So where does the ATE money go?

The recent Iowa Supreme Court decision this past week stating that the Iowa Department of Transportation did not have authority over the use of Automatic Traffic Enforcement (ATE) systems renewed discussion on the amount of money received by Muscatine from the fines, what that money is used for, and how much of the total fine does not stay in Muscatine.

 

The ATE system in Muscatine consists of permanent fixtures at five intersections along with a mobile unit. The five intersections in Muscatine that have had the ATE system operating since April 2011 include Washington Street at Park Avenue (north and south approaches), Cleveland Street at Park Avenue (north and south approaches), Cedar Street at Houser Street (east and west approaches), University Drive at U.S. Highway 61 (westbound approach), and Mulberry Avenue at U.S. Highway 61 (westbound approach). There is also a mobile unit that has been in operation for the past several years and is parked at different locations throughout the city.

 

The University Drive camera was taken off-line in April 2017 after the Iowa Department of Transportation ordered the camera removed. That DOT order began the litigation that led to the Supreme Court ruling last week. No determination has been made as yet as to when that camera system will be placed on-line. The system at that intersection would have to be cleaned, calibrated, and inspected before being put back into service.

 

ATEs actually act as a force multiplier by improving public safety while allowing officers to respond to important calls within the community. The videos from these cameras have also been used to help criminal investigations as well as crash investigations that occur in or near the approaches. There have been at least two occasions where the ATE footage has been credited with helping to resolve local shootings.

 

The ATE system marked its seventh anniversary of its deployment in March 2018.

 

History of the ATE in Muscatine

 

The City of Muscatine began collecting accident data and conducting speed and red light violation surveys in 2009. Eight approaches at five intersections were determined to meet the criteria necessary for the deployment of ATE with the City of Muscatine awarding the contract for the ATE initiative to Gatso USA in 2010.

 

The ATE system is authorized by Title 7 (Vehicles and Traffic), Chapter 5 (Automated Traffic Enforcement) of the City Code of Muscatine. The ordinance was approved by the Muscatine City Council in September 2010.

 

Prior to the implementation of the ATE equipment, public hearings and meetings were held during City Council meetings for at least a year, posters were displayed at various locations across the city, informational pamphlets were distributed to the public, and information was disseminated by email and posted on the internet.

 

The ATE equipment was built and installed by Gatso USA at NO COST to the City of Muscatine.

 

The City and Gatso USA submitted plans for the ATE systems at the five intersections to the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) and work closely with the DOT during the entire construction process to ensure the systems and sign placement met all DOT specifications at the time. The City went a further step and added “traffic laws photo enforced” signs on every corporate limit sign posts on roadways entering Muscatine.

 

According to the contract, GATSO USA receives $27 of every PAID fine to offset capital costs as well as their operating costs to review and forward the possible violations to the Police Department, sending first and second notices, collecting fines, and the maintenance of that equipment. (The amount is 36 percent of the amount of fines collected).

 

Tickets are reviewed and approved by a Muscatine Police Officer who signs off on the citation letter before the citation is issued. In Muscatine, a ticket is not issued unless the driver is going 11 mph over the stated speed limit. Tickets are issued for drivers going six mph or over in school zones and construction zones. Each citation has the appeals process listed on the form but that process must be started within 30 days after the citation is issued.

 

Where does the money from the fines go?

 

The fines are collected by Gatso USA and transferred to the City of Muscatine. Gatso USA bills the City of Muscatine monthly ($27 for each PAID citation) which are among the bills for approval presented to the City Council at each regular meeting. For Fiscal Year 2016-2017, the last full year of data, the city received $723,454.00 from Gatso USA in fines collected while another $214,303.26 was received from the cities collection agency.

 

Of the total revenue received, $285.741 was paid to Gatso USA over the course of the fiscal year while $652,016.26 was placed in the Police Department General Fund or 69.5 percent of the total revenue from the fines. That percentage was 68.1 percent for 2015-2016, 71.2 percent for 2014-2015, 67.3 percent for 2013-2014, 67.2 percent of 2012-2013, and 67.3 percent for 2011-2012.

 

In other words, nearly $7 of every $10 received stays in Muscatine and is used by the Muscatine Police Department or by other departments, as needed, for public safety.

 

So what’s the future of the ATE system?

 

The Iowa legislature has two pieces of legislation being debated that could affect the future of ATE’s in Iowa. The House bill would permit ATE cameras under certain conditions and provide regulations for the use of these ATE systems. The regulations closely follow what the City of Muscatine has had in place since 2011. The Senate bill would eliminate the use of ATE cameras as a means to catch those breaking the law.

 

The Supreme Court ruling does allow, at least until the state legislature decides on a course of action, the City of Muscatine to bring the camera at University Drive and U.S. Highway 61 back online after a year’s absence. City officials are assessing their options and determining a timeline for returning that camera to full operation but it will be at least two months before the camera would be used to issue citations for red light running and/or speeding.

 

By that time the city will probably know which way, if any, the state legislature will go.

 

What would the loss of the fine revenue mean for Muscatine?

 

The Muscatine Police Department budget is funded, in part, by the fines received from the ATE system. These funds enabled Muscatine to retain one Street Crimes unit (SCU) officer and one School Resource Officer (SRO) when grant funding for those positions ended. ATE funds were also used to add four firefighter positions since the 2012-2013 fiscal year. One fire engine and one ambulance were also acquired without having to incur additional debt.

 

The loss of the ATE revenue in conjunction with the possible loss of “backfill” revenue from the State of Iowa (which is also being discussed this session) will have serious effects not only in public safety but across all City of Muscatine departments.

 

It is still too early to answer the “what if” questions.

 

What is known is that local jurisdiction of ATE cameras has been upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court.

 

And, as City Administrator Gregg Mandsager has stated in discussions with local citizens and state representatives concerning ATE’s … if you don’t want to pay the fine, don’t break the law.

 

Police ATE Ticket Collection Summary

Constitutionality of ATE cameras

 

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Here is how you can help shape the future for Muscatine

Boards, Commissions & Committees Header

Muscatine is a great place to live and nothing demonstrates that fact more than how residents come together to serve. Whether that service comes on the committee, project, or organizational level, or in just helping out a neighbor, Muscatine residents are working together to make a great community even better.

