BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A sitting Fort Madison City Councilman will be allowed to sever his property from city limits after he requested it be annexed into the city just over a decade ago.
In a close 4-2 vote, with 1st Ward Councilman Chris Greenwald removing himself from the meeting, the city council agreed to sever the property in the 3000 block of Timberlane Drive from city limits.
Greenwald had requested the property be annexed into the city in 2007 so he could continue to serve as a first ward councilman. He said after the meeting the move was also to help encourage other property owners to possibly do the same and increase the city’s tax base.
Councilmen Bob Morawitz and Chad Cangas voted against the measure.
Cangas said there was a serious concern about precedent, regardless of how the city found itself in this situation.
“I feel this puts us in a real precarious situation as far as precedent. If we get 500 people request to be removed from city limits, we’re going to have to give every single one of those consideration once we open the door and I don’t know how we tell one no and not everybody,” Cangas said.
City Manager David Varley said Greenwald’s property is the only property in the subdivision in city limits.
“Council faces a decision of opening a door for people to come and request to leave the city because they don’t want to pay the taxes vs. having one subdivision where it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have one home there in the city and not have the others,” he said.
“I certainly wouldn’t want us to see other requests, especially from businesses to leave the city so we need to think carefully about it as we don’t want to set a precedent,” Varley said.
Cangas said he had serious ethical questions as well and said he couldn’t support it. He said approving the measure validates residents’ opinions that this is cronyism and “good ol’ boys club”.
Mayor Brad Randolph said at the time the city was “hot” on looking at ways to increase the boundaries of the city of Fort Madison through annexation.
“We were looking at annexing bypasses and interchanges. And part of the thought was having that person voluntarily annexing in could or would be the beginning of more annexation in that area,” he said.
“In doing that, the city would try to run sewer either from Happy Hollow, which is already there, and back down to catch that road to offer some incentive. We never did that, of course, and so that left that property owner not having that come to fruition. Take that for what’s it worth, but there was a method to the madness.”
Fort Madison attorney Rich Fehseke was at the meeting representing Greenwald and said the annexation, which he said he helped prepare in 2007, wasn’t done properly.
“It does not appear that property was properly annexed and services that were discussed at the time have not been extended out there,” he said.
Fehseke said Cangas’ concerns were real, that if the city let one out, then how could they stop others from wanting out. He said this particular annexation could be challenged because others wouldn’t have that challenge.
“I think the city has the ability to distinguish between this request and the requests that may just walk in off the street to help guard yourself against everyone and their brother from asking something similar be done,” Fehseke said.
Morawitz asked if there was any time between the annexation and now that Greenwald had requested the services. City staff said they are not aware of any requests.
Fehseke said he spoke with Varley late in the fall on Greenwald’s behalf to see if services were going to be extended.
After the meeting, Greenwald said he had inquired about sewer service to his place while he was annexed, but it never got done.
“I was all set when I bought the house to quit the council. Then I think Brad got on Beacon and said ‘Hey look at this,’ it connected with Rodeo Park with the 15 acres behind it. So the thought was for me to get out there and for them to lay sewer to me and attract others. We basically planted a seed and the city never watered it,” Greenwald said.
“Blackhawk Heights and High Point got my sewer and the DNR made some changes and stuff and all of a sudden we had to spend $20 million on a sewer treatment plant.”
Councilman Matt Mohrfeld said he wasn’t on the council at the time of the annexation, but didn’t like how any of it was handled.
But he said Greenwald had spent about $25,000 to stay on the council and be a servant to the people and, for that reason alone, he was voting to let him out of the annexation.
In other action, the council:
• approved the fiscal year 2019-20 budget 6-1. Mohrfeld voted against the budget.
• approved appointing Kathy Burkhardt to the Fort Madison Library Board and Richar Abel to the Old Fort Commission by 7-0 votes.
• approved the purchase of a $21,224 Fire/Rescue boat from Dave’s Marine of Fort Madison, 7-0.
• approved a proposal from SmithGroup for a feasibility study and design of a docking platform that could be used by Viking Cruise Lines for a stop in Fort Madison, 6-1. Bob Morawitz voted against the proposal citing uncapped charges for reimbursements.