The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Top News

December 31, 2013

Top Local Stories of 2013

Recapping the top 10 Clinton Herald stories of 2013.

Clinton city services' costs climb

CLINTON —Clinton residents' wallets were stretched a little thinner this year as rates for sewer and garbage continued to rise.

In May, sewer rates were hiked by 9.5 percent, moving rates from $8.18 to $8.96 per unit. Council members rejected the increase when it came forward in April, but reversed their decision after they were told what the consequences would be.

The city would be unable to pursue a $6.55 million sewer revolving fund loan because without the rate increase, it could not prove that it had the sufficient rates to meet the requirements of the state revolving fund.

Without the loan, the city would not be able to complete the 25th Avenue North pump station project under the timeline mandated by the city’s long-term control plan.

Facing more sewer rate increases, city officials and staff met in July to discuss options for funding sewer work without boosting rates. As a result of that meeting, the city put two measures on voting ballots in November. One asked residents if the city should have a capital improvements levy, the other asked residents to take away the portion of local option sales tax that goes toward property tax relief and instead put it toward sewer and streets. Both failed.  

Adding to residents' bills, city officials in July increased the solid waste city service flat fee from $9.25 to $9.67 and the solid waste cart charge from $5.25 to $6.22. This brought the total increase for solid waste customers to $1.39.

The increase brought the monthly cost for a resident who uses the city’s solid waste service from $14.50 to $15.89, which means paying an additional $16.68 a year.

Residents who do not use the city’s garbage cart are only subject to the 42 cent increase in the city service flat fee, which covers recycling, yard waste, large item pickup and the Clinton County Area Solid Waste Agency fee.

The city is in the midst of determining if it can get out of the solid waste businesses altogether, which officials hope will lower costs for residents. A draft of the request for proposal that private haulers and the city will respond to is in the works and likely will be issued this spring.  

Clinton residents' homes also got a little less cluttered this year after public consternation caused city officials to hold large-item pickup.  

Residents had to wait until October for large-item pickup when council members made a last-minute decision to hold the citywide cleanup event.  

After discussing the service, the city sought bids for large-item pickup, but not a single private contractor put in a bid. After learning no one was interested in providing the service, council members decided to forgo a fall cleanup and opted for a spring 2014 cleanup instead.

Their decision was met with public frustration and council members decided to offer the fall cleanup after all. From late October to early November, residents adorned the streets with items too big to fit into their 95-gallon trash containers. Despite City Council members' concerns that the pickup would take too long or fill city streets with garbage that isn't allowed under pickup rules, city crews found few troublesome properties.

— By Katie Dahlstrom, Assistant Editor

City deals with trial loss, open records issue

CLINTON — After a three-week court battle, the city of Clinton walked away with nothing in its legal malpractice case against the attorney who represented it in a 2010 emergency medical services billing case.
The Oct. 19 decision of a Scott County jury that attorney Michael Walker was not negligent when he handled the city’s Federal False Claims EMS case brought to a close nearly a year and a half of city leaders trying to reclaim more than $4.5 million.
The city filed a legal malpractice suit against Walker and his law firm Hopkins and Huebner in March 2012, alleging Walker’s negligence caused the city to rush into settling with former firefighter Timothy Schultheis, who claimed the city was committing Medicare fraud by coding basic life support calls as advanced life support to receive higher reimbursements from the federal program.
The city sought $4.67 million to recoup the costs of the settlement and attorney and expert fees.
Lawyers battled in court for nearly three weeks in the legal malpractice case, which was moved to Scott County due to pre-trial publicity. Jury selection started Sept. 30 with opening statements and witness testimony starting the next day. Jurors then listened to 12 days of testimony before closing arguments started. The prosecution and defense paraded a slew of witnesses before jurors, ranging from lawyers and billing experts to the city staff who handled EMS coding and billings.  
The case cost the city more than $800,000. The city will continue to make $450,000 annual payments to Schultheis and the feds through 2019.  
Adding insult to injury, a month later the city was found to have violated open records laws when it denied access to a series of closed sessions from 2009 to 2010 during which city council members discussed the EMS billing suit. Further, those records were released, allowing the citizens insight into what council members were thinking when they decided to settle the case.  
Community group, the Citizens for Open Government in March 2012 partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa to sue the city over the series of closed sessions.
On Nov. 17, Seventh Judicial District Chief Judge Marlita Greve found the city had violated the Open Records Law by refusing to disclose the closed session records after the EMS billing case was finalized.
The city and CFOG members and attorneys — including CFOG Chairman Ward 3 Councilman-elect Ed O’Neill — met in court on Nov. 21 to discuss met with Seventh Judicial District Judge Joel Barrows to discuss the attorneys fees, injunctive relief and fines stemming from the apparent violations, but could not come to an agreement, pushing the trial on the matter to Jan. 30.
Under Iowa’s Open Records law, fines of $100 to $500 can be assessed against each member who participated in the violation for each of the six sessions. If the member knowingly violated the law, fines range from $1,000 to $2,500 per closed session.

