls! There's a business side to all this too, local government.  In the agenda review, I discuss downtown, College Hill development, food trucks, self-financing and a slew of other things. Most importantly (maybe a slight overstatement), my phone number is changing!  Really, I can't temper my excitement for the savings.

- Committee of the Whole (6:10pm-7:00pm, Mayor's Conference Room)-

 1) We discuss a request from Community Main Street to partner on a downtown parking study. I appreciate the pro-active effort, especially the offer of financial assistance. Timing is the primary issue. Given the residential and commercial developments on State Street, parking conclusions may shift based on the success of those developments. My primary question is how a parking study in the near term address anticipated and unanticipated changes in demand in the long-term. In the interim, we need to maximize every on-street parking opportunity, develop strategies to adjust space durations based on turnover demands for surrounding business characteristics, adjust fees/locations for long-term parking, while continuing to document observations. I would like to defer key management decisions to Community Main Street - the representative body of the district.Downtown_Nightlife.JPG

2) The Historic Preservation Commission will update the council on the Certified Local Government application which in effect creates a historical district for the commercial core, about 160 acres. The goal is to survey, identify, and evaluate historical and architecturally significant structures within a district boundary to fulfill key provisions of the Historic Preservation Ordinance for promotion, education, and awareness for preservation. This survey and designation will enable property owners to leverage incentives and tax credits to undertake preservation efforts ensuring long-term viability of historic structures. It is important to note that participation is voluntary; it does not create any compulsory requirements. I am supportive of the effort as it will make preservation resources more accessible to those that undertake the awesome task while also promoting heritage and community pride.

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

New Business

F.1.2) This item establishes a hearing for extending tax rebate incentives for CV Commercial Properties.  To qualify for the Urban Renewal TIF incentive, the property must increase in CollegeSt.JPGtaxable value by a minimum of 50% and the permit value must exceed $200,000.  This is a proper use of Urban Renewal incentives (TIF) as originally conceived by the Iowa Legislature back in 1969 - a carrot for encouraging development and tax base growth on existing infrastructure. While I prefer economic development incentives to be locally designed (and funded), the state governs most aspects of property taxation and TIF is a 'tool' that nearly all cities use (to varying degrees of abuse! Cedar Falls uses the tools very appropriately).  This project will have a minimum taxable value increase of $300,000; tax rebates will not exceed $48,000 over 5 years of the agreement.

 Old Business

G.2) In this item, staff  offers an update on the 7 properties declared nuisances during the July 8, 2013, meeting. The July 8th meeting was the first formal step in the condemnation process. Most properties owners have submitted remediation plans; all property owners may speak on this agenda item during the meeting. I must reserve comment since these are judicial hearings. At some point in the future, I will share thoughts on condemnation which is 'issue' mitigation by the use of government force or coercion, nothing to take lightly.

MobileFood.JPGH.1.g) This item relates to a vendor application for an authentic Mexican food truck, Carmona's Mexican Food. Technically, it falls under "Refreshment Stand" in our municipal code (I recently took issue with our overly ambiguous code on food trucks, I will be offering ordinance amendment suggestions to improve the code). In many parts of the United States, there is a de facto war on food trucks. Brick and Mortar vendors fight because food trucks take away potential customers and they don't pay property taxes. That's true on both accounts, yet it shouldn't make the truck illegal. What is wrong with offering a unique cuisine, often at a lower cost? Trucks democratize food choice.  

Carmona's is licensed by the State of Iowa as a mobile food vendor. Frankly, I don't understand why we would require vendor licensing in the city. This goes for cab companies and all other businesses that require state licensing for legal operation.  Just one more, unnecessary and redundant hoop that entrepreneurs must navigate to deliver goods and services to willing customers.

