BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A stroke of bad luck in funding new sewer lines on Avenue H, could work out very well for Fort Madison’s Main Street District.
City Public Works Director Larry Driscoll informed the council at the regular meeting Monday that the city wouldn’t be able to use state revolving loan funds to refurbish the city’s sewer line as part of the Avenue H renovations planned for the next three years.
“As part of the bid package state will not allow SRF funding along the highway,” Driscoll said. “We can use our own funds for the project, but they won’t release SRF funds for that work so we need to find a different route.”
Driscoll recommended using Avenue G and said the project would involve running a sewer line from Second Street to Seventh but said he had to move the project back to 2021 because of other city projects including the three-year renovation of Avenue H.
When hearing the news, Mayor Brad Randolph wanted to know if moving the sewer line to Avenue G would push up the timeline on getting some work done in the downtown district.
“I was just wondering if that would allow us to up that project,” Randolph said. “That has always been a concern of the downtown business district. It’s a bigger picture than just running a sewer line when all is said and done, but if it’s doable because we’re running that line, then that’s something I guess you guys could talk about.”
He also asked if moving the project to Avenue G would open the city to any additional funding avenues for the work.
Driscoll said it may open the city to another bonding source for funds but no additional grants outside of a Community Development Block Grant would be available. Bonding would be money the city had to repay.
After the meeting, Driscoll said, optimally, it would be good if the the city were to pursue a Community Development Block Grant for the work but he said the legwork on applying for grants is tedious.
He said if someone were to take on doing surveys of the district defined by Avenue H and Avenue E from 2nd Street to 10th Street, there could be a chance the city could get upwards of $500,000 per year in what he called LMI funds, which are funds dedicated to rehabilitation efforts for low to middle income families. The upper floor apartments and other residences would help the city be eligible for those funds.
“We’ve been working on options to rehab Avenue G using CDBG and it would require a low-to-moderate income (LMI) survey. The problem is how do we get the study done. If the (the historical district) would do that survey with us from 2nd to 10th and from the highway to E. We need 100% surveys completed and if we could reach 50% LMI we could get $500,000 a year for that work.
He said the state randomly selects addresses to survey and the city has no control, but the survey would have to hit 100% of the selected addresses and then 50% of those would have to be categorized by the state as low-to-moderate income.
“It’s a very discreet study and you have to trust the people doing it to do it confidentially and be very thorough,” Driscoll said. “If we do the sewer, you could get a new street surface, but you still have to address curbing and sidewalks and lighting and you could potentially use that CDBG money to do that work. It’s a huge project and I did it once in Anamosa and it’s something you have to do door-to-door.”
Driscoll said there’s a lot of education to be done, but if the survey were undertaken this is what they could use the money for if it’s awarded as part of the CDBG process.
Just doing one block of streets, sidewalks, curbing, lighting, and the sewer line is close to $1 million per block and that’s just the basics, Driscoll said. Any frills on top of the basics would obviously add to the cost.
City Councilman Rusty Andrews, who’s also president of the Fort Madison Main Street organization said the Main Street group would be willing to partner with the city on the project.
“Oh yeah, it would be great if they could, in the midst of rerouting the sewer project, get some of the streets curbing and lighting done that we’ve been talking about for over year, back on the radar,” Andrews said.
“Main Street would team up with them. Main Street has a lot of resources that we can look at. Larry’s been good at getting those grants, I’m just not sure how many more Fort Madison can get. But the downtown needs something like that. The business owners are working hard but we need the curb appeal stepped up down there.”