Nick's Council Connection (15Dec2014)

Council Meeting Date: December 15, 2014southmainstreet.jpg

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

I cover South Main speed limit, capital improvements, Beach House and offer a transportation resolution.

- Committee of the Whole (5:00pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA & PACKET) -

southmainstreet.jpgOn South Main, we address a grievance about the 25 mph speed limit in front of the Falls Aquatic Center. That 25 mph section is surrounded by 35 mph, the slow down is hard to follow. The request is eliminate the 25 mph section in favor of 35 mph.  Observed travel speeds support the increase. That is, 85th percentile speeds are above 35 mph (people are comfortably speeding). The 85th percentile rule is one way to set speed limits.  Psychologically, drivers feel comfortable driving fast through this stretch which should be no surprise, it looks and feels like an old highway (which it was).  Yet setting speeds on the rule of 85 doesn't consider surrounding uses such as the day care center, trails or pool traffic. On most occasions, we hear about speed complaints, that drivers move too fast. Maybe a 30 mph limit on all of Main is the compromise. We'll see what staff recommends.

The Capital Improvements Program is submitted for approval. In essence, staff proposes capital spending based the council's fall goal setting. Our capital budget is prepared based on the replacement debt philosophy - that we don't spend beyond our current debt levels, which incidentally, are comparatively low. This year, we approve about $34 million in spending ranging from major road projects (University Avenue) to copier machines.

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

Special Order of Business

F.1 & 2) Speaking of big ticket Capital Items, this item is a public hearing for the $6.7MM flood levy improvement project in the floodwall.JPGdowntown. Earthen levy, flood wall and closure improvements will provide protection up to the 500-year flood for both the downtown area and the waste water treatment plant. This will tie into CFU's flood protection system which cost about $5.5MM. Where CFU's improvements were funded by FEMA, the city levy will primarily be funded by the State Flood Mitigation Program.

F.3 & 4) This item relates to incentives provided for a proposed 40,000 square foot spec warehouse building for DS Warehouse, LLC. The incentive is nearly identical to a similar request which was approved in May 2013. The incentive includes free land worth about $250,000 and $120,000 of tax abatement. The agreement also requires a minimum assessment of $1,600,000.  The resulting tax base increase is good; it also addresses the shortage of warehouse space in Cedar Falls. But I still contend that TIF distorts the market and is a primary driver of sprawl. Count the number of big projects that have happened in Cedar Falls without the grease of TIF incentives - land and tax abatement. They just don't happen. All major economic development projects must flow through the city and that can be a greasy proposition. For many cities, it has proved just that. Thankfully, Cedar Falls uses TIF with prudent discipline, but when we start giving money away for spec, the promise of jobs and the multiplier effect are less certain which puts taxpayer funded investments at risk.

New Business - Non-Controversial Calendar

G.1.c)  This is the Annual Goal Setting document that sets policy and spending priorities for the coming fiscal year. If you are interested in Council process and the direction of the city, it is worth the read. Just click on the link above for full access

New Business - Resolution Calendar

BeachHouse.JPGG.2.l) This item relates to the reconstruction of the Beach House. The city committed FEMA funds and Gaming Grants to the project totaling $254,000. The balance of the estimated $647,000 cost was committed by the North Shore Boat Club in exchange for a certain portion being dedicated for its own use and dock lease (consistent with an arrangement going back to 1950). A matter of contention is that the city will not accept risk for project cost escalation, this is to be born by the the parties seeking to rebuild the facilities at the former location. Also related to risk management, the city is requiring that we draw some of the 3rd party commitments so we are not the sole cash flow source for the project in the beginning stages. Cooperation can be messy, and this approach reduces taxpayer risk in case an unfortunate circumstance impacts the North Shore Boat Club's ability to raise funds. That said, this will be an impressive structure, but it won't happen without private support. Consider the project in your year-end giving plans.

 Nick's Briefs

Preview of Things to Come - In 2015, I hope to more deeply explore our transportation policies, systems and services. As I discussed in Transportation Dilemma last July, we are overdue for a policy discussion. On the transit side, we need to hone in on bus services and new transportation options.Bus.jpg

Car-share services could play a central role for convenient, affordable access to transportation. Car-share happens to relate to my Beyond Benign blog on local regulation. Today, car-sharing is illegal in Cedar Falls. It shouldn't be. When a regulation is arbitrary, serves no legitimate government purpose, or unnecessarily inhibits voluntary contract and trade, it is wrong and arguably unconstitutional on economic liberty grounds. Yes, I am biased - I enjoy and use asset-sharing services like Uber and Airbnb. We should get with the times.

I am making a New Year's resolution to help make our city more attractive and relevant in the new economy. A city that embraces good policy for better products and services in the transportation arena.

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  • Rod Larsen
    An arbitrary regulation that serves no useful purpose is the 25 mph limit on South Main. it makes scoff-laws of law abiding citizens. I’ve seen only 1-2 vehicles (including police) drive under this limit since it was posted. There is not any apparent pedestrian problem in this stretch. This should return to 35 mph. Arbitrary speed postings encourages drivers to disregard the limits throughout the community.
  • Last Council Connection of 2014. Decriminalization and transportation reform are my resolutions for 2015!