Council puts hold on the fire station project

City council members unanimously voted to push back the fire station project during a meeting Monday

Mayor Jim Lowrance said the project started before the Iowa Legislature passed the rollback legislation that has negatively impacted revenue.

“Council has based a $25 million bond issue to debt service based on last year’s valuations while it has continued to go down,” Lowrance said.

The debt service coverage with last year’s valuations made it be between $2.30 and $2.50 per thousand to support a $25 million bond issue for 20 years, Lowrance said.

“So a long time, a large commitment and would take us within eight or 10 million of our maximum capacity,” Lowrance said. “Which doesn’t leave much cushion for us in the event of an emergency or could limit the city’s ability to do additional street projects at some point.”

Lowrance said he considered going ahead with building a police station because of problems with the recent rain water in the communication center. The police station is also a more expensive project and rates are low, Lowrance said.

“So proceed with the police station, make some renovations and improvements with the existing fire station to make sure it’s in good condition,” Lowrance said. “Then reassess in three to five years, when property values have hopefully stabilized. We’ll know where we are by then with the rollbacks and local economy and we can reassess the fire station project at that time.”

Bob Schubert, 1st Ward council member, made a motion to purchase the land for the police station and look at renovations that are needed for the existing fire station, which was unanimously approved.

City council members did not purchase the fire facility site.

Randy Wetmore, city administrator, said the new estimation for the project is $16 million, depending on when the city will get design work back.

Al Hoop, 4th Ward council member, asked if making improvements to the fire station would lessen the public outlook if a new one is needed.

“I would hope not,” Lowrance said. “There is still some drawbacks to that facility even after we stabilize the one wall that’s the biggest concern, there are still some issues with it. The site itself there are some issues with it that limits future use. The public will understand if we make a good presentation and get them in to see the station and tell them what the plans are, just like it will with the police station.” Wetmore said there are safety issues that need to be taken care of at the fire department.

“For the amount that we’d probably spend over there we can’t make it operate as efficiently as it should,” Wetmore said. “We’ll have to be careful about the things we do, but there are things that need to be done just to make that building functional. It’s 60 years old, there’s things that need to be done.”

Bethany Wirin, at-large council member, said she thinks it’s the right direction to take.

“It’s difficult,” Wirin said. “But I think it’s the right direction.”

Leon Lamer, at-large council member, said he’s glad council brought this up because he was concerned with the work it was going to put on the city.

“I’m really happy,” Lamer said. “I think this says that we’re concerned for where the city is going, the financial stability of the city and by taking it one at a time and moving forward that’s the right way to go. I’m really happy you brought this issue up and we are going this way.”

Scott Johnson, acting fire chief, said he felt opposite.

“I’m disappointed,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of issues that need to be taken care of.”

After designs are revealed to the public a bond will be issued and the city will vote if they are for or against it before anything can be built.

The timing of the bond election will depend on when the preliminary plans are complete.

Contact Stephanie Ivankovich at 641-753-6611 or sivankovich@timesrepublican.com