Council Meeting Date: July 7, 2014
Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613
Happy Independence weekend! I cover major economic developments, general biz and offer some thoughts on transit in Cedar Falls. This also marks the meeting switch to the first and third Mondays of the month so interested persons can follow both Council and School Board meetings.
- Committee of the Whole (6:55pm, Mayor's Conference Room, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-
Not much to say here unless you want to talk about the 50 pages of line item expenses necessary to run our city. After many years on council, I am always impressed with staff's ability to answer my inquiries, many of which only need to be answered once like, "Please explain the adult book purchases on pages ..." . It turns out that we are not buying adult books featuring scantly-clad pictures and steamy love stories, these books are for our adult collection at the library.
-Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-
Special Order of Business
E.1 & F.2.R) This hearing, resolution, and development agreement relates to Standard Distribution's proposed, 108,000 square foot facility in the Northern Industrial Park where rail access was a major selection factor. The city offers it normal development incentives including land and partial tax exemption in return for certain business guarantees, mainly minimum assessment provisions. The city is offering 16.18 acres of land (~roughly $1MM based on $60K/acre) and property tax exemptions ($246,000). The new building will have a minimum taxable valuation of $3.8MM. Standard Distribution and its sister company, Crystal Distribution, have deep roots in the Cedar Valley dating back to 1936. Read more of Standard Distribution's history here.
E.3) It's a busy night for economic development. In this item, we hold a hearing and pass an ordinance in support of Deere & Company's $27.8MM investment the Product Engineering Center (a $9.5MM building permit has already been issued). In this matter, we offer property tax exemptions (75%, 60%, 45%, 30%, 15% (same as Standard's above)) for a 61,820 square foot building addition to support advanced equipment testing and diagnostics. Over the last decade, Deere has made major investments in the Cedar Valley, a testament to the workforce, business environment and quality of life in the Cedar Valley.
New Business - Resolution Calendar
F.2.G & H) Items G & H relate to our Stop-Loss insurance policy and 3rd party administrative services agreement with Blue Cross Blue Shield. The Stop-Loss agreement is for catastrophic coverage - or claims exceeding $85,000 per covered member. This costs the city $74.03/month/member. For each member, the city would pay the first $85,000 in claims before insurance kicks in. A companion Administrative Services Agreement is necessary since the program is entirely managed through 3rd party provider-payment system. This costs about $24/month/member. Taken together, this program makes our city 'self-insured' (except for catastrophic claims exceeding $85,000). Total family coverage costs about $14,000/year per family, of which the employee pays about $780/year.
F.2.i) This item relates to a project to add lighting to the Hearst Sculpture Garden. A $2000 grant from the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa will pay for this project. The Hearst Sculpture Garden is a community gem currently featuring works by Rob Lorenson. The lighting will extend the hours of viewing and provide for a entirely new garden experience.
Transportation Dilemma - Cedar Falls has a transportation dilemma. As we continue to grow, so do the demands for a more equitable transportation system. On a normalized basis, we spend no less than $4MM/year to just to build roads to move cars. We have also made measurable improvement on pedestrian and bicycle accommodation. The bus system struggles because discretionary demand is so low and connection points so spread that it is very expensive to operate and does not measure up to the conveniences of the car. Transit is the real challenge and opportunity. To be sure, a transit user exchanges value, usually money, for transportation service, a bus, taxi, or peer service.
Cedar Falls is a mid-sized city. We struggle to support traditional public transit (a bus). In fact, metro bus transit was privately run until 1965 when it fell into receivership. In 1972, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MET) was formed which still operates the bus network. MET is tasked to run a bus system funded by government grants and community support. It lacks innovation and in many ways seems stuck in the 1970’s. For example, MET doesn’t utilize hugely popular, convenient GPS locator apps for bus routes. The UNI-Hawkeye shuttle route is a scanned PDF buried in the bowels of the MET webpage.
In 2013, as a result of expiring federal grants, the city cut back on bus services. UNI’s Panther Shuttle is on the chopping block as well. Cedar Falls subsidizes buses to the tune of $370,000 per year, not including user fees. Add UNI, the total surpasses $400,000. I believe the system could be run much more efficiently by leveraging data, equipment, technology, service methods, etc. to expand its utility and customer base. It needs to work in concert with other services and technologies to deliver comprehensive transportation solutions that are equitable, convenient, flexible and cost-effective.
What if our streets were designed in a truly pedestrian/bicycle friendly manner with adequate connections? What if car-sharing (http://www.zipcar.com/iowacity) or peer car-sharing (www.getaround.com) finally arrived on campus? What if UNI’s intermodal parking center had a fleet of plug-in ZipCars? What if we embraced peer-to-peer vehicle for hire (www.lyft.com) for low-cost transit service? What if our bus system was optimized to maximize usage and was sufficiently technology enabled? What if we incentivized alternative transportation by utilizing a progressive parking fee structure? What if our bus system was truly more economical and efficient? Our transportation policy should address the following:
Pedestrian & Bicycle (sidewalks, trails, on-road)
Midsized city transportation planning is a unique challenge. The day is nearing when we utilize all tools and resources to build a more accommodating, effective, vibrant and satisfying transportation system.