CAMANCHE — The Camanche City Council conducted a special committee of the whole meeting at 7 p.m. Monday night to solicit public input regarding several issues regarding the future of Camanche.

More than 60 people filled the room at the Camanche Fire Department to discuss taxation, the number of police officers and firemen, ambulance services, the possibility of hiring a city administrator, duties of department heads and the possible sale of the county landfill. Many of the topics were discussed at length, while on others, the council noted public opinion was clearly defined.

The first topic addressed was taxation. Councilman Ron Wehde said necessary increases in sewer and tax rates were due to problems with the city budget and noted water rates and possibly garbage rates could be increased. Wehde said the council is trying to control spending while improving city services. Camanche resident Jim Griswold asked what the current tax rate is and what the increase would be.

Councilwoman Linda Kramer said the current rate is $10.58 per $1,000 of taxable valuation and the increase will put the rate at $11.79 per $1,000.

Wehde said the increase was kept to a minimum because the city began using reserve funds in order to lessen the burden on taxpayers.

Mayor Jim Robertson said the main problem was under- or unfunded state mandates for city services improvements and said rate increases are the cost of doing city business. Kramer expressed the council’s apprehension at raising rates.

“We try to put the money where we feel, the community feels, it’s supposed to go,” Kramer said. “You hate to raise anything, but there’s a certain amount you have to raise to keep things going.”

Resident Janille Thompson said the tax increase is frustrating, especially for those who don’t have some city services but still have to pay the increases. Robertson said services would be expanded with improvements such as the possible upgrade of the waste water treatment plant.

He said more residents would be served by service improvements and the upgrades would be beneficial for the entire city, but noted that no plans for the plant were final. Robertson said one of the main goals of the council was to stagger rates to make them easier for residents to adjust to, opting for gradual increases over time rather than a significant rate increase all at once.

Resident Jake Van Zuiden asked the council what was being done to bring new business to the community. Robertson said effort is constant to bring new business to Camanche, with city officials specifically working with the Clinton Regional Development Corp. and added that many area businesses have expanded or made improvements to properties.

Councilman Trevor Willis said city officials always are looking for business opportunities and the council is open to suggestions from the public about possible avenues that could be explored. Camanche resident and police officer Paul Varner said he realizes the cost of doing business isn’t getting any cheaper and added that he understands the need for rate increases.

The council discussed the number of full-time officers on the Camanche Police Department. Wehde said some confusion had been brought to his attention regarding the issue. He said the discussion was not about cutting the number of officers on the force, but the possibility of adding more officers. Wehde said recent developments have detailed the impending need for additional officers, including a possible annexation of land between Low Moor and Folletts, adding more property to the city of Camanche.

Kramer said research into other cities with similar populations put Camanche in the ballpark of an officer to citizen ratio of one officer per 600 residents. Police Chief Robert Houzenga said that to be up to par, the department would need almost 11 officers, while only seven currently serve on the department. Camanche resident Judy Schaaf said her employment keeps her out late at night and she always sees Camanche police officers patrolling the streets.

“I think that’s a real commendable thing,” Schaaf said. “It’s made me feel very safe as a citizen coming home late at night.”

Houzenga said despite the city’s population, the draw on the department is increasing because of the volume of calls for service. He added that he has been a vocal proponent of adding more officers and said it is critical to do as soon as possible to continue providing adequate police protection.

Councilman Kenneth Fahlbeck said the department has been short-staffed for a while and officers must work 12-hour shifts and complete some overtime to fill in the gaps. Fahlbeck said he’d like to commend the officers for their hard work and dedication, to which the audience responded with thunderous applause.

Resident Myrna Weller said if the police chief has been recommending adding more officers, the council should take it under serious consideration.

“I fully believe we need to keep our services up to date,” said Weller. Willis said the council has taken it under consideration and that the real problem lies in finding room in the budget to afford more city employees.

Applause also broke out when Jerry Wiebers said Camanche reserve police officers deserve a pat on the back for supporting full-time officers. He said he heard rumors about reserve officers not being able to perform duties they had in the past such as responding to calls on their own. Wiebers said Houzenga should be allowed to run the reserves as he chooses because they are a good backup for full-time officers.

Houzenga said reserve officers now are covered by Iowa code and limitations were placed on reserve officers because, while they have similar training, reserve officers receive fewer hours of training. He added that reserve officers cannot supplant regular officers and the reserves are volunteers, being paid only $1 per year before taxes for their efforts.

Robertson said the council is not trying to micromanage the police department and that the primary objective is the safety of police officers. He said he appreciates the reserves and thinks they do a good job. Camanche resident Phyllis Kracian asked if more officers could be on duty at night because many offenses occur during evening hours.

Steve Cundiff, councilman and employee of the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, said officers sometimes are busier during the daytime because of administrative duties as well as service calls. Camanche School Board member Shelley McCausland asked how many vacancies there were on the police department. Robertson noted one current vacancy and said Houzenga was in the process of filling that vacancy.

Resident Mark Lineberry asked about the possible annexation and questioned if a timeline had been set. Robertson said the annexation still is being discussed and no plans have been finalized. City Attorney Tom Lonergan said the city is consulting the comprehensive land use plan, which is available for viewing at City Hall, and that there is no rush to annexation at this point.

Wehde continued the meeting saying the next issues related to each other, including the number of firemen, the issue of ambulance services and the possible need for a city administrator. He said while many people have suggested the need for a city administrator, no one on the council would be prepared to vote for such a position at the expense of losing officers or firefighters. Marshall Richardson said he was for increasing the number of officers and firemen because he’d rather see the city err on the side of safety than have too few in case of an emergency.