H.2.d) Stay with me, this could be boring, but the premise is important. This is a resolution to self-finance Sewer Fund debt with Health Trust Fund cash reserves. Under current Iowa law, this 'intra-city' loan is legal. It's good for the Health Trust Fund because the fund derives 2.64% interest on the loan which is much better return the typical ultra-safe, ultra-low interest rate money-market or CD, roughly 0.5% (city cash reserves can only legally be invested in extremely conservative funds/securities).  City cash reserves can be loaned to enterprise funds only (water, sewer, communications, etc.), no general obligation ("GO") funds.  Unfortunately, most of our debt funding comes from GO bonds bought from commercial institutions (i.e. big banks).  We have more cash than we can offer to enterprise fund needs. Fiscally responsible cities need greater latitude to invest 'idle' cash reserves into general obligation funds. It would save Cedar Falls substantial money (up to $400,000 per year) by avoiding public financing costs while generating market-based returns for the reserve funds. Self-funding works for Sewer Debt, hopefully we can fund the GO enchilada. Hopefully Senator Danielson and Representative Rogers will make another run at this next year - a true non-partisan effort! 

H.2.m) The city is moving forward on tooth-cracking 1st Street (Hudson to Franklin)! This item deals with an agreement defining the scope for the Preliminary Design phase including the required environmental assessment as required in federally funded projects. The city is funding the study at a cost of $436,000. From a complete streets perspective, not much will change based on the current configuration. It does call for pedestrian accommodation between Hudson and Franklin where today it is not contiguous. Bicycle accommodations are set for 2nd or 4th Avenue (out of project scope). 

H.2.o) Culver's is coming, Culver's is coming! The pace of restaurant development in the Viking corridor has been surprisingly CulversSign.JPGslow given the density of the industrial park work force and the commercial traffic on Viking. The city can't force the market, but it sure seems there is ample demand. 


-Nick's Briefs-

APCO-25_Radios.GIFEmergency Communications - this is one of those low-visibility, high-impact public service topics we face this year.  It's low visibility because of its immaterial impact on our daily lives, but it is high impact because it is essential for communication. It also costs a lot of money and the county (or city) will need to bond (go deeper in debt) to fund it. Naturally, there's finger pointing about who will pay and manage it, I offer my first insights an earlier blog from this week: Emergency Communications, the topic

Non-Emergency Communication (but still very important!) - I love disruptive technology and creative destruction - capitalism at its finest, where the start-up challenges the entrenched. Sometimes a phone number becomes your identity. So much RepublicWireless.JPGso, that you are willing to pay for overpriced calling plans, exorbitant overages, and crappy network coverage. Enter WiFi-Hybrid technology. It leverages wireless web connections and the Sprint network as back-up. Since it is based on a wireless connection, the price is a fraction of the network carriers'. Does this sound like an advertisement? It is not. I am just as passionate about reducing my yearly operating costs as I am the city's. I will save $1000 per year. Now just imagine if we achieved this kind of savings per emergency communication device!! Now, a number to remember (or recode):

Nick's new line: 319-242-3542

Cedar Valley Trails Festival - one of the great events in the Cedar Valley area concluded this weekend. The trails are worthy of Cyclists_in_Yellow_Flowers.JPGcelebration. Imagine a Cedar Falls without the hard and soft trails system.  In Iowa, what we lack in ascension (mountains) and descension (oceans), we make up with rolling hills, infinite horizons, wandering waterways... and exceptional people and great places.  The trails required significant investment and we need to remain prudent in our use of public funds; this system sets the Cedar Falls apart making it an exceptional place to live, no matter your age, and the investment is paying off. Industrial parks are humming, schools are overflowing, and commerce is on the mend in our city.

On a related note... It is also important to distinguish between a recreational trail system in context of the transportation system. We need to replicate our commitment to recreation with function investments as well that promote mobility and transit freedom. From sidewalk gaps to on-road cycling accommodation - these are essential public infrastructure elements that play a major role in establishing our community as the one 'on the move'.  In certain situations we've defaulted to 10' sidewalks adjacent to thoroughfares. These are beginning to look like underutilized, concrete runways (like ALO). I favor a slightly narrower path, say 6', that would save a few bucks, add on-road accommodation, extend the path, or fill large sidewalk gaps around the community.

OpenMic.jpgOpen Mic - If there is an issue you want me to explore, let me know.  Research and analysis is one of my favorite pastimes. My only limitation is time as I balance work, council, family and other civic duties. But when it is important, I find the time, always. The current docket includes traffic calming, TIF/economic development and a series of legislative issues that impact the city. I look forward to hearing from you!

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