City acts on drug task force, condo TIF deal

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Our biggest domestic terrorism problem in our community is drugs," Storm Lake Public Safety director Mark Prosser told the City Council Monday. The irony was lost on no one.

Under the current administration, funding has been slashed to the Region V Drug Task Force, of which Storm Lake Police are a longtime member agency, in order to direct more resources toward anti-terrorist programs.

The result is that there is not enough money left for the task force to continue operations, said Prosser, who has been on the executive committee of the program.

On Monday, the council voted unanimously to dissolve the 28E agreement, breaking up the Drug Task Force which has operated in northwest Iowa for a decade.

The funding cuts are having the same impact on drug-fighting alliances nationwide, according to Prosser, who said that funding has virtually been "zeroed out."

Law enforcement agencies lobbied at the federal and state level to try to save some funding.

The situation has reached the point where staff is being eliminated and "it no longer balances out" to run the task force, which has operated from Storm Lake east to Webster City and north to the Minnesota line.

Prosser said that it is "with a sad heart" that he had to recommend the vote to dissolve the group.

Without the task force, Storm Lake Police will continue to aggressively fight illegal drug supply on their own, and in concert with other agencies when possible, Prosser said.

Condos TIF Deal

The Storm Lake City Council also on Monday approved a deal to give Regency Commercial Services $415,000 in Tax Increment Financing between 2010 and 2017 in exchange for the company building a condominium complex on the municipal golf course land it is buying from the city.

Recent subsoil studies have unexpectedly shown that the site is substandard for the project - so much so that it would support less than half the weight required for the construction.

Just as the city had to do with its King's Pointe development, Regency will have to pay for some kind of soil support system, at a cost the company estimates at $600,000-$900,000.

No one expected the soil up on the ridge to be so poor, Wilson said.

In fact, the city was digging a small water feature nearby for its golf course project, and the soil proved "absolutely worthless," he said. The size of the water feature had to be adjusted because the dirt wouldn't hold up on the sides.

Project AWAYSIS Director Mike Wilson felt the negotiated deal was fair.

"The land is not worth what we previously thought it was worth," he told the council.

Under the deal, which Regency has informally already agreed to, the company will still buy the land for a million dollars, as earlier proposed, and pay for the utilities and to create a public pond at the site. The money the city will pay the firm back will come out of the revenue the project is expected to produce.

Council members approved the deal with almost no discussion, a testament to the perceived value of the condo project.

Wilson noted that if Regency is successful in building and filling around 100 condominiums, the city stands to benefit about $290,000 in new property tax revenue, as well as a resource to draw new residents and momentum for Project AWAYSIS. The million dollars from the somewhat controversial land sale is needed to help fund the rest of the AWAYSIS project.

While TIF funds have never been used for a residential project incentive in Storm Lake, Wilson said that the city has never had an opportunity like the Regency development before. "The city benefits significantly more than the amount paid in TIF funds to Regency," he said.

The city hopes to close the deal in a week to 10 days, and within about a week after that time, expects Regency to break ground and begin extending utility lines and digging a water feature and retention pond.

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