- By Katie Dahlstrom, Assistant Editor

City administrator searches in Clinton, Fulton

CLINTON — Clinton officials didn't have to look far when they found the city's new administrator this year. After an exhaustive search process, council members chose someone who had been guiding them for months.  
Interim City Administrator and Finance Director Jessica Kinser was officially selected in June to fill the position that had been vacant for seven months.  
Kinser, who started as the city's finance director in October 2011, served as interim city administrator for six months after former City Administrator Jeff Horne resigned. Citing her performance during her time as administrator and knowledge of the city's financial situation, the council then gave unanimous support to her promotion to the permanent position. Council members' approval garnered applause from department heads and community members who attended the June 23 City Council meeting.  
Although Kinser was inside city hall the whole time, candidates from far and wide were given the opportunity to apply for the job.
The council took a new approach to find the city's chief executive officer this time around.  
Whereas previous city administrators were selected by a committee of council members and the mayor, the council this time decided to hand the search process to others. The council selected a 12-member community group to work with human resource consultant Paul Greufe to perform the search. Together, the group narrowed down a list that started with 24 applicants. They performed interviews and selected Kinser and Ben Benson, who was the assistant city administrator of Joliet, Ill., as the top two candidates.  The two finalists underwent an intensive interview process with community and business leaders in late May.
Council members are apparently pleased with their decision. In her 90-day evaluation, they showered her with praise for her enthusiasm, diligence and professionalism.  
Fulton, Ill., also welcomed a new city leader this year. In October, City Council members selected Ed Cannon, ending a process that included two rounds of applications and interviews.
Cannon, of Lake Zurich, Ill., replaced retired City Administrator Randy Balk. The council received more than 100 applications for the position after the search started in July.
When the city opened the position to the public in the spring, it received more than 40 applications and narrowed the field down to five final candidates in September.
However, the candidate the city felt would fit the position did not work out, prompting the council to re-open the position and start the second round of applications that led them to Cannon.