 

The City of Muscatine is very thankful and grateful for the many residents who have volunteered their time and service to be a member on one of the many boards and commissions that assist in developing and monitoring City programs, policies and services.

 

“These individuals who volunteer to serve on one of our boards or commissions, those who attend the many public meetings to add their input to the discussions, and those who volunteer throughout the community are extremely important in our efforts to make Muscatine an even better place to live, work, raise a family, or retire,” Gregg Mandsager, City of Muscatine Administrator, said. “We greatly appreciate their efforts and their feedback.”

 

Several of the boards and commissions authorized by the Muscatine City Council will be seeking new members this year. Terms expire on June 30 and the City of Muscatine is currently taking applications to replace those members whose term of service expires or those members who are retiring from their service on a board or commission.

 

The following boards or commissions have vacancies that need to be filled through reappointment or new appointments. Those interested in becoming a member of a board or commission can complete the application and either email the form to the administrative secretary or mail the form to Boards & Commissions, c/o Administrative Secretary, Muscatine City Hall, 215 Sycamore, Muscatine, IA 52761.

 

All applications are reviewed by the Nominating Committee to ensure applicants meet the qualifications to serve on a specific board or commission, to ensure there is no potential conflicts of interests, and to ensure that each board or commission has a gender balance as prescribed by Iowa Code. Those that meet the requirements are submitted to the full Council for approval. The nominating committee includes the Mayor, two Council representatives, and the City Administrator or a representative from city staff.

 

The City of Muscatine welcomes all residents to submit their names and resumes for a specific board or commission or a general submission for any board or commission. Most boards or commissions require some knowledge of the subject matter and the responsibilities for the specific board of commission.

 

Current openings include individuals whose terms are up for renewal and terms that are expiring on the various boards or commissions. These openings include:

 

Airport Advisory Commission

 

The Airport Advisory Commission meets at 5 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month in the Airport Terminal Building. The responsibilities of the commission include assisting in the preparation of the airport budget, recommending procedures and policies in connection with the administration of the airport, investigating means by which the airport can be improved, and making recommendations for the long-term needs of the airport. Members of the Airport Commission serve a five-year term with a maximum of two full terms. Currently one position needs to be filled.

 

Art Center Board of Trustees

 

The Art Center Board of Trustees meets at 5:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at the Muscatine Art Center. The Board of Trustees exercises change, control, and supervision over the museum and the art center. Members are appointed to three-year terms with a maximum of two full terms. Currently three positions need to be filled.

 

Civil Service Commission

 

The Civil Service Commission meets at 4 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month in the City Council Chambers at Muscatine City Hall. The commission selects testing procedures for the personnel system, hears appeals on employee discipline cases, and administers the civil service system. Members are appointed to four-year terms, must be eligible electors, and must not hold or be a candidate for any public office. Currently one position needs to be filled.

 

Convention and Visitors Board

 

The Convention and Visitors Board meets at 12 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month at the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce & Industry. The board provides oversight for the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), adopts rules and procedures for the CVB, and oversees the development of visitor and tourism information, and approves programs for visitors to the City of Muscatine and Muscatine County. Members are appointed to a three-year term with a maximum of two consecutive full terms. Currently one positions needs to be filled.

 

Historic Preservation Commission

 

The Historic Preservation Commission meets at 5:15 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month in the City Council Chambers at City Hall. The commission safeguards the city’s historic, aesthetic, and cultural heritage by preserving sites and districts of history and cultural significance. Members serve five-year terms with a maximum of two full terms. Currently one position needs to be filled.

 

Planning & Zoning Commission

 

The Planning & Zoning Commission meets at 5:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month in the City Council Chambers at City Hall. Responsibilities include reviewing proposed subdivisions, rezoning requests, and sales of public property, making recommendations concerning growth management of the city, and formulating a five-year capital improvement plan for the city. Members are appointed to five-year terms with a maximum of two consecutive full terms, must be citizens of Muscatine, qualified in knowledge or experience to advise City Council in matters pertaining to the development of the city, and must not be elected officers of city government. Currently two positions need to be filled.

 

Recreation Advisory Commission

 

The Recreation Advisory Commission meets at 5:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of the month in the lower level conference room at City Hall. The commission is responsible for conferring with an assisting the City Administrator in the preparation of the Parks and Recreation budget, recommending procedures and policies in connection with the administrator of city parks, the cemetery, golf course, and harbor operations, investigating means by which parks and recreation can be improved, and making recommendations for the long-range needs of the recreation programs for the city. Members serve three-year terms with a maximum of two full terms. Currently two positions need to be filled.

 

Transportation Advisory Commission

 

The Transportation Advisory Commission meets at 4 p.m. on the second Tuesday of March, June, September, and December. The commission is responsible for recommending administrative policies and operation procedures, investigating methods for improving the transit system, making recommendations for the development of long-range plans of the transit system, and assisting the City Administrator in the preparation of the transit budget. Members serve two-year terms with a maximum of two full terms. Currently three positions need to be filled.

 

Water, Electric, and Communications Trustees

 

The board of Water, Electric, and Communications Trustees meets at 7 p.m. on the last Tuesday of the month at Muscatine Power & Water (MPW). The purpose of the board is to control and supervise the operations of the municipal electric and water utility, and present to Council a detailed annual report with a complete financial statement. Members are appointed to six-year terms, and cannot be public officers or salaried employees of the city. Currently one position needs to be filled.

 

Other board and commissions of the City of Muscatine include:

 

Administrative Review Panel

 

The Administrative Review Panel meets as needed. The purpose of the panel is to adjudicate appeals made by motor vehicle operators and to hear appeals by vehicle owners prior to impoundment for unpaid parking fines.

 

Library Board of Trustees

 

The Library Board of Trustees meets at 4:30 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month in the Musser Public Library conference room pending move to the Musser Public Library & HNI Community Center. The Board is responsible for overseeing management of the library by the Library Director, employing and removing the Library Director as necessary, approving the expenditure of money allocated by the City Council to the library, and approving the library budget for submission to the Council. Members serve six-year terms with a maximum of two full terms with one member a resident of Muscatine County appointed from a list of names submitted by the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors. Currently no openings are listed.

