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Charles City Council reviews parklet permit draft, other issues at workshop session

By Travis Fischer,

The Charles City Council looked at parklets, health insurance, and capital improvements during its workshop meeting on Wednesday evening.

Inching forward on a parklet policy, the council again met with Dave Davidson of Dean Jewelers for an update on the progress being made toward Davidson’s plans to open a pair of food businesses alongside his building on Kelly Street.

Davidson intends to convert a portion of his building into an ice cream shop while also utilizing the space next to it to facilitate a food truck that serves hot sandwiches and pasta. Tying both together, Davidson is asking the city to issue a special use permit that would allow him to convert some of the side street parking spaces into a seasonal seating area, or “parklet.”

The city has no formal policy regarding parklets and while the council does not intend to create an overarching policy at this time, members have expressed a willingness to allow a special use permit that would allow Davidson to create a parklet as a test run.

On the city’s end, City Administrator Steve Diers presented a draft for the agreement that would allow Davidson to create the parklet.

In reviewing that draft, several council members recommended that it be made clear that the parklet must accompany an active business to ensure that other potential businesses don’t make similar requests for unrelated operations.

“I would really like to see it tied to a functional business that would be served by the parklet,” said council member Phoebe Pittman.

In particular, Davidson’s parklet would be conditional on the ice cream shop being in operation, with council member Patrick Lumley stating he wouldn’t want to see the permit request on an agenda until ice cream is already being sold.

At the same time, Davidson noted the difficulty in trying to plan and launch a new business without having the certainty that the city will allow for a major component of his investment.

“I need to have some confidence that the city is going to go along with me,” he said.

While not expressly concerned about Davidson’s own plans, the council remained focused on making sure that whatever permit they decide on doesn’t result in a slippery slope.

“I like the concept, but I do think there is a concern if the entity wanting the parklet does not have a business there,” said Mayor Dean Andrews.

Moving away from parklets, the council also touched on food truck policy, pointing out that Davidson’s food truck will have to periodically be moved while it’s in use and that regular parking of food trucks on city streets will be another set of issues that will eventually need to be addressed.

In a less controversial matter, the council received a request from Lanie Sanvig of Tellurian Brewing, again asking for permission to put up temporary fencing and extend the outdoor patio space, as the business has done for the last three years.

For more internal city matters, the council met with Brian Doyle of Acumen Advisors to review options for changing the employee health insurance plan offered by the city.

Historically, the city has utilized a self-funded plan that has allowed the city to control the benefits offered. However, the last few years of claims have not been in favor of the city’s bottom line. As the cost of their self-funded plan has gone up, the city may have to consider transitioning into a partial self-funded plan or an outside plan entirely, Doyle said.

Moving into an outside plan would put the city employees into a bigger insurance pool, which would reduce costs for the city. However, there would be a trade-off in that the city would lose the ability to set its own terms and the less expensive plans would put more of a financial burden on employees.

Other factors to consider include the additional complications that could come with a partially funded plan creating multiple bills across providers, to the logistical concerns of switching plans mid-year.

For now, council members were inclined to stay with their current plan but will continue to explore their options for a potential change in January.

The council also reviewed a potential agreement with AMR Ambulance that would provide EMS service through at least fiscal year 2026.

The contract, divvied between Charles City, Floyd County and Nashua, would renew at $415,000 for the first year, increasing by 3% each year for the next two years.

This is a substantial increase from the previous $200,000 contract, but would be necessary to ensure coverage while the city and county move forward with possibly establishing their own EMS service.

While a locally run non-profit EMS service would have access to federal funds, council members till expressed concerns about the sustainability as the state Legislature cuts Medicaid reimbursement rates.

“It really comes down to the state Legislature modifying their approach to this,” said council member Keith Starr.

“They’re cutting their budgets and making us pay for it,” said Diers.

In other business, Water Superintendent Cory Spieker brought forward a recommendation to replace two of the water treatment plant’s programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Serving as “the brains” of the plant, these are devices programmed to control various machines to automate the water treatment process.

The water plant has a total of nine PLCs, of which four have been in use for nearly 15 years and are becoming both obsolete and increasingly difficult to find replacement parts for. Replacing two of the older PLCs would both resolve the obsolescence issue on the replaced units and also allow the department to use the replaced units for spare parts for the two remaining.

Finally, the council met with Pat Callahan of Callahan Municipal Consultants about getting started on a capital improvement plan. Callahan initially met with the city in 2019 to create a multi-year plan for major projects, but much of that work was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now starting fresh, Callahan walked the council through the process of developing a plan and asked members to start thinking about the kind of projects the city should be focused on.

“What I’m looking for are projects that are major construction and major equipment improvements that you don’t do every year,” he said.

The council will start brainstorming projects and return with suggestions for Callahan when they meet again in June.

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