Ordinances, ordinances, ordinances

Friday, June 7, 2019

Stumped by parking rules

A formal request of Alta City Council to grind down the stump of a tree cut down in a city right-of-way prompted a conversation that dominated Monday’s time at City Hall.

The man “has taken it on his own accord to violate city ordinance to cut down a tree on city right-of-way,” said Mayor Al Clark—which technically would incur a $25 fine, rather than a free stump grinding, since permission was not granted to cut down the tree.

“We just passed this ordinance three months ago, that you must get permission,” Clerk Megan Peterson reminded the council.

Too many trees cut down without permission complicates operations for the city, according to the Streets Department, as it fills up the brush pile more quickly. Whole trees, particularly with wood that isn’t dead or try enough, are more difficult to remove or burn, and the landfill isn’t fond of them.

“I don’t mind them cutting down trees because it saves us a little bit,” Clark said, “but it would be nice if they asked so we could plan accordingly.” The City is considering measures to educate the public on the proper rules of the matter.

But the citizen’s request also provided a segue for the city to critique his motivations for tree removal, and how he is handling the parking of his camper.

Code enforcement officer Matt Hess said the person’s fifth wheeler is parked over dirt, though a citation has not been written. Vague language in the code led to confusion as to whether the ground a vehicle sits on needs to be entirely encompassed by gravel or hard surface, or if having just the wheels and tongue of a vehicle on hard surface is acceptable.

“We’ve talked about this three to four months, it’s getting to be an old subject,” councillor Kevin Walsh said.

City Council relayed instructions to the Planning & Zoning Committee through Hess to clarify the ordinance once and for all.

As for the violation in question, he suggested writing a “hand slap letter,” telling City Council in jest, “we don’t want to enforce anything else, why would we want to enforce this?”

“You’ve got to let things dry out before allowing people to do these things with gravel,” said councillor Vi Tilk, reminding others of how wet spring has been until now.

Peterson also reminded the Council that homeowners will need proof of homeowner’s insurance in order to get permission to cut down a city right-of-way tree.

New ordinances advance

Ordinance 19-03 and 19-04, regarding sewer and garbage rates and fire department billing, respectively, advanced through their second reading with City Council. They will be read once more in July before coming to a vote.

Ordinance 19-03 would increase the base sewer rate by $4, plus an increase of 75 cents per 1,000 gallons. Fee reductions of some equal amount, for both businesses and residents, are in consideration to balance the impact of the rate increase.

Capital improvement plan adviser ISG recommended earlier this year that the city consider implementing a storm water utility to issue a bond to cover over $500,000 worth of storm water projects on 9th Street, West 2nd Street and NE 1st Street.

The 20-year payment schedule for the bond, divided among 792 residential and 94 commercial users, would amount to about $4 per household or business per month.

Proposed Ordinance 19-04 would assign fees to fire and EMS services provided by the Fire Department. If passed, fees would be set annually by the City Council for the service area served by the department, with recommendations given by the Fire Chief on the amounts.

Those fees could be deposited into the Fire Department Capital Improvement savings account within the City budget.

At City Council’s May meeting, Fire Chief Kirk Reetz said fees he provided to the council were adopted from Le Mars Fire Department, which uses a similar system that serves as a model for most of northwest Iowa.

The new fees, which would be billed for certain fire and EMS services, could help alleviate some tension between the Fire Department, Alta Firemen’s Association and the City as the City keeps an eye on a tight budget to figure out how to fund equipment needs in other departments.