BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison’s revenues through April are a little better than anticipated, according to City Manager David Varley.
Varley said during his report at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Fort Madison City Council, that stores like Wal-Mart are up almost 60%, which is helping sales tax revenues. The county is also lean on other national boutique retailers who are suffering through the coronavirus pandemic.
“Revenues are, so far year-to-date through April, a little better than we expected,” Varley said.
“For the year we’re up about 11% which is interesting. We may actually not be hurt as much as other cities around the country because of the nature of Lee County.”
Varley said the city’s share of the road tax is taking a hit because of reduced travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He told the council that the next round of stimulus money could help the city because that money will be targeted to “shovel ready” projects, which could ease general fund pressures.
“They haven’t come out with any guidelines yet, but we have two or three projects that could be ready to go so we would jump on that and hopefully be ready for that program.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker pressed Varley on whether the city has made any inroads with the state for supplemental funding related to the pandemic
Varley said there were funds available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) but the city has to hit a threshold of $3,500.
“We’re keeping track of some expenses we have,” Varley said.
In an unrelated issue, Fire Chief Joey Herren said he would recommend the city continue look at providing ambulance service now that the county has accepted a one-year extension of the current contract with Lee County EMS Ambulance.
Herren said the move by the county is a temporary fix and now the city has a bit more time to plan for the service in the event something would happen during the 12-month contract, or the county looks to the city at the end of the agreement.
Bowker said she thought the county’s move was irresponsible because the money that may be spent to buy the ambulance service next year, could have been spent with the cities to get the services up and running now.
Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said he felt the county made the best move they could in the situation they were in.
“In the short term this was the right thing to do for the county. Supervisors now want to shift gears to the fix, either get into the business, contract with the cities, or bring in a new partner.”
Mohrfeld said he’s been talking with State Rep. Jeff Kurtz to look at possible grants to help offset some of the start up costs.
“It’s a little bleak, but we’re gonna to move forward,” he said.
Supervisors are leaning toward taking over the service July 1, 2021, but haven’t taken any action.
The council tabled a move to rezone property behind the Fort Madison Fire Department for up to 12 months. The property was going to be rezoned as a business district to allow a warehouse to be constructed for Holtkamp Floors, Decor and More. Holtkamp was going to construct the warehouse and lease space to the city for the ambulance bays and storage.
“He called me last week and said he had changed his plans and if we did not do the ambulance service that he would put his money other places. So he did not want to build the warehouse,” Herren said.
Bowker asked why the council should table it when the language of the rezoning didn’t reflect a need for the ambulance service, but to construct a business warehouse.
Building Director Doug Krogmeier said he’s had some comments from neighbors about the rezoning.
“There was enough concern that if the fire department doesn’t need it, I would just as soon see it turned down,” he said.
Heren said with the uncertainty of the ambulance service it’s best to table because if something breaks down in that agreement or the operation continues to struggle financially, the city will be better equipped to move forward.
“Say in six months this blows up with the ambulance service, then we have to go back and restart the proceedings,” Herren said.
The move to table was approved 6-0.