Alta council on nuisance properties, business grants

Friday, August 13, 2021

The Alta City Council continues to wrestle with owners of nuisance properties.

A couple of deteriorated trailers are bringing down the condition of the entire park, it was reported. One has been condemned for a year with ownership uncertain, but council member Tom Lane said he has been told that there apparently are plans to repair the unit as soon as work on another trailer is completed.

A home on Leander Street has also been condemned. The owner has put the land up for sale, but city officials felt the cost is too high, considering that a new owner would be required to demolish the building.

There is still no resolution on the former Danish Lutheran Church. The city has been trying to get the owner to demolish the vacant building for many months. The city code officer said there is no chance of bringing it up to code.

The city is also having difficulties getting rental units inspected. Apartment building owners live out of town, and have been ignoring letters asking them to schedule the inspections, the code officer told the council.

Mayor Kevin Walsh noted that the city has issued roof replacement permits without any charge, and suggested that a fee of at least $20 be charged to cover the staff time in filing the permits. No action was taken.

In other Alta City Council business:

• A grant opportunity for some Main Street businesses was discussed. The city could utilize its tax abatement program, pay for grant writing or waive permit fees to cover its match. The grant program could currently be utilized by the owner of the former Davenport Tax Service building for business/residential renovation, but in the future could apply for new owners of other vacant buildings, the mayor suggested. The Iowa Economic Development Authority grants are for up to $100,000, and cost for writing the grants is about $1,200. Mayor Kevin Walsh felt that participating would show that the city has interest in helping the business community.

• The fire department is down six members, and is welcoming applications, the fire chief reported.

• A sheriff’s officer reported that the department had provided 501 hours of patrol in Alta during July, and responded to 217 calls. Sixteen calls were received about illegal fireworks around the holiday. Most issues were solved with warnings, but one person was cited.

• There will be two open Park Board seats on the November ballot, as two members likely will not run again, it was reported. Alta is one of few Iowa communities that still elect a parks board. The mayor’s seat and two council positions are also up for election.

• The council approved two new members for the Library Board - Elizabeth Snyder and Colleen Schwanz.

• The streets department reported that 51 trees were removed during July. A planned purchase of a skid loader was table, to allow time to test out various brands that were submitted in bids.

• Several buildings were damaged in a recent storm, including city hall, the shelter house, water plant, pool bathhouse and utility buildings. Some of them were already due for re-shingling, so the city hopes an insurance settlement will help cover the cost of the roofing work.

• The council adopted a community housing development and needs assessment.

• A public hearing was held for a CDBG grant application for sewer work to help prevent backups and flooding. $500,000 is being requested toward a project cost estimated at $1.6 million. The project includes lining sewer lines, repairing mains and upgrading some connection points, which would also help prevent stormwater from entering sanitary sewer lines. The grant application was approved. A public hearing to borrow funds will be held on Sept. 7.

• A plan for tree carvings on the trunks of dead trees along the city park/football field is on hold. The artist has resigned from the project and recommended another. The city is waiting for a cost estimate and will check with the school Booster Club to see if there is interest in proceeding.

• A change in policy for residency of city workers was discussed. The current policy requires them to live within two miles of Alta, but the council felt that was restricting the city in hires, especially with little housing available in Alta. The council settled on a 20 mile limit so that residents of Storm Lake, Alta, Aurelia, Lakeside and Schaller could qualify. While there was some concern about employees being able to make it to work in winter weather, council member Pam Henderson felt restrictions could be eased, and employees will have to plan accordingly to be in town when needed. “I don’t like to see people being told where to live,” she said.

• A homeowner approached the council about damages to her basement and appliances due to repeated flooding. Some of the city officials agreed that the problem may be a city responsibility due to blocked tile, and will look at the possibility of reimbursing the costs remaining after an insurance settlement.

• The mayor thanked the RAGBRAI committee for its work in hospitality for the riders last month. He said the group’s work was beyond all expectations, and positive comments have been heard from riders on their experience.

• With an increase in the delta variant of COVID-19, the council will return to meeting at the larger community center building rather than city hall next month, to allow for social distancing. The council meets Sept. 7 at 6 p.m.