 

Zoning Board of Adjustment

 

The Zoning Board of Adjustment meets at 5:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month in the City Council Chambers at City Hall. The board hears and decides on appeals involving an alleged error in any order, requirement, decision or determination made by an administrative official in the enforcement and interpretation of the zoning ordinance, and to hear and decide special exceptions to the zoning ordinance. Members serve a 5-year term with a maximum of 2 consecutive full terms.

 

Details on the Nominating Committee is available by clicking HERE.

 

Details on the various Boards, Commissions, and Committees of the City of Muscatine is available by clicking HERE.

 

-Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager

Pollinator Park Trail will be an experience worth the wait

The official ribbon cutting may be weeks away but I took advantage of an unusually perfect spring day and ventured out to the area off of Houser Street where the Muscatine Pollinator Park and the Muscatine Dog Park will be located.

 

April has not been the best for outdoor activities as yet but with plenty of sunshine and temperatures close to 60 degrees, the inspiration to venture out to the area and see the progress was too much to resist.

 

041118 pollinator park trail 02I have to admit the inspiration came in part from Muscatine Street Maintenance Supervisor Randy Howell who told me during a meeting earlier in the week that city crews had been out clearing brush away from the old railroad bridge on the abandoned Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railroad Corporation tracks west of Houser Street. That bridge is part of the Pollinator Park Trail, a one-mile segment that circumnavigates the park and travels around the Muscatine Transfer & Recycling Center from the Kent Stein Park trailhead back to the Houser Street-Musser Street intersection where it reconnects with the Kent Stein-Deep Lakes Park Trail.

 

Most of the trail has a rock base which is easy to traverse while walking but does make riding the trail a bit more of a challenge. Paving of the trail is anticipated later on if a grant can be secured to pay for the paving. Meanwhile, the trail can be walked but just be warned that there is still some work to be done at the bridge before it will be available for pedestrian traffic.

 

While out taking pictures of the bridge I did decide to walk the trail … after all it is just a mile in length and it was a pretty pleasant day. While the grasses, flowers, and trees that will beautify the Pollinator Park are still in their winter slumber or awaiting more appropriate weather to be planted, the walk did give me a sense of what visitors can expect in the months and years ahead.

 

Once over the bridge, the trail turns and runs alongside the area where the Muscatine Dog Park will be located. The grass is still pretty brown but the area is staked out and you just can imagine the three fenced in areas that are planned, the trees that will be planted, and almost hear the playful barking of the many canines and their owners who will be able to take advantage of Muscatine’s first dog park.

 

041118 pollinator park trail 05The trail continues on into Pollinator Park itself. Even the noise from the passing vehicles on the 61 bypass cannot drown out the songs sung by the many birds that inhabit the area or dampen the tranquility of this walk through nature. Imagine, if you will, the park as it matures and becomes a haven and a home for all the pollinators that are so important to our lives. (You can Google Muscatine Pollinator Project for more information).

 

Every step of the trail will take the pedestrian or bicyclist past something worthy to see or to experience. Even walking around the Recycling Center & Transfer Station has its rewards in the nature that abounds along that stretch of the Muscatine Slough.

 

This is another great addition to the trail system and the park system that the City of Muscatine and Muscatine County enjoys. This is a testament to the visionaries who have worked and are working hard to provide safe, accessible places to walk or ride a bike. These individuals are not resting on their laurels either as they continue to discuss and seek out ways to enhance the current trails or find funding to create new trails or extend others.

 

Among those are a short section that would connect the Muscatine High School trailhead on Cedar Street with the Houser Street trailhead located near Karen Drive, the currently in development West Side Trail that would connect the Kent Stein trailhead with Discovery Park, and the Mad Creek Trail which may become part of the Riverfront improvement project and complete a recreational trail that would extend from the Mississippi River to the Park Avenue West trailhead on the north side of the bypass.

 

What Muscatine has is a concerted effort from both the public and private sectors to create recreational opportunities that will keep residents and visitors coming back and enjoying the simplistic, safe, and accessible parks and trail systems that Muscatine offers. It is a vision that extends beyond the riverfront, beyond the downtown area, and even beyond the borders of the city.

 

041118 pollinator park trail 06Pollinator Park will become a valuable gem among nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts as it matures in the years to come. It will be an educational experience for school children and adults alike. It will be a recreational experience for those who just want to commune with Mother Nature (as long as she cooperates with warm temperatures and at least partly sunny skies).

 

These little loops off the main trail are a welcomed change to the hiker or bicycle rider. And this is just the first of the “mini-trails” that the City of Muscatine and trail enthusiasts are looking at. There will be more to come on this little off-shoots of the main lines in the future.

 

Until then, I look forward to another hike along the Pollinator Park Trail later this year and capturing the maturing landscape and the pollinators who will also be paying a visit on their travels.

 

-Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager

More than just a city project

032118 BlogI recently ran across the accompanying picture posted by Project for Public Spaces on Twitter and I could not help but think just how valid the point is and just how much it resonates with the reconstruction of the Mississippi Drive corridor.

 

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” – Fred Kent.

 

Kent is one of the founders of Project for Public Spaces and one of the leading authorities on revitalizing city spaces. His PPS biography also notes that he is one of the foremost thinkers in livability, smart growth, and the future of the city.

 

And the future of Muscatine is what the Mississippi Drive Corridor Revitalization Project is all about.

 

When U.S. 61 was the main thoroughfare through Muscatine it was designed and built for cars and traffic. It was a roadway for traffic to move from one side of Muscatine to the other as quickly and efficiently as possible without any consideration of the places and destinations in between the entry and exit points of Muscatine.

 

Although traffic was cut in half by the opening of the U.S. 61 by-pass in 1985, the newly designated Business 61 continued on as a thoroughfare for moving from one end of Muscatine to the other with only the brief hesitations for traffic lights. The Grandview Avenue and Mississippi Drive corridors began to suffer under the cars and traffic philosophy as businesses closed or moved to more desirable locations as traffic kept passing them by, and residents sought more desirable locations to live.

