Lawsuits dropped against retired bishop, former IC Regina principal

May 29, 2009

The story can be found here.


IC supports fire station, looks at franchise fees

May 28, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – The City Council tonight once again pledged support for a long-discussed new fire station — and utility customers may be paying more for gas and electric service to make it happen.

Council members were unequivocal that a fire station would finally be built on the northeast side of town, where response times lag. They even said they’d like to start construction in the coming months, and Fire Chief Andy Rocca said it would take about 14 months to complete.

This council and previous ones have long said they want to build a station, which would be the city’s fourth, but have been unwillingly to pay for the extra firefighters needed to staff it.

A new state law may give the council its chance. Gov. Chet Culver signed a bill on Tuesday that allows cities to impose franchise fees of up to 5 percent on gas and electric service

In Iowa City, every 1 percent on gas and electric utilities would generate an estimated $360,000 and $490,000 annually, respectively, according to Interim City Manager Dale Helling.

Local-option sales taxes, like the one Iowa City voters just approved, cannot be collected on natural gas and electric utilities if a franchise fee is in place, so Helling suggested the first 1 percent of the fee be used to offset the lost tax revenue, which is to go toward flood-related projects.

But even at 4 percent, the money brought in would be significant, at up to $1.96 million on electric and $1.44 million on gas annually, according to city estimates.

Council members said they needed more information on the fees and will discuss them at an upcoming meeting. But they strongly indicated they would favor imposing the fees to pay for the fire station.

“We’ve been handed an opportunity with franchise fees,” Mayor Regenia Bailey said.

Added Connie Champion, “I don’t think we have a choice.”

Read the rest of this entry »

City may euthanize dog

May 28, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – The city’s animal services supervisor is recommending that a dog that has bitten several people be put down, but the owner is appealing.

Another Gazette reporter is working on the story, which can be read here.

Here is a copy of a memo on the issue from an assistant city attorney.

View this document on Scribd

Sheraton project moves forward

May 27, 2009
By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY — The popular walkway through the Sheraton Iowa City Hotel is a step closer to being closed at night.

The three-member City Council Economic Development Committee voted unanimously Wednesday in support of a plan to enhance an exterior walkway west of the downtown hotel that would replace the one inside.

The full council will have the final say and is expected to take up the matter June 16. If the council gives it’s approval, it is expected the exterior walkway will be finished by the time students return in August, said Wendy Ford, the city’s economic development coordinator.

If that happens, then the public easement through the hotel’s lobby will be closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. to everyone except hotel employees and guests.

See the earlier post below for more background on the issue. Also, here are a couple of images of the walkway, courtesy of Neumann Monson Architects, via the city. The first shows the walkway as it is now. The next couple are renderings of what it would look like.





Night view from south

Night view from south

Council to discuss fire station, franchise fees

May 27, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – The long-discussed, long-delayed fourth fire station and new franchise fees will be among the highlights of the council’s Thursday night budget meeting.

The council on Tuesday night began discussing specific services to cut and possible new revenue sources as it looks to cut $250,000 from the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, plus another $750,000 in the following year and beyond.

Those figures do not include staffing a new fire station, which would require an additional $750,000.

The Gazette’s story of the Tuesday meeting can be seen here. A copy of a city memo listing recommendations can be seen at the end of this post.

Toward the end of the meeting, which lasted until nearly 10 p.m., council members said they would decide on the fire station on Thursday.

This council has taken a lot of flak for first promising that they’d finally pay to staff the proposed fourth fire station, and then later removing the funding and making it a part of the “priority-setting process” the council currently is undertaking.

Read the rest of this entry »

Group to discuss Sheraton walkway

May 26, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – The City Council Economic Development Committee will discuss the Sheraton Iowa City walkway on Wednesday.

The meeting begins at 2:30 p.m. in the city manager’s conference room in City Hall.

In October, the council voted 5-2 to approve an agreement that lets the hotel’s new owner, RBD Iowa City, restrict access to the public easement that serves as a walkway through the hotel’s lobby between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Before that can happen, though, improvements must be made to an exterior walkway to the west of the building, including adding lighting and signs.

The easement through the hotel was created when the hotel was built in the 1980s. At night, it is commonly used by bar and restaurant patrons to enter and leave the Pedestrian Mall area.

Ron Kim of Davidson Hotel Co., which manages the hotel for RBD, told the council he wanted  to close off the walkway “to keep the unwanted behavior out” of the hotel.
Council members Amy Correia and Mike Wright cast the dissenting votes, saying that while they understood the hotel’s reasoning, they saw the outside passage as less safe than going through the building.

Other council members said they thought the exterior upgrades would suffice.

The easement currently is 25 feet wide and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The agreement approved in October will narrow it to about 12 feet. Between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., only hotel employees and guests will be allowed to use it.
In exchange, the hotel will pay half the cost of upgrading the exterior walkway. The city would pick up the other half of the bill, which in October was roughly estimated at up to $300,000.

Apply for down-payment help

May 26, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – The city is accepting applications for a new down-payment assistance program.

The city is working with developers to build 40 new homes at affordable prices, with flood victims receiving priority.

More information is available here.

I wrote a story earlier this month with information on the program. It is available here.