City leaders ask for crossing guard, Sunday library hours and more
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · January 18, 2013

Sunday hours at the West Branch Public Library? Yes, if the City Council approves another $6,800 in funding, requested by Library Director Nick Shimmin, for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Shimmin said the staff would like to provide four hours on Sunday afternoons, though the exact hours will be determined later.

In a Jan. 10 budget workshop, the city shared that it estimates $3.3 million in revenue for the coming year, and $3.9 million in expenditures. However, about $470,000 in bond proceeds will come in this year, but be spent next year, accounting for the difference.

Of the budget total, about a third, or $1.187 million, is in the general fund, of which the city council has the most flexibility to spend as it wishes.

Also on the city wish list:

• A crossing guard for Oliphant and Main Street. Police Chief Mike Horihan said the city would offer to pay half, or $1,086, if West Branch Community Schools pays the other half.

• Replace a 2002 server, with speed and memory to handle video and audio files at the police department: $4,000 to $4,500.

• New air packs for the fire department: $20,000 more in the equipment line-item, up from $80,000. Fire Administrator Dick Stoolman said the federal government “won’t let us use (the old air packs) after this year.”

• New sidewalks: $47,600. City Administrator Matt Muckler said a Safe Routes To School grant will be submitted in a month or two, but this is contingency money in case the grant fails.

• “Radio read” water meters: Part of $16,600 for the water department. Public Works Director Matt Goodale said a truck equipped with a receiver could collect water usage data simply by driving by the homes. Within five years, he hopes to have half the town set up, and reduce meter readers from two people to one.

• A pedestrian bridge from West Branch Village to the Hoover Trail. Muckler said the Boy Scouts may provide the labor while a grant helps pay for materials “if we can get the engineering done.” He asked for $25,000 for engineering.

The budget workshop lasted about 2 1/2 hours, with department heads explaining how much they would like to get and why.

The police chief said he plans to not apply for $4,500 in grant money from the state in exchange for increasing patrols and ticket-writing on holiday weekends. Horihan said there are restrictions on how to spend the funds, and it requires paying overtime to officers working extra shifts.

“At best, we break even,” he said, saying he sees a police department more about “quality and taking care of citizens.”

Stoolman said the Local Option Sales Tax voters approved, to build an addition at the fire department, is bringing in more revenue than expected. The LOST tax was set for four years, and has been in place for two years.

“One more year and it’s paid for,” he said.

Once the addition is paid off, the city can either end the tax, or ask voters to approve using it for another project. Muckler said the city directed engineers to rate the streets in most need for repairs, and it will ask voters to approve fixing the worst roads with the extra LOST money.

Goodale asked for $20,000 to use sealcoat and concrete in some of the alleyways.

“We have a neverending job of cleaning up gravel off of roads after rain storms,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Oaks balked at the idea, saying neighbors ought to pool money to care for alleys only they use.

“We never did it in my 30 years” with the public works department, he said.

Council member Mark Worrell said alleys are city property. Worrell, who also runs a plowing business, said he refuses to plow city alleys for pay anymore because they are in such bad condition.

Oaks said he has a “real problem” fixing alleys when streets are in disrepair.

Council members also debated whether they should continue membership with Iowa City Area Development after fees increased from $2,750 to $5,000.

Worrell wondered what ICAD brought to West Branch. He thinks Wausau, Procter & Gamble and Acciona would have come here simply because of the great location.

“Just breathing is going to get you those,” he said. “It’s a grease-my-palm thing.”

Oaks said he would “hate to pull the plug” on involvement in the economic development organization.

“Maybe someday they will pick us a winner,” he said.

Council member Colton Miller wondered about the council’s view of ICAD.

“If we pay $5,000, we’re not paying them to work for us, it’s so they don’t work against us?” he asked.

Worrell said it seems that way, saying most attention is paid to the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor.

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