 

Mississippi Drive began to crumble under the weight of persistent Mississippi River flooding and a decaying substructure that made even the simplest of repairs proved to be cost prohibitive. Plenty of evidence was gathered that confirmed that the roadway needed to be completely renovated even with the reduced amount of traffic, and that merged with an idea and a vision that had sprung up from the renovations being undertaken at Riverside Park.

 

Riverside Park has gone through two renovations (plans for a third are now on the drawing board) as the riverfront was transformed from a railroad switch yard and a declining business district to the envy of most river towns up and down the Mississippi River. This park is becoming the place that people want to visit when they come to Muscatine and what better way to promote this Gateway to Muscatine than to connect it to the Downtown Business District utilizing a revitalized Mississippi Drive.

 

Placemaking is the concept of planning cities with people and places in mind instead of cars and traffic. It is not a new concept but it is one that has been gaining steam especially with movement towards the promotion of healthier lifestyles and the development of communities and neighborhoods that are walkable. Placemaking also promotes the idea that public spaces are the heart of a community.

 

Riverside Park is a destination that gives Muscatine both an identity and an image from which new investment, new businesses, and new residents are attracted to come, shop, stay, and live. Riverside Park is not the only destination in Muscatine but it is one of the most prominent. The investment into the park deserves an investment into the connections to that park such as an updated Mississippi Drive and the revitalization of the downtown business district.

 

The revitalization of the downtown area is already underway with new businesses opening, buildings being renovated, and apartments are remodeled and rented or leased to those who seek the urban lifestyle with a small town feel.

 

When Muscatine successfully negotiated the transfer of jurisdiction of Mississippi Drive (the old Business 61) in 2015 the opportunity presented itself to design a corridor that would blend well with and provide a solid connection between the riverfront and the downtown area.

 

Urban writer and activist Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) said that cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.

 

The City of Muscatine, along with the engineers from the design team, understood that message and launched the largest public outreach campaign ever attempted by the municipality. Through numerous public meetings and informational sessions with the City Council, a plan came into focus that highlighted the natural beauty of the park with landscaped medians and highlighted the convenience of the shops, restaurants, and an urban living lifestyle of the downtown with sidewalks and crosswalks that enhanced the safety of pedestrians.

 

The Mississippi Drive Corridor Project thus became more than just another city project, it became a project of the citizens of Muscatine. The plan was developed through the vast amount of input from citizens and businesses with an eye on the required elements from the federal government (which is funding the project).

 

That vision is now becoming a reality with the portion from Iowa Avenue to Broadway completed except for a few finishing touches that were left to complete when winter shut down the project.

 

What Muscatine will have when the project is completed later this year is a corridor that features a downtown area that is accessible and well connected to the green space of Riverside Park, a corridor that projects the positive image of a Muscatine full of promise for a better future, a corridor that attracts people to stop, shop, eat, and participate in the various activities, and a corridor that helps create a social environment that people want to come back to time and time again.

 

The Mississippi Drive Corridor Reconstruction Project is much more than just replacing a worn out four-lane highway, it is about creating and promoting Muscatine as a GREAT PLACE. It is about replacing the final images of an industrial riverfront with the image of a community rekindling the vital social interactions of people and places that have gone missing in recent years. It is about replacing the focus on cars and traffic with a focus on the people and places that make a community great.

 

And that, after all, is what we want most. A great place to live, work, play, and raise a family.

 

-Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager

L.O.S.T. – It’s not a tax increase but it may prevent one

Some individuals have the idea that if the Local Option Sales Tax (L.O.S.T.) question is approved it will increase their taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, LOST could benefit local taxpayers by holding off increases in fees and tax rates, at least in regards to paying for the mandated sewer replacement project and the City’s pavement management program.

L.O.S.T. is a special-purpose tax implemented and levied at the city or county level and always attached onto a state’s base sales tax rate, most commonly at a rate of one percent (1%). The tax is not just a tax on the buying habits of local residents but rather a tax on the buying habits of anyone who purchases a product or service within Muscatine County. The local option tax collected within a county is placed in a special distribution fund which is dispersed on the basis of population and property tax levies.

The special-purpose tax can only be implemented upon approval by voters in the city or county and the referendum must state exactly what the money will be used for. Once stated, and approved, the money cannot be used for any other purpose unless another special election is held to change the distribution of the revenue received.

The City of Muscatine is asking voters to approve extending the local option sales tax for a 15-year period starting July 1, 2019 and ending June 30, 2034. Specifically, the ballot question states that not less than 80 percent of the proceeds will be used for sanitary and storm sewer projects with the rest used to fund the Pavement Management Program.

L.O.S.T. has been a part of the local economy since July 1, 1994, after Muscatine voters approved the first ballot question in May of 1994. All proceeds collected during the five-year period were entirely used to fund sanitary and storm sewer projects.

The same ballot question was approved for another five-year period in August 1998. However, in January 2003 voters were asked to redefine the distribution of L.O.S.T. funds with up to 10 percent of the revenue assisting in the financing of the Pearl of the Mississippi Projects.

Eight projects were included in the $10.67 million Pearl of the Mississippi Project including the Weed Park Aquatic Center, American Heritage Trail Extension, Musser Park Skatepark, community art, marina improvements, boat launch relocation, Riverview Center renovation, and the Environmental Learning Center at Discovery Park.

From FY 2002/2003 through FY 2008/2009, L.O.S.T. contributed $1.5 million to the overall project fund.

To continue funding the sanitary and storm sewer projects, and the Pearl of the Mississippi Projects, voters approved another five-year extension in January 2004. With the contribution to the Pearl of the Mississippi Projects ending in the first half of 2009, the City of Muscatine opted to continue splitting the L.O.S.T. proceeds when the question came up again in August 2008.

The aging city infrastructure had been a matter of debate for many years and the City of Muscatine saw an opportunity to fund repairs to the city streets, sidewalks, and alleys through L.O.S.T. When voters were asked in August 2008 to extend L.O.S.T. for a 10-year period, they were also asked to approve not less than 80 percent of the revenue going towards sanitary and storm sewer projects and no more than 20 percent for pavement management projects. Eighty-one percent of the voters who went to the polls supported the measure.