- By Katie Dahstrom, Assistant Editor

Election night creates some major changes

CLINTON — Clinton and Camanche city government saw big changes as a result of November’s election.
Clinton saw a number of candidates running for the open positions. Grant Wilke, Andy Sokolovich, Andrew Leutt, Tom Determann and incumbent Jennifer Graf ran for the two at-large seats on the council.
The results of this race shocked many. With so many candidates vying for the two positions, many expected a run-off election of the top four candidates in December. However, Tom Determann and Grant Wilke each gained more than the 1,680 votes needed to avoid a run-off.
Determann received the most votes with 2,126, or 31 percent of the vote. Wilke took 28 percent; 1,902 votes.
Sokolovich received 1,253 votes. Graf, who was seeking her second term, received 867 votes, or 12.9 percent. Luett received 8.41 percent with 565 votes.
In the Ward 2, Lynn McGraw, who was running unopposed, was elected onto the council. The Ward 1 race saw incumbent Maggie Klaes going up against Julie Allesee, a Ward 2 councilwoman who had to run again due to redistricting. In the Ward 3, incumbent Bev Hermann ran against Ed O’Neill.
Allesee was elected by a landslide, winning 81.75 percent of the vote with 448 votes. Klaes, who was seeking her second term, received 100 votes, or 18.25 percent. Allesee said her first concern is maintaining a stable budget in the city.
O’Neill beat Hermann with nearly 61 percent of the votes. He received 596 of the 980 votes cast. Hermann, who was seeking her second term, received 384, or 39 percent.
This will be the second time on the council for O’Neill, who served as an at-large councilman from mid-2003 to 2006. He ran for mayor in 2011 and was defeated in a run-off election by now-Mayor Mark Vulich. O’Neill plans to focus on straightening out the city’s finances.
In Camanche, three new members were elected, ousting the incumbents. Marvin Lind, William Wruck and Mike McManus won with 624, 554 and 520 votes.
At a time when the city council is working on the creation of a new city hall, incumbents Linda Kramer and Greg Nelson were not re-elected. Kramer received 445 votes. Nelson garnered 334 votes.
Candidates Charlie Blount and Lewis Creed received 305 and 70 votes, respectively. Former councilman Gary Kampe dropped out of the race before the election, due to health concerns, but still received 172 votes.
In the same election, Camanche Mayor Ken Fahlbeck retained his seat, despite competition from current Councilman Trevor Willis. Fahlbeck beat Willis 58.06 percent to 41.85 percent. Willis will remain on the council.

By Samantha Pidde, Staff Writer

Railport, tech park gain development

CLINTON — Three major industrial developments has city leaders and residents feeling hopeful and positive for the future of Clinton.
In November, crews completed the construction of a new Tier Two Data Center at Data Dimensions’ new location in the Lyons Business and Technology Park. Both RAIL.One and Nevada Railroad Materials broke ground in July at the Lincolnway railport and residents celebrated as Clysar bought out Bemis and relocated the company’s headquarters in Camanche.
All three developments either have or will be bringing dozens of new jobs to the city, and have planted deep roots into the growing municipality.
It’s because of that growth that city officials are pushing heavily on the railport and tech park, and after receiving two state grants that will provide access roads to the two industrial subdivisions the possibility of future developments is becoming an even bigger reality.
Along with attracting new businesses to town, sustaining already established businesses is another high priority for city leaders.
The relocation of the Clysar headquarters in May to Clinton County was one of the biggest developments for the area in 2013 and with the move more than 20 jobs were created within the business.
Not only have jobs been created within the facility, but plans for major renovations to the company to prepare for the headquarters relocation also has added work for local construction companies.
Those companies are also working on developing facilities for the two tenants at the railport and as the construction on those buildings continues to progress, the city is looking at ways to provide them with the essentials they will need to function.
The city is now working on ways to provide water to the park. Four options were presented to the city in September ranging from $2.7 million to $4 million.
Along with providing water, the city also is discussing contract negotiations with the county for the split of sale proceeds of land at the Lincolnway railport to repay the county $6 million the city borrowed to fund the railport.
With only six years remaining to pay back the debt, city officials are working to promote the land at the railport because if they are unable to generate enough revenue from land aquisitions, they will be required to fund it some other way.

