Nick's Council Connection (27 January 2014)

Council Meeting Date: January 27, 2014CFmap.JPG

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

Let's talk golf subsidies, metro cooperation, prairie programming and much more. 

- Committee of the Whole (5:35pm, Mayor's Conference Room, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-

In this meeting, we (1) revisit golf fees; (2) review downtown levee improvements; and (3) review bills and payroll. There pheasantridge.jpgwere no packet materials on (2) and we need to pay the bills (3), so lets discuss (1):

(1) Park and Recreation Commission members will present and make the case for low golf fees. I believe the suggestion will involve a heavy marketing campaign that boasts about cheap golf in Cedar Falls. This will hopefully create more golf demand to shore up the $171,000 golf operating deficit. For comparison, we will subsidize public mass transit to the tune of $87,000 this year. I guess we are saying cheap golf is twice important (in dollar terms) as moving people to jobs, school or the supermarket.

I am a skeptic of marketing without a financial plan. 2013 represented a 40% operating deficit. Assuming no increase in cost of operations, some combination of daily play, yearly pass, or concession revenue would need to increase the total by 25%. This is a tall order on a course where coveted tee times are already at capacity. Combined with tournaments and leagues, there aren't enough tee times to go around. I fear this marketing strategy may have a reverse effect; we may end up with lower revenues in 2015 as people drop the sport in frustration or take their game one of many options in the area.

I am also a weekend economist. I think golf demand is relatively inelastic. That is, golfers don't respond to golf price signals. They have golf clubs, time and a general preference based on course challenge and location. I predict we will keep golf rates the same, we will amp up the marketing, play will go down, and our deficit will be over $200,000 this year. The fiscal bloodletting will continue.

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

 Special Order of Business

E.1&2) With this item, we approve the the annual Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The CIP sets our city's 5-year planning priorities for infrastructure, equipment and quality of life investments. This is the product of City Council Goal Setting, Planning & Zoning Commission review and numerous hours of staff work to turn Council, staff and community input into a plan. This is one of the most important and influential planning documents in the city. If we don't say much in the Council meeting, I can assure you, much has been said in meetings past. 

New Business - Resolution Calendar 

G.1.B) And speaking of capital improvements, this item deals with approval of plans and specifications for the Park Drive lift station (sewer infrastructure). The DNR noted several deficiencies, most of which relate to up-system inflow and infiltration (I&I). Most of the I&I is avoidable, most is illegal (but was legal at one time). Inflow happens when a sump system is connected to the sanitary sewer. The lift station and force main just can't handle the volumes during wet periods and violations happen. We are paying for policies of the past. If only we could have anticipated the eventuality, we could avoid about $1.1MM in necessary capital expense.

G.1.D) This item relates to a resolution request from myself and Waterloo Councilman Steve Schmitt to establish an on-goingMetroThumb.PNG process for joint Cedar Falls-Waterloo City Council work sessions to identify, execute and track progress on areas of joint interest from legislative advocacy to 28E agreements. In the last four years, the councils jointly met on one occasion. We toured cooperative projects and initiatives including Black Hawk County Dispatch, MET and the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance. The intent of this proposal is to leverage these successes into other areas with the goal of delivering more efficient services, enhancing regional quality of life and creating a metro voice for legislative advocacy. There is much to gain if we can harmonize our voice and actions that result in efficiencies, amenities and legislative action. Click here (pdf) for the complete memo or the graphic to read the letter and envisioned topics of mutual interest. 

G.2.L) This item sets a public hearing for the contemplated housing ordinance that will ban conversion of single family structures into multi-unit housing. I will have more thoughts to offer before the February 10 hearing. So far, the community discussion has been rich. 

 -Nick's Briefs-

TPCLogo.jpgPrairie Conversion - This is an update on a new initiative with UNI's Tallgrass Prairie Center and the City. Cedar Falls manages several hundred acres of turf grass at considerable expense to the city. It costs taxpayers about $350/yr/acre to maintain turf (labor, fuel, equipment, herbicides, leaf collection, etc.). City officials and the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center recently met to explore feasibility of turf to prairie conversion. The result was a proposal to convert about 71 acres over a four year period. When fully established, the city should save nearly $250,000/year in operating expenses. The environmental and ecological benefits are also significant for habitat creation, stormwater run-off and reduced environmental impact resulting for less mowing and spraying. This could result in a model program for cities across the state for budget management and ecological improvement. It is yet another example of the benefit of intergovernmental cooperation to deliver both operational savings and ecological amenities to our city. Special thanks goes to Mark Ripplinger (CF Director of Human & Leisure Services - parks), Laura Jackson (TPC Director), and Dave Williams (TPC Program Manager).  The Tallgrass Prairie Center is a remarkable institution and is having a profound impact across the state of Iowa.

Showing 4 reactions

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  • Mac Eblen
    Cheers for prairie conversion! This is a win-win for both lowering city expenses and improving our environment. Conversion can also serve as a visual catalyst to stimulate thought and discussion of our environmental policies.

    In general, cooperation between the two city councils seems healthier than going it alone or competing. Cooperation is working in your examples. I don’t know enough about the other possible areas you mention to understand how they might work. Looking at possibilities, discussing them is worthwhile. Change is constant; we need to look at options rather than simply dismiss them.

    My groceries, my clothing, my auto, my tickets for entertainment — all cost more than they did a year ago. Why wouldn’t golf fees also cost more? Surely subsidizing public transportation helps more people in many more valuable ways than subsidizing low golf fees.
  • Betsy Zan
    Regarding golf fees: This may seem unrelated, but I once read about how Disney Land and Disney World set their ticket prices. My memory may be slightly faulty, but the gist of it was that they regularly increase fees and monitor the gate numbers. If the numbers drop, they stop raising the ticket price until numbers come back up. They they start raising prices again. How does this relate to golf? Well, if demand is high and supply is low, then that would suggest that a modest price increase would be acceptable. I do not understand why the council is considering a price decrease, when they can’t absorb an increased demand.
  • Joe Bohr
    I think the tall grass initiative is a wonderful idea and the more the city and university can work together the better off the community will be. I also like the idea of limiting the sale of one family homes to be converted into apartments. The family homes need to be maintained as single family dwellings.
    What is the plan for the reconstruction of University Avenue and/or 1st street. Is there any progress?
    Joe Bohr
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