Cedar Falls' wastewater treatment plant is nearing the end of its technological life. There are many considerations beyond the project... Waterloo's sewer system decree, multi-jurisdictional management, rate-setting, and true cost (and benefits) of redeveloping the current, downtown site. Given the magnitude of the project and potential benefits, this may be the most important decision facing city council in the next four years. Let's discuss:
The Cedar River is our city's greatest natural asset. Cedar Falls has an opportunity to make the river a defining feature of our community. Great things are made possible by public-private partnerships, stay tuned for more details.
What do we want to accomplish in the next four years?
- Minimize taxes & keep debt low - pursue operational excellence in all city departments
- Strengthen infrastructure - make thoughtful investments to support growth - complete streets, regionalized wastewater treatment
- Advocate for CF's next signature quality of life project - the Cedar River Experience
- Promote good policy - zoning update, public-private-intergovernmental partnerships, sustainability, open/transparent/responsive government
That's my punch list, but of course it goes far beyond bullet points. I hear a lot of 'I wants' in my community conversations. 'I want our city to be proud and forward-looking. I want to keep taxes low, provide highest level services high, and invest in our future. I want to resolve the vexing public safety dispute, I want to address little thorns too like fast streets and plugged storm drains. I want all neighborhoods to be vibrant centers for safe, social interaction. I want to support growth in our University, commercial districts, business base and residential living options. I want to maintain our small-town, University character and outstanding quality of life.' That's a lot of 'I wants', and there are more. I am totally committed to serving a shared vision for our future, I promise to put all my energy into realizing our potential. On day one, I will hit the ground running... knowing the Mayor and Council, staff, and city process, I am ready to hit the ground running on January 1st, 2020.
My Conversations on the doorsteps of Cedar Falls:
I am knocking on doors and collecting joys and concerns. One thing is certain, citizens love Cedar Falls. Our services are generally great and our amenities are unrivaled. I am keen to learn not only what we love, but what we can improve. The following 'mirco-blogs' represent a small sample of the rich discussions. Give me call or stop by my house to talk more!
In 2014, the city reorganized government from top to bottom to enhance service capabilities and make the best use of taxpayer resources. Under the Public Safety model, police and fire services are operationally aligned in tactical response, leadership, strategic planning and fiscal management. It incorporates cross-training, technology and strategy to enhance capabilities. Understandably, it is full of emotional controversy especially because it impacts two collective bargaining groups. But it stands to reason, if response times improve and we can put more hoses and trained personnel on the scene, the better the outcome. Nevertheless, we need to carefully evaluate performance metrics to ensure we are exceeding response capability and utilizing resources in the best manner possible. The PSO has merit because it allows the city to put more feet on the street (fight crime and support major incidents). But it seems prudent to have a base level of FTE firefighters at the station (a firefighter cost less than a PSO, so this makes economic sense). PSOs would be used for back-fill and in-field incident response. I have discussed the Public Safety program with former firefighters, base level staffing agreement would be 20-22 FTEs to support our current stations and apparatuses (PSOs would provide back fill for absences). However, I don't think we get there until the Fire Union supports the program. They are integral in its success - FTE firefighters should be the trainers and mentors for fire/rescue incident response capability. My previously shared thoughts: Public Safety Modernization.
Development & Parking
Cedar Falls is a desirable town, we are attracting major developer interest and finishing big projects. Good development serves our residential, commercial and industrial needs. But the salient concern is parking, no doubt a symptom of our success. We need parking strategies that complement our development strategies. We need to explore options to maximize on-street parking, manage turnover and discourage long-term parking. We are making headway. The new parking ordinance begins to address the parking issue. Nearly 100 spots will be added on-street and via private lot sharing. We have come a long way since my previously shared thoughts on the Downtown and parking. Further, new, form-based zoning promises to balance community and developer interests. The zoning update is the most important code administration matter in decades.
On the rental front, our city has produced a lot of new code with mixed results to combat rental proliferation within single family housing. Code is a hammer, but I feel we can do more by good planning and design including allowing more density around the key demand points of our city (i.e. UNI). With UNI enrollment decreasing, the profit incentive for single-family home conversion will surely diminish and offer new opportunities for affordable conversions back to single family. My previously shared thoughts on Rental Demand Planning.
In 2014, at the direction of council (which I was a part), we initiated a budget task force to identify policy and operating strategies to reduce expenses. Today, we are saving nearly $1.4M annually, we are delivering greater service for less cost. Low taxes are a competitive advantage (one of many) in attracting businesses and jobs. Business and jobs have a multiplier effect on housing and related economic activity. Based on cities over 10,000 residents, Cedar Falls ranks 11th out of 38 in its total tax levy, $12.02. I am committed in the pursuit of super efficient operations, fiscally sound policies and more public-private partnerships to deliver the best services for the lowest total cost. Public Safety, golf course privatization, contracted services, intra-inter city cooperation, operational improvement (single-sided collection, compost center) are all examples of successful cost-savings. I will evaluate every opportunity to deliver greater value - better services, lower cost. I am committed to operational excellence.
Infrastructure & Amenities
In the last 10 years, we have built out our road, sewer and protective levy infrastructure. University Avenue is more vibrant, safe and efficient. We also made unprecedented investments in our sanitary and storm water infrastructure. We raised our levy to the 500 year protection level. But we have many more critical investments to consider: Main Street (6th-University), industrial park and possibly a regional waste-water treatment plant. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last 10 years, and we need a keen investment eye to support our continued growth and development.