— By Amy Kent, Staff Writer

Camanche gains new city hall

CAMANCHE — Out with the old and in with the new is how the city of Camanche approached 2013.
Camanche city officials ended the year with the hard work and headaches of the reconstruction of Washington Boulevard behind them after spending approximately $3.5 million on the project only to begin the city’s next major renovation project — replacing city hall.
Discussion on finding a new city hall or renovating the current one began in April, while line painting and resurfacing the boulevard were wrapping up and now, nearly eight months later, the city is finally moving forward with a plan for city hall.
Both the Washington Boulevard project and city hall project have had their fair share of naysayers and grievances between council members, but because of the city’s commitment to honor a list of goals it had set at the beginning of the year, both projects moved along through all of the rough patches.
Because the Washington Boulevard subject caused so many comments from citizens, it gave the council more of a reason to look into renovating city hall.
Several council members reflected on meetings about Washington Boulevard that were heavily attended by residents that many of them were forced to stand just so they could fit into the small council chambers at Camanche City Hall.
It is in part because of those days that Mayor Ken Fahlbeck suggested the council chambers at the new city hall location, purchased in November, have the capacity for 50 people, unlike the current on that houses approximately 40.
As the discussions continue, plans are being tweaked and changed, and city officials are beginning to show excitement toward a new city hall they can be proud of.
As for Washington Boulevard, construction may be completed, but the project could linger on in the future because of a discrepancy between the construction company and the city over a missed pay application for more than $26,000.
City leaders feel it is not their responsibility to rectify a mistake that was made by the construction company, and the company feels they did the work and therefore should be paid.
If the two cannot come to a settlement soon, the city could face a lawsuit that would end up costing them more than the $26,000 and would drag an already more than three year project on even longer.

By Amy Kent, Staff Writer

Village Cooperative and West Heights Townhomes construction

CLINTON — This year saw more housing in Clinton with the creation of two projects: the Village Cooperative and West Heights Townhomes.
The creation of the Village Cooperative addresses housing needs for area seniors. The $5 million project was designed to offer a maintenance-free and friendly atmosphere for seniors within a three-story building housing 44 homes. The single-level homes range from 879 to 1,475 square feet.
With an official groundbreaking for the Village Cooperative occurring in March 2012, the building project was well under way in January. Representatives from the project expected to it complete by March. However, delays pushed the opening to late April.
A laundry room, storage area and a private balcony or patio are included in each home. Other standard features include reading areas, a community room, club room, woodworking shop, guest suite, garden plots and underground heated parking with a carwash bay. By the beginning of April, 38 of the 44 units were sold.
The Village Cooperative also offered local job opportunites. A residential service coordinator, maintenance technician and housekeeper were needed for the building.
A low-income housing complex construction project also was completed at the end of the year, offering affordable housing to members of the community.
In early January, the West Heights Townhomes complex was slightly behind the original schedule, but slated to be built on the north side of Clinton at the corner of 11th Street Northwest and 14th Avenue Northwest. The Iowa Finance Authority Board awarded a federal tax credit, totaling more than $6 million over 10 years, and a HOME loan of $390,000 to fund the Community Housing Initiatives project.
CHI also operates the Van Allen Building Apartments, the Clinton Block Apartments and the Armstrong Apartments in Clinton. CHI Housing representative Matt Miller said previously that Clinton citizens needed affordable housing opportunities. The income restriction for a low-income family of four is $35,280.
The housing complex features 30 units and a mixture of three and four-bedroom apartments. CHI has agreed to rent at least eight units to individuals with physical, mental and developmental disabilities. Rent will be $545 to $600, including water, sewer and garbage.
Each apartment is handicap accessible with large bathrooms. The units also feature a kitchen area, living room, a built-in washer and dryer and a lot of storage space.
CHI held an open house for the complex Dec. 17 that was well-attended. More than 50 people visited the apartments within the first 30 minutes of the event.
Applications for the apartments are available. People are expected to move in by the beginning of January.

