Meller, county in talks for former Iowan property



FORT MADISON - Discussions of a new Lee County Health Department have focused on the former Iowan Motor Lodge property in Fort Madison.

County officials have been in talks with the property's owner, Circle M Inc., since November and a tentative agreement between the two entities has been reached. Circle M is owned by Glen Meller, who also owns Meller Excavating and Asphalt, Inc.

Lee County American Rescue Plan Act Administrator Chuck Vandenberg said details of the agreement will be released at a later date, but the county is moving forward with getting the property inspected.

Plans for the new health department also include providing space for the Lee County Ambulance EMS's Fort Madison location.

The former Iowan Motor Lodge could be part of a new Lee County Health Department if the steel structure currently on the lot is still viable for construction. PCC File photo

When those plans were included, property previously considered for a new health department facility in Montrose near the sheriff's office didn't meet response time criteria for the ambulance to respond to calls on the county's northeast side.

At that point, county officials began looking for a place closer to Fort Madison and the vacant property came into focus.

Vandenberg said the steel that is currently on the lot will be inspected to see if could be viable for usage within the construction of the new facility.

"The Mellers had agreed to go in and clean that up, but have since agreed to let the county have it inspected to see if it can be used. I just want to point out how proactive the Meller family, especially Glen Meller, has been in this process. They certainly have the county's best interests at heart," Vandenberg said.

Supervisor Garry Seyb said the agreement goes a long way in helping bring the possibility of a new health department closer to reality.

"I think it's a great thing for everyone and I want to personally thank everyone involved for moving this forward," he said.

The health department commissioned a design for a new facility in 2016 with a $2.6 million price tag that was to be built on property the county already owned in Montrose.

The ARPA committee also moved four projects, including three county maintenance projects that would digitize records in the County Recorder, Auditor and Engineer's offices, to the Board of Supervisors for approval of funding. Digitizing the records will allow them to be viewed online which will reduce the need to do those searches in person at county offices. In the event of future pandemics or an extension of the current pandemic requiring closure of facilities, the public could still access records and the departments could be functional via the Internet.

A $24,000 maintenance project for installing enhanced filters throughout county buildings is also included, as is project to replace a grease trap that has undergone heavy use due to the increased meals being prepared and delivered to county seniors during the pandemic. The county projects total just under $340,000 combined.

The other project was $15,000 in last-in funding for improvements at the KPLAY playground in Keokuk.

The board agreed to meet again on Feb. 7 to discuss further projects.

The board also took a first look at an agreement that will be executed with recipients of funding awards from the county. The agreement outlines compliance issues and reporting requirements that are required by the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury. The county is responsible for tracking and reporting on compliance issues on a quarterly basis and the agreement outlines those requirements.

Vandenberg also said the Treasury issued final rules on the ARPA funds late last week and included in those rules is a Written Justification form that is now required for any capital facility improvement expense in excess of $1 million.

The Lee County Health Department would fall under that new requirement, but Vandenberg said details on that form haven't been fleshed out yet by the Iowa State Association of Counties, or the National Association of Counties.

He said he didn't see the new requirement being prohibitive in the new construction, but the report does require counties to outline how the project would compare to two other alternatives to new construction such as leasing options.

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