Donna Current said she was in favor of hiring a city administrator, noting other area cities have benefited from having an administrator. She said the position would be of great value to the city and added that many city officials in areas with administrators have said the position pays for itself in benefits to the city over time in the form of seized opportunities.

Bill Rowe said public safety is the top issue the city should be concerned with and asked where the money would come from to hire a city administrator. He said police officers and firemen earn their wages every day and that the city should first get some sort of proof of future benefits from the position. Rowe garnered a laugh when he said possibly the city administrator also could mow Platt Park in their spare time.

Kramer said many cities she spoke with provided her with a list of things accomplished by their city administrators and all said those opportunities would not have been possible without the administrator. She added now may not be the right time to hire a city administrator, but said the city needs to investigate the possibility and have its homework done.

Robertson said the city should take the necessary steps to plan for the addition of a city administrator position because the job would provide continuity between new council members and mayors over the years. Russ Wiebers said if Camanche had a city administrator years ago, the city might not have the budget problems it has now and said he thinks it’s time Camanche stepped into the future as surrounding cities have done.

Jerry Wiebers agreed and said he’s totally in favor of the new position. He likened it to buying a new furnace for a home, whereas the initial cost is significant but the efficiency would save money in the long run. He added there are many responsibilities being handled by other city officials that could be taken over by an administrator and he believes the position would pay for itself in due time.

As a former member of the Camanche Fire Department, Jerry Wiebers said firefighters routinely apply for grants, recently receiving a grant for $240,000 for new equipment, money the city otherwise would have had to come up with. He said a professional city administrator could seek out grants that would be beneficial to the city and would provide a chain of command and communication between city departments.

Willis reiterated the city currently cannot afford to add the position, and although the council certainly is not against it and research has been done into the issue, the council has many pressing current issues to deal with.

The council discussed the possibility of contracting out ambulance services or charging fees for calls. Linda Putman said rate increases are acceptable because public safety is the top city priority and the citizens appreciate their efforts. Donna Current asked if the city could charge for ambulance services and write the charges off for those without insurance, saying most insurance plans pay for ambulance charges.

Fire Chief Bob Alm said the ambulance service is staffed by two paid workers and volunteers and they have not charged for service calls because they feel they are providing a much needed service to the community. Alm said the people serving on the ambulances enjoy volunteering their time and are happy to provide the service to anyone who needs their help. He said they are doing what needs to be done and are doing a good job, to which the audience expressed their appreciation through applause.

Jerry Wiebers said through the years, the volunteers on the fire department and ambulance service have offered countless hours of service. He said the two main issues were liability and affordability. He said volunteers are covered under the Good Samaritan Act, which prevents lawsuits against those attempting to help in difficult situations, and none of the volunteers want to see residents do without the service because they can’t afford to pay a fee. He said if the city does begin to charge a fee, he would like to see some of the money go back to the volunteers.

Eric Dau said if the city was to contract out ambulance services, emergency response times would increase and cause a negative impact on the citizens. Judy Schaaf said the city is known for its volunteerism and Robertson added it is one of the nice things about the community. McCausland said one nice thing is that residents often recognize the volunteers during an emergency and it is comforting. Wehde said the community opinion was clear on the issue.

Duties of department heads were discussed. Alm said anyone can report illegal activities. He said illegal fires would be investigated by the fire department during regular business hours and after 3:30 p.m. the police would investigate. Houzenga said nuisance calls usually are handled by the police department.

Wehde pointed out Clinton currently is nailing down nuisance ordinance classifications and it should be something Camanche looks into. Robertson noted the city is attempting to define protocol when dealing with nuisance reports, including remedial procedures and follow up techniques.

Wehde talked about the possible sale of the landfill to Allied Waste Management, saying a vote was held last week in which he voted against the sale but city of Clinton and Clinton County officials voted in favor of continuing discussion. He said the sale still was up in the air and no definitive offer had been decided upon.

He questioned whether Allied would continue state-mandated recycling or whether the city would have to make separate recycling plans following a sale. Lonergan noted the option was being considered because solid waste rates had been steadily and rapidly increasing and the issue bears further discussion. Wehde said a meeting was scheduled for next Wednesday with area officials and Allied representatives and more information should be available soon.

Following discussion of agenda items, Robertson asked the public if discussion was desired on other topics. Jerry Wiebers addressed the council and said the city should look into bringing an assisted living center to the city as many elderly residents who have lived their entire lives in Camanche must move to Clinton or elsewhere when in need of assistive care. Robertson agreed and Fahlbeck said it was one of the goals of the council.

Robertson addressed the much-needed repairs to Washington Boulevard, saying because the base of the road is compromised, simply resurfacing the street would last only for possibly 15 years. He said discussion has been held regarding making the street a three-lane road because the state would foot much of the bill. Robertson questioned if three lanes were necessary and said he would like to see it remain a two-lane road but with an added bike trail.

He added that Washington Boulevard is the main artery through town, the first thing people traveling through notice, and that repairs are needed not only to improve infrastructure but to improve its appearance.

Robertson closed the meeting by saying the council is attempting to make good decisions for the community and improve the quality of life for all Camanche residents. He said the purpose of the meeting was to solicit community input on pressing issues facing Camanche so the council can act with the community’s best intentions in mind. Robertson said he hoped he would see more people attending regular council meetings and thanked all in attendance for coming, saying it was a very good discussion.

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