Approximately $533,000 of each year’s L.O.S.T. revenue has been transferred to the Pavement Management Program with $4.25 million of street improvement projects completed during the first eight years of the program. These funds were also used to supplement Road Use Tax funds that are used to support the annual Asphalt Overlay and full-depth concrete patching. L.O.S.T. revenue also supplemented funds for the Colorado and Cedar streets reconstruction projects as well as the Diana Queen Drive Extension project. The reconstruction of Cleveland Street from Park Avenue to 2nd Avenue is the latest example of the use of local option sales tax revenue to improve the infrastructure of the city.

Of course the main reason for L.O.S.T. is funding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated sewer separation which requires the City to complete specific major projects by 2028. The West Hill Sewer Separation Project is the final project included in the EPA Consent Order. The City reached the half way point of the six phases late in 2017 which marked 34 percent completion of the sewer separation.

Phase IV of the project begins this spring and continues for the next three years and completes another 17 percent of the overall project with Phase V scheduled for 2020 through 2022 completing another 13 percent. The largest and most expensive of the phases begins in 2022 with Phase VI which will complete the final 36 percent of the sewer separation project.

A total of $54.4 million has been raised in the 23 year history of the local option sales tax with $49.7 million spent on the various sewer separation projects since 1994. It is estimated that $40.1 million will be needed to fund the remaining three phases.

L.O.S.T. is a significant factor in the City being able to keep sewer fees and the city tax rate from being affected by the mandated EPA Consent Order. The extension of the local option sales tax means that Muscatine will be able to complete the sewer separation project within the parameters set by the federal government without the use of additional taxpayer dollars.

Visit the City of Muscatine Local Option Sales Tax information page HERE.

-Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager

Rescue training pays benefits with quick, efficient effort by emergency personnel

When the tones break the stillness inside Muscatine Fire Department station, all normal activity ceases. They listen, recognizing what each one means, and then spring into action as the dispatcher begins his or her announcement.

 

Even though they may know the type of incident and the location, there is still the unanswerable question of what the responders will find upon arrival. And that is where training comes in.

 

“We train every day for as many different scenarios as we can think of,” Fire Chief Jerry Ewers said. “That training allows us to respond quicker, and better protect the safety of our firefighters and those we are assisting.”

 

Fire Captain Harold Bennitt’s Green Shift had already responded to several calls on Monday, Feb. 5, but when the tones sounded at 4:26 p.m. that day were different. It was not a fire call, an accident, or a medical problem … someone was in the Mississippi River.

 

“I was not the incident commander on this call,” Bennitt said. “Battalion Chief Brian Abbott was, so I was in the back seat with another firefighter.”

 

As the truck rolled out of the station with the paramedic units, a thousand thoughts and questions flash though the mind. Among them were if the incident was witnessed or was this just someone who thought they saw something in the river. Chief Abbott radioed enroute to the old boat launch area inside Riverside Park to confirm the call.

 

“Yes,” the voice on the other end of the radio said. “We had two 911 calls on it.”

 

Bennitt knew that he and the firefighter next to him (Jonathan Wieland) were going to be the first in the water so they began to put on their cold water suits.

 

“Basically we knew that we were going to be the first in the water so we were thinking of what we needed to do,” Bennitt said. “When it was confirmed, reality really sank it.”

 

Called Mustang Suits (perhaps due to their yellow color), the cold water suits keep responders warm and dry should they need to get into the river or go out on the ice. An upgrade to the current suits was approved by the Muscatine City Council last November which will provide greater protection and a greater number of suits available for water and ice rescues.

 

Bennitt was assigned by Chief Abbott to be the spotter during the rescue.

 

“If we see anything, you are going to have to follow and make sure you watch and see what’s going on,” Abbott told Bennitt.

 

When rescue personnel arrive at the scene, Bennitt takes off the cold water suit, puts on his regular gear, grabs binoculars and a thermal imager that rescuers can use to see the difference in color and heat, and headed for the shoreline.

 

“You don’t think there is a lot of stress but truly there is a lot of stress,” Bennitt said. “I really cannot describe what is running through your mind. Where are they in the river, how far out, can we get to them, is the victim alive, are they moving, how cold is the water, what is the temperature and wind like, did they hit ice, are they on the ice … just a million things going through your mind.”

 

Although it does not relieve the stress, training helps the mind to focus on specific assignments. For Bennitt that was locating and tracking the victim while others began the rescue effort.

 

“Luckily, we spotted the victim in the river right away,” Bennitt said. “So I fixated on the victim and that is all I did.”

 

The rest of what was going on was also on his mind but he was able to separate himself from that and remain focused on his assigned task.

 

“Of course we all want to do things but I knew that I had to stay with the patient,” Bennitt said. “At that point I just relinquished everything and followed her past Contrary Brewing on the riverfront. I walked along the riverbank following her, keeping an eye on her so the others could get to her.”

 

The Muscatine Fire Department had been training for water rescues the two weeks prior to the incident and had another water rescue training session scheduled that day. That training proved valuable to everyone involved whether tracking the victim, breaking the ice to launch the boat, being in the boat for the rescue, or clearing snow off the ramp to allow the stretcher to be brought down to the shoreline.

 

While walking the shoreline downstream of the staging area, Bennitt admitted that while remaining fixed on the victim he was still wondering what was going on at the ramp and where the boat was.

 

“Your mind is so focused on the task that you lose track of time,” Bennitt said. “Everything happens way quicker than what your mind tells you it is. What seems like 15 minutes is just three or four.”

 

When the Chief told Bennitt that the victim was out of the water in just over a half hour from the time of arrival at the scene Bennitt thought that he was kidding.

 

“I really thought it had taken longer than that,” Bennitt said, “but you really do lose track of time because you are so focused.”

 

Training … Training … Training

 

Firefighters benefitted from two weeks of training at night in the harbor as each shift took a turn doing everything necessary for a water rescue. Each scenario was accompanied by each firefighter working different assignments.

 

“Learning each task creates a better team environment because you know you can trust the person next to you and you are confident in any task assigned to you during an actual rescue,” Assistant Fire Chief Mike Hartman said.

