There’s a whole lot going on in this town right now- good and bad – and our main objective is to try to provide information that helps shape the debate.
Every now and then we just kick out an opinion we think adds to that debate, no different than any of the thousands of comments that have followed stories on our digital platforms. We think it adds to the debate because we, as a media outlet, are charged with keeping an eye on things in our community.
We miss some, and catch some, but in the whole sphere of the thing, people are watching us and waiting for news to come to them. With that being said, we’ve been watching the responses lately to recent city decisions. And in full disclosure, Pen City Current has challenged city officials on decisions in the past so we’re not carrying anyone’s water here.
But a couple things need to be written in clear form so residents can have a good understanding of what’s happening in the city, based on information we have access to.
First, let’s look at straightening Avenue L. That stretch of road is planned to be redone as part of the Business 61 overhaul through Fort Madison that is scheduled to take place over the next five years. The work could start as early as this fall on the east side.
So that money was allocated for that work five years ago in plans, we might add, that were unveiled to the public at more than five public information sessions and several city council presentations in 2014. Information is there for those that want to be informed.
The city was handed ownership of the stretch of highway along with a fairly large check for its maintenance, when the state ended Hwy 2 at the city’s west end and transferred jurisdiction of Business 61 to the city.
Because the state didn’t own the BNSF railroad bridge (originally built for the Atcheson Topeka and Santa Fe rail lines) it could turn over the route without leaving an “orphan bridge” as the DOT’s Transportation Commission described it 2013.
An October 8, 2013 report from the commission showed a pavement rehab from Route 2 along U.S. 61 to the Mississippi River at $13.8 million. Instead of contracting the work, the state transferred the roadway and the $13.8 million over to the city, and the city began formalizing plans for its reconstruction.
Specific to the point, the money is earmarked for that construction project and is needed to show matching funds for other state and federal grants to help offset some of the increased costs. The money is already allocated to that project and can’t be moved to sewer projects, or other street work, or a bowling alley.
City officials did consider momentarily an option to borrow from the funds for other projects in the city, specifically possibly funding Viking dock improvements, but it would have to be paid back with a market interest rate. That move didn’t get much traction and other avenues are being pursued.
When the city realized it could use a refund of interest paid on the waste water treatment plant upgrades to help remediate storm water drainage in the city, they put together a plan for Avenue G curbing and sidewalks.
Engineering estimates were embarrassingly off on the project and it had to be scrapped, but the money can’t go to streets necessarily unless the work deals with storm water runoff remediation. So now the city’s looking at using the money in Riverview Park. But it just can’t be absorbed into the general fund and used for other projects. It just doesn’t work like that.
So, again, they are doing what they feel, as your elected representatives, is in the best interest of the city. And watch these meetings online. You can live stream them on the city’s website and you’ll see passionate people, making difficult decisions and giving full-throated opinions based on their constituents’ input. Nothing is decided easily.
We recently saw City Manager David Varley give an emotional scolding to the council for not giving him what he needs to do his job, which in that situation was hiring the sheriff’s department to oversee the police department until a new police chief is hired.
We’re at just about every city council meeting and we’re comfortable saying on average about 10 other people outside of the media do as well. No one’s going to tell me these people are dumb or uncaring. They have opinions and those are based on feedback from an informed, or uninformed, citizenry. That’s how it works.
But look around the city. Yeah, we’re behind on street improvements and it’s been neglected. But this group of leaders, we believe, is doing everything their staff and coffers allow them to do. There is always a project underway somewhere to improve infrastructure: a section of street here or there, a bridge replacement, a federally mandated sewer separation that comes with zero federal dollars.
The blame game never has a winner. So as we bounce – yes, bounce – around this city, it’s frustrating for us, too, but we choose to see what’s being done in the name of progress. There is a large contingency of people in this town that rarely look forward, and when they do, they look forward to making their arguments while pointing behind them to the past.
Let’s point ahead with our both index fingers and walk in that direction with a preponderance of the majority. You maintain your history for sure, but you can’t alienate progress for the sake of it. There is a balance to be struck.
The city has an app that you can use confidentially to point out the nuisances in this town. Literally, you download the app, and point and click. It’s that simple. Yet only about 400 out of probably 7,500 that have cellphones have it on their phone and very few are using it. It would appear that nuisances are being handled much quicker through this app than phoning up city hall.
I’ve seen this post, “Why should we do their job”…because it’s our community, too, and we have expectations. We elected these officials, but our responsibilities as citizens of our communities don’t end there. We must stay involved.
Do you mow your lawn? Why? If you don’t the city will do it, but they’ll bill you $40-$50 an hour. Are you saving money or do you like to have your property well represented? It’s the same with your community.
As an aside, you’ll be seeing some big ships docking and dumping a couple hundred people regularly on the west side of Riverview Park in the very near future. Enterprising individuals should be giving that some thought, but that’s Beside the Point.