By Samantha Pidde, Staff Writer

Prison waits for funding

CLINTON — The future of the Thomson, Ill., correctional facility still hangs in the balance, but legislators are looking ahead after the United States government approved the federal budget for 2014.
President Barack Obama pushed to provide more than $166 million worth of funding in the federal budget to activate the prison. With approval from Congress, the full activation of the prison is expected to take two years at a cost of $25 million in fiscal year 2014 for upgrades and renovations and $168 million in fiscal year 2015 for equipment and staffing.
Very little has been done in preparation to open the Thomson prison since being purchased by the U.S. government in October 2012, but state legislators are still keeping a positive attitude toward the future of opening the prison.
In April, the Federal Bureau of Prisons transferred two staff members to the Illinois prison to begin preparations to open, but since then there have been no local employment opportunities advertised.
The federal government’s operation of Thomson’s prison is expected to create more than 1,100 jobs and have an economic impact on Whiteside, Lee and Ogle counties, and the city of Clinton.
Although progress on the opening of the prison has reached a standstill, city officials in Fulton, Ill., have been working the past year to prepare the community for when the major economic development is activated. The city received an economic assessment in preparation for the prison’s opening that suggested the city offer incentives to potential businesses.
Fulton leaders took that advice and began preparing for economic growth in the river city, but so far haven’t seen any reciprocation from the federal government and the Thomson prison.
Action on the prison would mean a major economic boost to not only the village of Thomson but all of the surrounding area, but it is something residents have been told before and they remain skeptical about the future of the federal facility.
With the signing of the federal budget for 2014, funding will be available to activate the prison. Annual operation of the facility is expected to generate more than $122 million in operating expenditures including salaries, $19 million in labor income and $61 million in local business sales.
If the prison is activated, it will be the first time the facility has housed any inmates since 2010 and will be the first time it has been fully functional since its construction in 2001.

By Amy Kent, Staff Writer

School District's new middle school

CLINTON — Construction on the Clinton School District’s new middle school progressed this year, despite delays and change orders.
The project started early this year after the school board approved a $1 million bid in mid-January. A total of 107 bids had been received on Dec. 13, 2012. Funds from the one cent sales tax will be used to finance the project.
The district proposed the construction of the new middle school, near the intersection of 13th Avenue North and 16th Street Northwest, to combine all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students into one building. This building will replace the Washington Middle School, built in 1935, and Lyons Middle School, built in 1971. The new school will feature classrooms designed to facilitate inquiry-based learning and foster education.
On April 9, the school district broke ground on the building.
At the time, Lyons Middle School Principal Dan Boyd, who will become the principal of the new middle school, said combining the two middle schools has been a goal of the middle school leadership team for many years.The two schools have shared programs for more than a decade. The leadership has spent the past three years working on plans to unify the students, parents, staff and the community once the project is complete.
By this fall, basic infrastructure of the building could be seen. While Superintendent Deb Olson hoped to see the building fully enclosed before the end of the year, Project Engineer Eric White reported in September that the project was behind schedule because of soil under one portion of the school and the fire access road was determined too soft to handle the structure load. The school board approved change orders of $38,254 and $35,539 related to the issue. White added that some parts would be enclosed in December and others in January.
The additional change orders took a significant amount from the project’s contingency fund. The $400,000 contingency had been whittled to $236,000 in October.
These delays have pushed back the expected completion date by at least a month. Instead of being done in July, the project is expected to be finished in mid-August.
The school is expected to be open to students by the 2014-2015 school year.