We must always strive to enhance the citizen experience through differentiated amenities. Parks, trails, arts and culture programming and recreation programs strive to make Cedar Falls truly unique for everyone that calls this home. To build out our amenities, I will continue to promote public-private design and financing partnerships in every project from park shelters to the potential river enhancement. Pickle ball courts, Clay Street Park, Beau’s Park are all examples of the power of partnership. I am committed the thoughtful, feasible, impact-minded investments.
Cedar Falls has a robust economic climate, but we are poised for so much more. Our economic eco-system is unrivaled with our education system, infrastructure (data and transportation), quality of life, diverse enterprises and supporting government. To grow our economic base beyond incremental ‘brick and mortar’ wins, we need to set our efforts on organic, new business based on innovation, productivity and Midwestern ingenuity. We need balanced incentives that not only support legacy businesses, but also the future. I will strive to create policies, partnerships and investments to create a business environment that fosters job creation, innovation and wealth creation. I have blogged about this a lot, see Cedar Falls Business First.
Since day one, I have been a proponent of open, transparent, accessible and representative government. We should hold elected officials and staff to the highest standards for integrity and professionalism. In my original terms, we elevated transparency to new heights by broadcasting more city meetings (committees and school board included), digitized meeting information and improved processes across the board. We held important hearings on civil liberties, decriminalization, mayoral duties and goals and budgets. All this is done to preserve the integrity of local government so it works for you. I am totally committed to demystifying local government and vow to continue my excessive efforts to communicate the happenings and opportunities in our city through my regular Blog.
Nicholas Taiber donated 2019-04-14 20:33:08 -0500
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Thanks Brad! The initiative deserves a better name! We should get this rolling in the upcoming months, hopefully city council agrees during the annual goal setting process (in November) to renew our economic development efforts. There is tremendous interest!
Thanks Aaron. Policy makers, especially at the local level, don’t always have the luxury of perfect information or facts. We must act on observation, experience and all forms of understanding – from economics to sociology. I concede that my rhetoric may impact the argument, but no facts will directly support predictions on increasing or decreasing enrollment – this is the process of inference. If the latest information is any indication, enrollment will increase (we will know in a week or two). Dr. Ruud’s enthusiasm (and insinuating statements) in front of the regents further supports the prediction. I redact the word ‘record’ and replace it with ‘recent high’. My choice of words could always improve, my weekend writing will never win the Pulitzer.
Since council acted without perfect facts on the moratorium nor were the impacts of the regulation duly evaluated – economic, sociological or otherwise – you could easily argue that the moratorium decision was without basis. The number of conversions was the primary argument, but no counter-facts such as ‘reversions’ or new housing starts were cited. Council received numerous correspondence on the topic, the most intriguing was an appraiser’s view (which didn’t support the moratorium). I will ask permission to share it.
I have a disdain for bad regulation. My greatest fear is that the moratorium and follow-up regulations turn into an insidious form of socio-economic discrimination, a modern form of Jim Crow laws. You can’t pick your neighbors, but you can certainly ‘zone them out’. The action/impact matrix attempts to account for such things. It goes beyond inclusion and adds other terms form the sustainability lexicon. As I eluded to earlier, it is one data point, my own. It is meant to be supplemented by other input. More importantly, I it helps us explore process improvement and thoughtful recommendations.
Thanks Jim. Transportation is a logical next step for UNI’s sustainability initiatives (and the City’s less formal initiatives). Thinking differently about transportation might alleviate our ongoing issues about parking in CF (one of the chief concerns in our ongoing rental conversion debate). I am intrigued with Buffalo, NY, They’ve introduce a bike share program similar to what you suggest. Rather than b-cycle-like corals, bikes are located at ‘hub’ racks – less expensive infrastructure. Of course, the Amsterdam model (500 bikes) might work, but it other pros/cons to consider. Buffalo also has two model car share programs: http://www.buffalocarshare.org/ AND Zipcar, http://www.zipcar.com/ub. Who ‘drives’? It seems the University is the natural starting point, the origin for most original, innovative thinking (and it has a formal sustainability program)!!
This is referred to as ‘breaking the plane’. Building articulation (i.e. a change in surface depth), a porch, a balcony column, etc. could break the vertical plane. Banding, change in clapboard width, material transition (brick to something else), etc. could break the horizontal plane.
Hi Kate, in my opinion, it is hard to find good reason for the tabling. We have been discussing the issue for over 2 years, staff’s proposal was expertly done outlining the pros and cons, especially in light of the circumstances we face today from a cost and organizational management point of view. I think some council members are uncomfortable with change. Others incorrectly saw it as a referendum on the current mayor. A former council member mentioned some ‘soft’ reasons in an op-ed piece such as social dynamics, yet his financial analysis was wonky.
Hi Matt, great questions.
1) CF should have its first CNG pump this year. With this new infrastructure, I could see CNG as the fuel of the future. Conversion would take time (equipment, maintenance, specs, etc.), but it will surely be evaluated in the future. Will talk to Bruce S. on the possibilities.
2) The Union Road trail is funded as part of the Capital Improvement Program (CIP). Funding comes from general obligation bonds (GO). We have a current policy of only issuing replacement debt, so we maintain a fixed debt level, more or less (less this year!). Debt service (principal and interest) is paid from the general fund (i.e. property taxes). The Debt Service Levy could be used as well, another property tax. On Center Street, incremental improvements are occurring, but not the full Hamlet plan. The level of spending is a matter of Mayor/Council prioritization which comes down to competing priorities. Much needed Center Street improvements are coming, but the pace may test the patience of the stakeholders!