BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With plans in full swing on a new $11 million Fort Madison marina, Mayor Matt Morhfeld asked for a special convening of the council to get a commitment on a $1.5 million spend to turn the key on the project.
At the end of Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting, Mohrfeld updated the council on the project and said in addition to asking the Southeast Iowa Regional Riverboat Commission for $1.5 million to replace the aging dock system, he’s also in the ear of newly elected Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks for a possible federal earmark.
“There have been some community project funds rolled down from the federal government designed to enhance local communities, and and they are being disseminated through congressional districts and each congressperson is getting 10 projects,” Mohrfeld said.
“We are applying to Congressperson Miller-Meeks to have us considered on that. It’s a whirlwind application. We have 10 days to put that together.”
Mohrfeld scheduled a Thursday meeting for the single agenda item.
The Mayor’s getting an assist on the project from Barker Financial President David Barker, who’s a member of the Iowa Republican Party State Central Committee.
‘He was up to speed on the project and had been reading on it in the media. He wants to help and we’re taking him up on it,” Mohrfeld said.
Barker’s company is the same company that stepped up and finished the Cattermole Library and Old Lee County Bank and is now facilitating progress in the former Sears building. They also have ownership of the Kingsley Inn and River Rocks restaurant.
Mohrfeld said having the city’s commitment in place would put a shine on the application for federal funds. He didn’t indicate the amount of funding that could be secured.
Mike Norris with Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission is also helping put the application together.
Mohrfeld said FEMA is now back in on the marina project and is actually looking at a helping pay for a deeper dredge in the marina.
“Every foot is $250,000, and that four foot dredge is a $1 million, so that’s good news.”
He said the docks will probably come out after rodeo and dredging could begin at that point.
Councilman Mark Lair asked Mohrfeld where the city was going come up with $1.5 million.
Mohrfeld said his plan is to borrow the money from the city’s Highway 61 fund and then add that amount to general obligation bonds that will have to be taken out to finish the Highway 61 rehabilitation.
“I was on the council when that money come down, and the council said absolutely we are not going to use that money for anything but the highway project… period,” Lair said while shaking his head at Mohrfeld’s suggestion.
Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker replied the money should have been spent sooner.
“It’s too bad the council didn’t use it a lot earlier and we probably could’ve gotten a lot more done, but as it is we’re gonna have to bond for it anyway,” she said.
Mohrfeld said the money is sitting there. The city can kick the can down the road and when they have to extend into the final phase of the road project, the city will bond for it and add on the $1.5 million it borrowed for the marina.
“The short answer is we are looking at bonding for this project. No doubt about it,” Morhfeld said.
“But we’re not looking at raising taxes,” Lair asked.
“We absolutely are,” Morhfeld said. “We will absolutely raise taxes. There is no free money and if anyone tells you that, it’s a shell game.”
In lieu of borrowing the money from the highway fund, he said the city needed to start looking at other internal borrowing to get it done.
Councilman Tom Schulz said it should be noted that the city has a dilapidated facility and the city can close it or invest to keep it usable.
“Investing in this matter rather than just going in and fixing it, where the cost could be similar, we’re now attracting investors. So now rather than just repairing some docks and a seawall – we’re making a complete project of this and drawing in money from private investors, grants, and other entities,” he said.
“This money is being multiplied in many ways from other areas where it would not be if all we’re going to do was going down and repair some docks. This is a well thought out plan.”
Councilman Rusty Andrews said the community wants the highway project completed and it’s not going to be free, so the city will have to borrow to finish the project.
In other action, the council:
• approved, 7-0, a 3-year lease with RiverfestFM L.L.C at $600 per year for the four-day event
• approved, 7-0, a 3-year lease agreement with Building Materials for land owned by the city that Building Materials currently occupies. The agreement calls for Building Materials to pay $1,200 per year for the three years.
• approved two change orders by 6-1 votes (Councilman Kevin Rink opposed) on work on the Hwy. 61 2nd to 6th street work, and on Phase 2 of city parking lot renovations, with a total of about $7,100 on each project.