By Samantha Pidde, Staff Writer

One major road project completed one left to finish

CLINTON — Since the mid-1990s, the city of Clinton has been working with state and federal officials to complete two major road projects — 19th Avenue North, which is entering its final phase, and Liberty Square, which was completed this year — that will affect how traffic moves throughout the city of Clinton for years to come.
The 19th Avenue North extension, once completed next year, is designed to funnel traffic from the Iowa 136 bridge to the Lyons Business and Technology Park while creating an east-west corridor that will complete the loop around Clinton that already consists of Mill Creek Parkway, U.S. 30 and U.S. 67.
The extension will connect Millcreek Parkway to Main Avenue, allowing for future development in the park by opening up an additional 80 acres. Additionally, the extension will provide another access and exit to accommodate the increased traffic that has occurred as a result of the development in the area.
Phases I and II of the project, which are already complete, have connected Mill Creek Parkway to Springdale Drive and extended the road to approximately 1,100 feet west of Randall Court. The third phase, now under way, will connect to the road constructed in Phase II.
Roughly one mile of concrete from North Second Street to the existing dead end of 19th Avenue Northwest will be constructed and reconstructed as part of phase III. The project also will include storm and sanitary sewer improvements, traffic signal improvements and the construction of retaining walls. According to the timeline provided by the Iowa Department of Transportation, construction should start in May 2014 and the project is to wrap up in November 2014.
In recent developments, the city of Clinton accepted a $450,000 Restoring Iowa’s Sound Economy grant to construct 1,100 feet of 19th Avenue North, 880 feet of 10th Street Northwest and a right-turn lane on Main Avenue.
The city will be responsible for the remaining $1.1 million of the $1.55 million project, which it plans to nearly cover using tax increment financing. The tech park is an urban renewal area and the city recently amended the urban renewal agreement, making way for the roadway extension.
“By the council taking the action to approve that urban renewal plan, this is now a project we can request tax increment financing for to fund,” City Administrator Jessica Kinser explained.
A $300,000 shortfall remains, which the city has asked the Clinton County Development Association to cover. This portion of the project would pay for items not eligible under the RISE grant, such as turn lanes on Mill Creek Parkway. If the CCDA couldn’t bankroll the $300,000, the city would scale down the portions not covered by the RISE grant and TIF.
According to Kinser, there won’t be any debt associated with the project.
“We’re looking at the unique ability to have what I estimate to be $800,000 of tax increment financing available in fiscal year 2015 because we have no other obligations in that district. So if we can meet that other $300,000 portion then we’ll be looking at being able to cash flow this in the current year,” Kinser said.
It all means that by this time next year, 19th Avenue North will run through the Lyons Business and Technology Park with the hopes of opening the park for more development.
The other major project, that of Liberty Square, is the redevelopment of a stretch of U.S. 30 and 67 that runs between South Fourth and 14th streets and has included the development of two separate, three-lane, one-way roads, Camanche and Liberty avenues. Officials have said their hope would be the development of several blocks of new commercial properties in between the two roads.
Local leaders worked for years to secure funding to see the $50 million project through to completion, learning in 2005 that a draft five-year plan presented to the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission revealed it was one of five Clinton County projects on the state’s priority list.
At that time, the DOT had already contacted some property owners about acquisition, utilizing a $1 million Liberty Square allocation from 2004. Clinton secured $13.6 million in federal funding for Liberty Square in the federal transportation reauthorization bill passed by Congress at that time as well.
Since the late 2000s, the area has been in the midst of paving and grading projects with property acquisition and demolition beginning before that.
Now, more than a decade later, Liberty Square work has wound down to completion, opening up what was once a blighted area to development that will make the area the grand entrance into Clinton that leaders have imagined for years.
“It is the gateway to the community. Everyone who travels to Clinton, travels through Clinton, will see Liberty Square,” City Engineer Jason Craft told the Clinton Herald.
“This will increase driving efficiency and safety,” he said. “Anytime you have a parallel one-way system where traffic only go the area should not be congested, ever. Not to mention it will be a smooth driving surface.”
The project also resolves some drainage issues that plagued the former Camanche Avenue because of how flat the road was and the combined sewer system.
Of the $50 million cost, Liberty Avenue cost $15 million with $3.5 million coming from the city and the remainder coming from the federal government and state.Camanche Avenue also cost $15 million, with the city pitching in $2.5 million and the state and federal governments paying the remaining $12.5 million.
Another $20 million went toward land acquisition. The city owns most of the interior lots between Camanche and Liberty avenues. The city has money set aside to purchase the parcels that are still owned by the state once the state is ready to hand them over, which could take up to a year or longer on the properties west of 13th Avenue South, city officials said in September.

By Charlene Bielema, Herald Editor

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