 

That training contributed to a highly efficient and timely rescue despite problems such as excessive ice build-up at the boat launch site.

 

“This was still one of the smoothest winter water rescues that I have seen,” Hartman said.

 

Bennitt noted that the training really helps when you get into uncommon situations like a winter water rescue.

 

“Training like we had in the last couple of weeks really helps,” Bennitt said. “Training gives you muscle memory so you know what to expect if you had to get into the water. We do train to get into the water.”

 

Although trained to get into the water, the victim was so far out during the Feb. 5 rescue that there was no way rescue personnel could get into the water to do anything.

 

“That is a real helpless feeling,” Bennitt said. “The helpless feeling is that you cannot do anything until we get our resources there. You can see and you want to do but you can’t. That’s really the bad part.”

 

Despite that feeling, the training kept Bennitt focused on his task.

 

“Luckily I was able to keep an eye on her and guided the boat right to her,” Bennitt said. “The personnel in the boat could not see her so I had to guide them toward her. The search and rescue guys, our guys, the sheriff’s dive team were to her in less five minutes and back on shore in less than another two or three minutes.”

 

Water rescues are not the only type of training the fire department does on a daily basis. Firefighters also train on other types of rescues which they could, or have, encounter including auto extrication, confined space, high-angle, trench, and rescues inside of burning structures. This includes the tactical emergency medical services teams (three member teams that respond with the Muscatine Police Department’s Special Response Team (SRT) during high risk situations. Training also involves attacking and containing fires, and fire prevention.

 

If a need is found through research or reality, a training program is developed and implemented.

 

A New Boat?

 

Everyone involved with the rescue last week met in the Public Safety Building to review every step of the rescue process from the initial tone to the transport of the victim to the hospital. One of the needs being addressed for winter water rescues is the need for a Zodiac type of boat that can be pushed out over ice before dropping the motor in open water.

 

The Muscatine Search and Rescue Unit, an all-volunteer organization, has a flat-bottom boat that was utilized in the most recent water rescue. The Muscatine County Sheriff’s Department also has a v-bottom boat that is kept in the harbor when the harbor is open.

 

The Muscatine Fire Department is currently collecting data on different types of boats that could be utilized in all weather conditions.

 

So What Is Next

 

It has been four years since rescue personnel have been involved in a winter water rescue of this nature and the hope is that it will be a long time before they will have to do it again.

 

“But if we are called, we will be ready,” Hartman said.

 

Hartman also said that the review of the rescue went well with representatives from all the agencies involved. The review focused on how to improve with several suggestions being followed up on.

 

“Most notably, in my view, is the development of a county wide response plan where, regardless of jurisdiction, we all know who is responsible for what,” Hartman said.
An example of this coordination is that the divers are coordinated under the sheriff, surface rescue with the Search and Rescue group along with the fire department, and site security handed by local police with assistance from the sheriff.

 

More discussions will be held to further develop and enhance the plan.

-Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager

PHOTO GALLERY

 

Budget Season Is Upon Us

Like a farmer preparing his (or her) fields for the growing season, City of Muscatine staff have been busy preparing their fields of proposals for the Fiscal Year 2018-2019 Budget Season. Last November department heads began meeting with their respective staff to work on and complete reports of accomplishments, expectations for the future, and budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year. While working to complete this extremely important task, city staff have been dutifully dedicated to their regular work routine and to the citizens of Muscatine.

 

It is Budget Season for the City of Muscatine and although the season only lasts a short period of time on the calendar, its impact will be felt a year from now and in the year’s to come.

 

The City of Muscatine is required to adopt an annual budget by March 15 of each year. The process begins in November when the departments are presented with their budget materials and instructions on the process. The initial department proposals are reviewed by Nancy Luecks, city financial director, and Gregg Mandsager, city administrator, and then refined in meetings with the individual departments during December.

 

There are a myriad of issues and challenges associated with preparing a departmental budget just as there is in combining those budget proposals into one comprehensive city budget that meets the needs of the citizens of Muscatine. It is no small feat especially when you consider future money is never guaranteed, just anticipated.

 

While local government cannot control what happens with the state legislature in Des Moines, local government can look ahead towards what they can do to ensure the expectations of its citizens are met. Long range plans that are geared toward increasing the population of residents, homes, and businesses have their base in these budgets. City departments, then, have to forecast what they can do to reach the long term goals while meeting the needs of citizens today … and stay within the confines of the anticipated dollars they will receive in the coming fiscal year.

 

That part of the Budget Season has passed. And now …

 

Now, as January comes to a close, it is time for these department budget proposals to be presented to the Muscatine City Council, the governing body of the City of Muscatine who are the final decision makers as to what shape the budget for the next fiscal year will look like. The process begins Thursday (Jan. 25) at 5:30 p.m. when the City Council convenes to hear the General Fund Overview. Over the next two weeks, each department and agency will have their time before the City Council to plead their case, to answer questions, and, if needed, to modify their budgets.

 

All budget sessions are open to the public and a schedule of the meetings in available at this link … Budget Schedule. Each session has different departments presenting with citizens welcomed at all of the presentations. Public comment at this time is not part of the process but DO take notes because time for citizen input has been set aside during the Public Hearing that is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, March 1 (the actual date and time will be set by City Council at the conclusion of the department/agency presentations).

 

Throughout the budget process there are numerous opportunities to participate and engage with your City staff and Council members. Please stay tuned for periodic updates on the process, issues and challenges the City faces in putting together a budget for a full service city, and a budget that meets our community needs but is also responsible at the same time.

 

The City of Muscatine values constructive input and appreciates hearing your ideas. You can comment here on our blog, visit the Community Voice section of our web site, visit our social media sites at Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or you can email us to stay connected.

  • Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager

Know parking plan before snow emergency is declared

City of Muscatine Public Works Director Brian Stineman is the first to admit there is no perfect solution to on-street parking during a declared snow emergency.

 

“There are too many variables to consider when winter weather events approach that it is difficult to determine how soon and if a snow emergency should be declared,” Stineman said.

 

The best advice for Muscatine residents parking on the street is to know the snow emergency parking regulations and be prepared to act on them for any snow event of two inches or more. Even if a snow emergency is not declared, adhering to the established parking plan allows DPW crews to clear the streets quickly and safely.

