Sewer plant upgrade planning, city debt, ‘Old’ Energy building

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor,

     A recent Letter to the Editor written by citizen Steve Hanken is, unfortunately, inconsistent with actual facts.

     Mr. Hanken stated, “So, after dragging our feet for two years, the city council finally has hired a bonding company for $18,000 to figure out what we need for a sewer plant.” There are three factual errors in that statement. First, the city council has not been dragging their feet for two years; the council in fact, by Resolution No. 2018-48, hired Snyder & Associates, an engineering firm, to begin the study and planning process for a new sewage treatment plant. The process of designing and building a new sewage treatment plant is heavily regulated and subject to review and approval by the IDNR. The study and design have been underway ever since the approval of Resolution 2018- 48 on April 2, 2018.

     The second and third errors may be found in the statement that the city “finally has hired a bonding company for $18,000 to figure out what we need for a sewer plant”. The city council approved Resolution 2020-100 on Oct. 5, approving an engagement letter with Public Financial Management (PFM), the city’s financial advisor. PFM will work with city staff on all of the potential funding options, from General Obligation Debt, Revenue Debt, to rate increases. PFM is neither a “bonding company” (Error #2) nor are they in the business of “figuring out what we need for a sewer plant.” (Error #3)

     The cost estimate for the plant has never been certain and will continue to get fine-tuned as the planning proceeds. No one working for the city, the city engineer, nor the editor of the Express recalls the sewer plant upgrade cost ever being estimated between $5 to $6 million, the estimate always being in the $8 to $10 million range. Maybe Mr. Hanken can offer some support for that position.

     Mr. Hanken’s fourth error lies in his statement that the city has “carried a $10 million-dollar debt for at least 10 years.” The highest debt carried by the city in the last 10 years was $7,425,000 entering FY2010. Entering FY12 the city carried $7,095,000 in debt and entering FY11 the city carried debt totaling $6,400,000. Debt entering all other years since FY10 has ranged from $2,390,000 to $5,835, a far cry from $10 million.

     Debt entering this fiscal year totaled $4,130,000. The city clerk does not believe the city debt balance has in the history of the city ever topped $10 million.

     It appears that Mr. Hanken is also wrong when he asserted that, “Two years ago, it was reported in the Express, that Anamosa citizens had suffered from sticker shock when their rates went up $50 a month because of a new sewage plant.” The editor of the Express doubted such a report and could not find evidence of such a report in her search of their archives.

     The Anamosa City Clerk also cast doubt on that assertion, telling me that the sewer plant was constructed in approximately 2008 being rebuilt since that time due to a significant flood event, with FEMA covering most of the costs. The Anamosa Clerk reported that the Anamosa Water Treatment Plant was upgraded in 2016 and that residents saw an average increase of $10 to $15 per month. (Drinking water treatment, something we don’t have to do in Monticello due to the quality of the water we pump.)

     While not sewer plant related, Mr. Hanken also mentions the city-owned “Compadres” building and its disrepair. The disrepair part is true and unfortunate, the city acquired it in a state of significant disrepair caused by the prior owner. The city obtained a structural analysis of the building and a cost estimate to demolish the structure. The demolition cost was significant, over $400,000, due at least partially to the numerous connections to adjacent buildings. The city has received grants to perform an environmental study, asbestos inspection, and to cover $60,000 of asbestos removal and roof repairs. Unfortunately, it has been a struggle to find a contractor willing to tackle the roof project. Efforts will continue with the goal of re-roofing the structure in the spring and early summer of 2021.

     Now, onto the next erroneous Hanken statement. Mr. Hanken correctly notes that the city is pursuing the purchase of the old Energy building but fails to note that the purchase would be a FEMA supported purchase with the city covering 15 percent of the costs, the state covering 10 percent, and FEMA covering 75 percent of the acquisition and demolition costs. So, when Mr. Hanken says that “we can all watch another building gradually fall in,” he is again far off base. The rationale behind FEMA buyouts is to clear the flood plain of hazards and flooded structures, returning the area to a largely natural area. FEMA would not support the acquisition of a structure to leave it stand. The city investment is estimated to be under $50,000 and is based upon assumed asbestos removal and demolition costs.

     Finally, Mr. Hanken suggests that this council or councils over the years have opted “for the City Administrator to make the decisions.” I have been in the position of city administrator for over 14 years and have worked with numerous mayors and councilpersons. I have never once voted nor have any of those members allowed me to vote for them by “proxy” if you will. I have not worked for a Councilperson that did not have a mind of their own. They can vote yes, no, move to table, or abstain on any agenda item. They can direct action and investigation of topics and choose which direction the city should go. I work for them; they do not work for me.

     I won’t refer to Mr. Hanken’s statement that the council opts for the city manager to make their decisions as another in the long list of erroneous statements, generously allowing this one to fall into the category of “opinion.”

     If you have questions on any of these topics or others, feel free to reach out to your elected officials or city staff. The council meets twice monthly on a regular basis on the first and third Mondays at 6 p.m., with special meetings from time to time as needed. The council packets, which are comprised of background information and documents on topics to be considered by the council, are always on the city website. City council meetings can be watched live on Mediacom and are recorded for playback on our website. Volume of playback is an issue we are working on and the council will need to decide whether or not to proceed with an upgrade of the Council Chambers equipment to improve the overall presentation, recording, and playback of the meetings at an estimated cost of $20,000 plus.

     It is tough in this day and age to know what to believe with so many allegations, partial truths, and biased information being shared on so many platforms. It is unfortunate that a Letter to the Editor in our local newspaper could be so full of falsehoods. With just a little effort and interest in the truth, the facts could have been established. Instead, truth is thrown to the wind with allegations and statements not based in fact, easily disproven, presented as true, presented as if the presenter was a knowledgeable citizen looking out for you. It is not clear how many believed Mr. Hanken’s assertions and how many questioned them. Fortunately, most reasonable folks know better than to believe everything they’re told, especially in the midst of a barrage of political ads; unfortunate. Mr. Hanken’s letter does nothing but support that proposition; unfortunate. This article with supportive documents referenced herein, will be posted to the city website for those of you that wish to give these matters further review.

Doug Herman

Monticello City Administrator


Subscriber Login