County’s shed problem is ‘almost’ laughable

Opinion
CHUCK
VANDENBERG

Lee County Supervisor Gary Folluo rubbed his head in frustration at Tuesday’s board meeting as the county leaders worked through an issue about a maintenance shed that sits between two properties in Argyle.

The building was in disrepair about a month ago, but in the last three weeks, county maintenance officials have made repairs including boarding up a hole on one side of the building and rehanging a door that had fallen off.

Supervisors directed County Engineer Ernie Steffensmeier, who also oversees the maintenance department, to get some figures on what it would cost to build a new facility along Ambrosia Lane east of Argyle. Estimates are anywhere from $7,000, according to property owner Ron Burchett, to more than $10,000 by Steffensmeier to “re-tin” the building.

So that’s where we’re at. But how did we get here?

Ron Burchett and his wife are interested in the property and they’ve indicated so at several meetings. And this is where it gets laughable – almost. These people are serious about making the property appealing, even if that means mowing the lawn and weeding the property on their own dime.

That’s what they’ve done….for 12…years.

Shelley Pruin said the recent activity to mend the building “is the most traffic we’ve seen to that building in the two years I’ve lived here and the 12 years Ron’s lived there.”

Pruin told the board that over the past dozen years, residents have probably spent more than $11,000 dollars mowing and weeding the property. The other oddity is that a garden has somehow popped up on part of the property, and a dog enclosure spills onto the property.

But who owns the property? The county says it’s their property. Steffensmeier said maintenance crews haven’t tended to the mowing or weeding because they weren’t sure of the status of the Argyle Sanitary District which owned a section of the lot. You didn’t ask somebody… for 12 years? County Auditor Denise Fraise said the sanitary district has not been dissolved, and in actuality, the supervisors under a determination from former County Attorney Mike Short, are the representatives of the district, because…no one would run to sit on the sanitary district board. And those people that were written in during elections, declined to sit on the board.

Supervisor Matt Pflug, who appeared at times just as frustrated with the turn of events as Folluo, said the county will now maintain the property and asked that County Attorney Ross Braden look into the garden and dog enclosure being on the property, suggesting that will be short-lived.

So, residents have been mowing the lot for the dozen years, officially unbeknownst to the county. One would think that after the costs got ohh…. a couple hundred bucks, someone would go to the county and say, ‘Hey, I’m done mowing the lawn for free.’

Jim Noll, who was at the meeting for a different reason concerning the use of jake brakes around county neighborhoods, said the board should consider giving the property to the Burchetts as compensation for costs they’ve shouldered to date.

What? Did they let anyone know they were mowing the lawn? Did they have permission from anyone in the county to mow the lawn? Granted, some people do things to just be nice, but 12 years? And then when the county won’t sell you the property, you bring up the amount you’ve ‘invested’ in the property without the county’s permission or knowledge.

“What if these people were to submit a bill for $11,000?” Noll asked the board. “What would you do?”

As taxpayers we’d hope the county would return the bill unpaid with a notice politely asking the people to stay off the property as the county could be exposed to insurance claims if something unfortunate were to happen.

But how can a county ‘not know’ that someone has been mowing their lawn? They’ve been able to see the building for the past 12 years. Did they see a patch of grass taller than a house sitting between two homes? According to the Pruin no one’s been near the place in two years. Supervisors themselves have been out to the property and apparently they assumed the county was mowing and maintaining it. You have to imagine the looks on the supervisors’ faces when three weeks ago they were told the neighbors had been mowing the lawn for 12 years.

And what is still a little disconcerting is that Steffensmeier has been asking to build a new maintenance shed for at least the two years Pen City Current has been covering county budget talks. Both times the plans were nixed as a victim of budget cuts. It’s pretty clear Mr. Steffensmeier has costs to build a new maintenance building. The one they are looking at now is probably a smaller footprint and isn’t out near West Point where he originally wanted to add the space.

The shed contains a bulldozer that Steffensmeier claims is still functional, but he said in the winter they’ll move some rollers into the building.

We make light of it, not because it’s not important, it is. And it’s not laughable because these folks are entitled to an appealing neighborhood, and the county has a responsibility to maintain the structure and the property. On the other hand, taking care of someone else’s property in the short term due to sickness or temporary absence is admirable, but 12 years mowing public property without notification and then deciding to ask for the property, tongue-in-cheek or not, in exchange for sweat equity…. we feel is just a little out of bounds.

But just a little.

Speaking of property, in case you read this but not the news we sprint after every day, Viking Cruises found a domestic builder for their longboats that, it would appear anyway, are back on track for Mississippi cruises. The boats would make seven-day excursions along the Mississippi River, the most relevant being a St. Louis to St. Paul run that would have stops in Hannibal, Davenport, Dubuque and, as it stands as of September 17, either Fort Madison or Burlington. The company is projecting 165,000 passengers by 2027 on the Mississippi cruises. They break that down to between 300 and 400 passengers per cruise that would make at least two stops weekly for about four hours in one of the locations that, as of yet, is undetermined.

This is fast-moving development, according to a Viking spokesperson talking to Dubuque city officials last month. This story could get very interesting as communities vie for docking agreements – but that’s Beside the Point.

CORRECTION: The name Laurie Burchett was incorrectly listed in this story, when the person addressing the board was actually Shelley Pruin. Pen City Current apologizes to the those parties and regrets the error.

About Chuck Vandenberg 3981 Articles
Pen City Current and pencitycurrent.com are products of Market Street Publishing, LLC, a multi-platform media company delivering hyper-local news, sports and advertising information to Fort Madison, IA and surrounding communities.

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