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Charles City Council reduces snow ordinance charge for case of shoddy city clearing

Charles City Council reduces snow ordinance charge for case of shoddy city clearing
Screen capture of the Charles City Council regular meeting conducted via ZOOM, Monday, Feb. 7.
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]

Charles City will continue to enforce its snow removal ordinance, requiring people to clear their sidewalks and, if necessary, doing the job for them and charging them for it.

But if the city does charge someone for clearing a sidewalk, at least it should do a good job, the City Council decided at its regular meeting this week.

Charles City Council reduces snow ordinance charge for case of shoddy city clearing
Photo of sidewalk (left) before being cleared of snow by Charles City contractor. Submitted photo

Jessica Barry wrote a letter to the council, appealing a $45 service charge and $5 administrative fee she had been assessed after the city had the sidewalk by her house cleared.

She said in the letter that she had been unable to start her snowblower that day, and so sent her 13-year-old son out to shovel. The boy cleared a meandering path down the sidewalk, about a shovel’s width wide.

“Granted, my thirteen-year-old didn’t shovel the straightest line, haha, but clearly there is a dry and clear path available,” Barry wrote, adding that the city ordinance does not specify that the entire width of the sidewalk be cleared.

“I ask that the Council show a little grace here by removing the assessed fee, or at least reducing it and communicating what, exactly, our violation even is,” she wrote.

Included in the City Council agenda packet were photos of the path that Barry’s son had cleared, and the sidewalk after the city’s contractor, Do-It-All Services, had cleared it.

Mayor Dean Andrews commended that the “after” picture looked worse than the “before” picture, and several of the council members agreed.

Council member Phillip Knighten commented that the picture of after it was cleared by the city contractor “doesn’t look shoveled at all.”

“If we’re going to charge her $45 of snow removal, it doesn’t really look like there was any snow removal,” Knighten said.

Charles City Council reduces snow ordinance charge for case of shoddy city clearing
Photo of sidewalk (left) after being cleared of snow by Charles City contractor. Submitted photo

Council member Phoebe Pittman said the path may have been cleared wider, but the snow remaining on the sidewalk was deeper than the initial narrow path that had been shoveled.

The council agreed to reduce the charge to Barry to $25, which she said was acceptable to her.

City Administrator Steve Diers asked the council members if the city should be less diligent in enforcing the snow removal ordinance.

Council member DeLaine Freeseman said the city should still enforce it, but they should also talk to the contractor.

Andrews said, “The next step is to visit with our snow removal people. If they charge $45 we want $45 worth of snow removal. Her attempt was better than our attempt.”

Also at the meeting, the council:

• Set Wednesday, Feb. 23, at 6 p.m. for the required “max tax” hearing to give people a chance to provide the council with input regarding proposed city property tax rates for the upcoming 2022-23 fiscal year which begins July 1.

The tax levy for the funds included in the max tax hearing is proposed to increase, from the current $13.66 per $1,000 of taxable valuation, to $13.96, but the amount of property taxes actually collected in the included funds will decrease more than 3%, from $3.718 million in the current fiscal year to $3.604 million next year, because the city’s total taxable valuation decreased by more than 5%.

City Administrator Diers said the city will spend down some of its carry-over balance to pay for city services with the reduced tax asking, which is the purpose of maintaining a healthy carry-over amount for situations such as a valuation decline, he said.

Diers also said that while the state’s intent in requiring the max tax special hearing is good in giving people more information and another chance for input, it is also misleading because the maximum tax levy figure does not include the debt service levy, airport levy and library levy.

The actual total city property tax levy will be bigger than the max tax levy, Diers said.

Once the council approves the maximum tax resolution, it can collect no more than that amount for the funding categories included.

• Approved a Downtown Facade Improvement Grant application from Snap Fitness, for $5,483.95, to replace exterior signage to meet new corporate requirements, and to better differentiate The McCoy Smoothies business as separate from Snap Fitness.

The facade grants can pay up to 50% (but not more than $10,000) of a project’s total cost. The total cost of the Snap Fitness project is $10,967.90.

• Set a public hearing for Wednesday, Feb. 23, at 6 p.m. regarding short-term borrowing and debt service levy that the city routinely uses for some funding. The $163,925 in short-term financing the city is proposing for fiscal year 2022-23 is for Police Department guns and ammunition and other equipment, Fire Department bunker gear, police and fire department clothing, a tornado siren replacement, animal control cages, tree removal costs and nuisance abatement demolition.

• Changed the day for City Council workshop meetings to be Wednesday nights in the week following a regular council meeting. Regular council meetings are held at 6 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of the month.

So there will be a council workshop meeting Feb. 16, March 2, March 16 and March 30 in the next couple of months. The next regular council meeting this month will be held Wednesday, Feb. 23, because the usual day that week, Monday, Feb. 21, is President’s Day.

• Approved applying for a $100,000 state water quality initiative grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. (See related story.)    

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