 

City Code does not specify how much notification time is needed before the implementation of a snow emergency, but the general rule of thumb is four hours. And that is if the forecast comes to fruition.

 

Forecasting weather events is not an exact science and the patterns can change hourly.

 

“You can have a general idea of what is going to happen but the longer you wait the clearer picture you have as to whether a snow emergency is needed,” Stineman said. “On the other hand, the longer you wait the less notification time there is for the public before the onset of the declaration.”

 

The City of Muscatine declared a Snow Emergency in the final days of 2017 (December 29-31), the first Snow Emergency in two years as a winter storm took aim on Muscatine with an anticipated six-plus inches of snow followed by a frigid arctic air mass.

 

The decision was not made lightly and a lot of discussions were held in the previous 24 hours whether a snow emergency was needed.

 

“The forecast kept changing,” Gregg Mandsager, city administrator, said. “Originally we were only going to get two inches, then 3-to-5, then 4-to-6, and finally six-plus.”

 

The timing of the storm was another variable. Originally the storm was to move through Muscatine starting at 2 p.m. Friday and the decision was made to announce the snow emergency at 8 a.m. and implement it at noon. By 8:30 a.m., however, the snow was already falling.

 

Notify Me“Once the determination was made, the announcement was sent out by email and posted on social media,” Kevin Jenison, communications manager for the City of Muscatine said. “The best way for the public to stay on top of breaking news from the city is to click on the Notify Me icon on the front page of the web site and complete the easy three-step process to begin receiving notifications.”

 

By 10 a.m., staff members from the City including administration, Department of Public Works, Muscatine Fire Department, and the Muscatine Police Department, were meeting to develop the game plan for the event. By noon, the snow emergency went into effect and snow was already piling up.

 

So what does a snow emergency really mean? Mostly, the declaration has to do with on-street parking and allowing snow removal to proceed at a quicker pace.

 

According to City Code, streets that normally allow parking on both sides of the street will be subject to “alternate side of the street” parking during a snow emergency. On odd-numbered days of the month, parking is permitted only on the odd-numbered side of the street. Likewise, parking is permitted only on the even-numbered side of the street on even-numbered days.

 

For all streets where parking is allowed only on one side, if that side is on the even-numbered side of the street parking is allowed only on even-numbered days with no parking allowed on odd-numbered days. Likewise, if the one side is on the odd-numbered side of the street parking is allowed only on odd-numbered days with no parking allowed on even-numbered days.

 

The caveat is that for the Class 1 streets, those designated to be cleared first including snow ordinance routes, hospital access streets, school access routes, and transit emergency bus routes, the effort is to clear the entire street from curb to curb before proceeding to other streets.

 

“We have very good drivers and they do the best they can to work around parked cars,” Stineman said.

 

The transition time between the first and second day of a snow emergency is from 12-8 a.m. meaning that you will not be ticketed for parking on the wrong side of the street until after 8 a.m. on the second snow emergency day.

 

The downtown Central Business District (bounded by Mulberry, Third, Mississippi Drive, and Pine streets) are not affected by the snow emergency parking regulations. However, restrictions on parking are put in place following a significant snowfall where the accumulation must be removed from parking areas and sidewalks in the downtown area.

 

There are five emergency plow snow routes throughout the city which are cleared first according to DPW Street Maintenance Supervisor Randy Howell.

 

“We have a map with the emergency routes in different colors which just is a guide for our crews to know which route they need to clear,” Howell said.

 

For more information visit the Snow & Ice Removal page on the City of Muscatine web site. You can also call the Department of Public Works at 563-272-2506 for more information.

 

Snow Emergency Ordinance Q&A

 

There are two other sections in City Code that deal with snow and ice removal.

 

Section 3-1-4 states that property owners are responsible for clearing natural accumulations of snow and ice from the sidewalks within 24 hours after the last snowfall. If the property owner does not clear the sidewalk in a reasonable time, the City will attempt to notify the property owner to remove the snow and ice. If the City clears the snow and ice, the property owner will be assessed the costs of removal.

 

Section 3-1-7 simply states that it is unlawful to throw, push or place any ice or snow from private property, sidewalks or driveways onto the streets.

 

Title III: Public Ways and Property

 

Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager

A vision of connectivity

The vision began with a thought to transform a riverfront filled with old buildings, grain bins, and a switchyard into a park that the citizens of Muscatine could be proud of and visitors would want to make a destination. Out of that, according to Steve Boka, former Community Development Director for the City of Muscatine, came the realization of a strong connection between the riverfront and Downtown Muscatine, and the need for a safer Mississippi Drive.

 

“The thought was that once we embarked on creating this park, that would create interest in redevelopment of our downtown,” Boka said. “At that time there was not much going on in the second stories of our downtown.”

 

The vision expanded with the realization that the park would attract people to the area and that would ignite investment into the downtown area. But to get from the park to downtown people needed a safe connection … a safer, more pedestrian friendly Mississippi Drive.

 

The City set to work on the improvements to the streets and other infrastructure. Eventually, when the private sector began investing in the downtown area, the infrastructure was there to support the improvements. The work on street improvements continues today with Mississippi Drive and will continue with a redesigned Carver Corner and reconstruction of the southern entrance to the City, the Grandview Avenue corridor.

 

“The riverfront, downtown improvements, and street improvements were a cooperative venture,” Boka said. “That is because the public improvements to the public sector that were undertaken encouraged the private sector to buy in and do private sector stuff. That is exactly as it should be done.”

 

The vision of a connected Riverside Park-Mississippi Drive-Downtown Muscatine was created and enhanced since the 1980s with public and private input along with public and private funding.  The development of Riverside Park with free parking (542 spaces), plenty of green space for people to enjoy, and other amenities was the initial project. For several reasons that free parking was not being utilized including people having to walk to the downtown area for work, shopping, or dining, and for the many safety concerns to pedestrians as they attempted to cross Mississippi Drive.

 

“The thought that really got us thinking more seriously about Mississippi Drive was that with the riverfront done we wanted to encourage people to take advantage of the downtown,” Boka said. “There just wasn’t any real good connectivity between the downtown and the riverfront.”

 

There was also no real safe way to get between the two areas because of the railroad corridor and the wide street that consisted of four lanes with little medians, on-street parking, and a driving public that was more concerned with getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

 

“You might as well put on your track shoes and race across the street before the light changed,” Boka said.

 

Most of the traffic lights on Mississippi Drive are gone now with just Iowa Avenue and Cedar Street remaining. That meant the motor public must be more willing to yield to pedestrian safety.

 

Safety was just one of the concerns addressed in the reconstruction of Mississippi Drive. Developing a corridor that would enhance the connection between the Mississippi River and the Muscatine central business district was important to the planners as was creating a roadway better able to remain open during occurrences of flooding.

 

In the early 1980s Mississippi Drive (named Front Street until the mid- to late-1970s) and Grandview Avenue were the main traffic route into and through Muscatine as U.S. 61 and Iowa 92. That changed when the bypass opened in 1985 taking U.S. 61 and most of the through traffic with it. The road along the river was designated as Business 61 but Iowa 92 was not removed from the Grandview Avenue/Mississippi Drive corridor and put onto the bypass until the fall of 2014.

 

The character and volume of traffic using the Grandview Avenue/Mississippi Drive corridor changed after the opening of the bypass according to the “Corridor Alignment and Geometric Alternative Analysis” performed by Stanley Consultants, Inc., as part of the Phase 1 Environmental Assessment and Preliminary Design for the City of Muscatine that was released in February 2012. Instead of a through route, the corridor became a destination route for residents and business traffic in the city.

 

In 2014 the city successfully negotiated with the State of Iowa for a transfer of jurisdiction that effectively ended the Business 61 and state highway designations, turning the corridor into a city street. The transfer of jurisdiction came with some cash ($13 million to the city) but it also came with an obligation to complete a number of elements that were placed in the project by the federal government.

 

Not only was the corridor traffic changing but so was the riverfront and downtown Muscatine.

 

Early efforts to enhance the downtown area focused on the creation of a park and recreational facilities along the riverfront. Approximately $19 million has been spent in public and private funds since 1983 transforming the riverfront into a destination. More enhancements are slated for Riverside Park in the coming years according to the updated master plan recently adopted by the Muscatine City Council.

 

“Now we are back with the second generation of the riverfront,” Boka said. “There are some good elements to the plan that is being brought forward now that we just couldn’t think about back then.”

 

Whether it was the need to reconstruct Mississippi Drive that led to the renaissance of the riverfront, downtown, and 2nd Street, or if it was one versus another, the key was that steps were taken with some prior effort to have everybody working together and on the same page.

 

“Creating this connection brings it all into focus,” Boka said. “It makes this area an attention maker, a destination, a source of pride, and a continual concern for the community so that it is maintained, improved, and used.”
Boka retired in 2014 after 37 years of service to the City of Muscatine most recently as the Director of Community Development. He was instrumental in the development of Riverside Park and has played a key role in the planning of Mississippi Drive, Carver Corner, and Grandview Avenue updates.

 

“Now that people can see our early vision of the park, it is easier for them to see the possibilities for the future,” Boka said. “That is the way it will be for Mississippi Drive and for the downtown area.”

 

The connector between the riverfront and downtown, Mississippi Drive, was the subject of numerous public meetings and City Council sessions before the plans were finalized. With the first two phases of the reconstruction effort completed, the street has reopened from Iowa Avenue west past Broadway, allowing the public an opportunity to see and experience the enhancements envisioned and created to spur interest in the downtown area.

 

It may take some time for citizens to become used to the change but they will come to appreciate the changes and the enhancements. The final two phases will see Mississippi Drive reconstructed to Mulberry, a round-about installed at the 2nd and Mulberry intersection, and 2nd Street reconstruction to the intersection with Iowa 92 at the Norbert F. Becky Bridge.

 

Yet to come are the 2018 public meetings on the design of the Carver Corner intersection and shape of the Grandview Avenue Corridor.

 

  • By Kevin Jenison, Communication Manager

 

 

 

 

Voting is a right and a privilege

Tuesday is an important day for the citizens of Muscatine. It is Election Day with registered voters going to the polls to vote on who will be the mayor for the next two years along with selecting candidates to fill the three council seats that are on the ballot. Voting is the right and privilege of every U.S. citizen who has taken the time to register to vote, using their voice, anonymously, to select the leaders who have the future of Muscatine in their hands for the next two years.

The City of Muscatine believes strongly in this process and we participate by voting our conscious just as every citizen should. If you have not participated in this election yet, please make time to vote Tuesday.

The polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Muscatine. Residents in the First Ward (Precincts 1 & 2) and the Third Ward (Precincts 5 & 6) vote at the Muscatine Community School Administration Building (2900 Mulberry Avenue). Residents in the Second Ward (Precincts 3 & 4) vote at Clark House (117 West 3rd Street).  Residents in the Fourth Ward (Precincts 7 & 8) vote at Mulford Church (2400 Hershey). Residents in the Fifth Ward (Precincts 9 & 10) vote at the Muscatine Community College (MCC) McAvoy Center (1403 Park Avenue). Your voter registration card has your precinct number on it.

Voter registration has officially ended, but you can still register tand vote at the polling centers Tuesday with a photo ID and proof of residency. More information on registering and where to vote can be found at the Muscatine County Auditor’s web site by clicking here.

Municipal elections usually do not bring out the vote but they are just as important as any state or national election. Just 12 percent of registered voters made it to the polls for the 2015 election and just seven percent voted in a mayor’s race that was decided by 120 votes (820-700). Only six percent voted in 2011 and 11 percent in 2009. Voting for the council seats was equally disappointing but not inconsistent with municipal election trends.

The old adage still applies, though … if you don’t vote – don’t complain. Be sure to vote this year and offset the trends of the last several election cycles.

We hope that the citizens of Muscatine take this opportunity and express their hope for Muscatine’s future at the ballot box. We are all working toward the common goal … making Muscatine a better place to work, live, and raise a family … and your vote Tuesday will demonstrate your investment in that goal.

VOTE TUESDAY!