Biocell comes alive with the colors of summer

Despite spending time underneath the flood waters of the Mississippi River, the Sycamore Alley Biocell is alive and well and full of color for visitors to admire and pollinators to feast on.

One of the ways to manage stormwater runoff, and add a bit of natural beauty, is the creation of bioretention cells (biocells). One has been established in the City of Muscatine and more are in the planning stages.

Biocells have become one of the most widely used green infrastructure practices for managing stormwater. A landscaped depression that captures and infiltrates stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces, biocells are most notably found in settings such as parking lots and residential areas where soils do not adequately drain.

To the resident or visitor these cells look like flower gardens. Underneath, however, is an engineered subgrade that is designed to filter pollutants out of stormwater runoff. Native plants are widely used in these “gardens” since these plants have deep roots while maintaining soil quality and soil pore spaces (the liquid and gas phases of soil).

One such cell is located just off Sycamore Street between the #1 Alley and the City of Muscatine parking lot.

Jon Koch, Director of the Water and Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF), and his staff have spearheaded the creation and maintenance of biocells within the City of Muscatine.

“The Stormwater Department took over care of this biocell last year and after Public Works repaired the intake and put in a stone walkway, we teamed with the Muscatine Pollinator Project to bring this biocell to life,” Koch said.

The Sycamore Alley biocell was constructed in 2016 but problems were encountered that allowed more weeds than native plants to grow. With the combined effort of the City of Muscatine and the Muscatine Pollinator Project, those problems were corrected and the biocell replanted.

After years of painstaking nurturing and months of being under water from the flooding Mississippi River, the Sycamore Street biocell is producing a brilliance of color as the plantings take hold, mature, and spread across the cell.

“We had to do a lot of weeding, replanting, and mulching this year,” Koch said. “Then the flood came and we were worried if the plantings would survive. But go look at it now … just beautiful.”

The use of plants native to this area of Iowa was key not only for their survival but also to benefit the many pollinators that migrate through this area.

“The orange flowers of the Butterfly Milkweed and the purple flowers of the Swamp Milkweed are important elements to the cell as they are the only kind of plant that Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on,” Koch said.

Also included in the biocell are Heath Asters, Prairie Blazing Star, Blackeyed Susan, Bottle Gentian, and Blue Flag Iris.

It is a splash of color against the sea of concrete bleakness that permeates urban landscapes. And this is just the beginning. The Sycamore Alley biocell is serving as a proving ground for the biocell that will be built in the City Hall parking lot between Cedar and Sycamore. That project should begin within the next two months.

This is not the only project that the City has been involved with recently as a grass detention basin (Mulberry Native Habitat Basin) was established at the intersection of Mulberry Avenue and Baton Rouge Road. Again the Stormwater Department teamed up with the Muscatine Pollinator Project to add native plantings that were excellent for pollinators and loved the wet conditions.

“These basins are different than biocells and can be kind of tricky,” Koch said. “It is a larger area and we added rock to the bottom to aid in the filtration of stormwater.”

Native plants are ideal not only for greenscape projects like biocells but also great plantings for individual home owner flower beds.

“Native plants are a great way to beautify your landscape and provide a home and food for vital pollinators,” Koch said. “But you need to make sure that the native plants you purchase are ones native to this area. These plants are more beneficial to bees and butterflies than any other plants.”

The Butterfly Milkweed is a long-lived perennial with clusters of small, bright orange-red flowers. Caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly rely on milkweed leaves as their sole source of food. Butterflies and hummingbird are attracted to the plant throughout the growing season.

Swamp Milkweed is a perennial with rounded clusters of pink/red flowers. Pollinated by bees, insects, moths, and butterflies, the plant is one of the favorite host plants for the Monarch butterfly caterpillar. Several species of butterflies can be found feeding on the nectar at the same time.

Heath Aster, a native perennial aster, has clusters of small flowers typically in white but can be pink, yellow or blue. The plant attracts large numbers of native bees including honeybees and bumblebees. Butterflies, skippers, and moths are also attracted to the plant.

Prairie Blazing Star, a member of the sunflower family, is a tall, upright, clump-forming native prairie perennial with violet-lavender to rosy purple flower heads that is a magnet for butterflies, birds, and honeybees.

Probably the most commonly grown of American wildflowers, Blackeyed Susan is another native North American plant used in a variety of landscapes. This wildflower is in the Aster family with cheerful blossoms that attract a variety of butterflies, birds, and other insects.

Bottle Gentian is a native plant that is slow growing but long lived, requiring little care once established. The main pollinators are large bees, such as bumblebees, who are the only insect strong enough to force open the closed petals, crawl inside to sip nectar, and deposit pollen.

The Blue Flag Iris is a showy native plant with several violet-blue flowers that attracts a variety of insects including butterflies, skippers, bumblebees, and long-horned bees, as well as hummingbirds.

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Fire education important for safety of citizens and safety of fire fighters

Abnormally high number of structure fires in April increases need for fire safety education narrative

Clinton Street House Fire

MUSCATINE, Iowa – An above normal number of residential structure fires in April has drawn the concern of Muscatine Fire Department officials who urge area residents to take the time to discuss fire safety with their family.

“We ran the numbers a little bit and the numbers are a little bit higher than last year,” Fire Marshal and Assistant Fire Chief Mike Hartman said. “I think that every single fire that we have had has been residential which drives the narrative a little bit more.”

That narrative is about fire education and what individuals and families can do to prevent fires in their places of residence and what individuals and families can do to protect loved ones in the event of a fire emergency.

Residential fires today burn quicker and hotter than residential fires 20 or more years ago mostly due to the materials used in construction and materials used in the manufacture of households goods. A complacency with the dangerousness of fire, the lethal qualities of the smoke, and the lack of awareness for the fire safety have also contributed to a society not willing to confront the issue until something bad happens.

Something bad did happen in February when three persons died in a residential fire.

COMMONALITY OF THE FIRES

Hartman said that one of his frustrations is finding any commonality of the recent fires with the causes all across the board.

“We have had some cooking fires and some careless disposal of hot coals from a fire pit,” Hartman said.

The abuse of extension cords has also been among the causes of residential fires.

“But the only real commonality is the carelessness and lack of appreciation for the seriousness of fire,” Hartman said.

Some of that carelessness comes from not understanding how different and potentially more deadly materials used today are as opposed to materials used 20 years ago. Synthetics are used in the manufacturing process today which enables the manufacturer to keep costs down and increase the variety of products available. That also benefits the consumer.

Synthetics also have a darker side, however, they burn hotter and quicker than natural materials.

“You can go from a small fire to a big fire rather quickly,” Hartman said. “A fire in a room can turn into a room full of fire in just two or three minutes leaving little time for a family to react and escape. Twenty years ago, with natural products, that escape time could be 30 minutes.”

Increased health risks with the use of synthetics and composites in today’s construction. Restoration companies are more incline to tear down houses damaged by fire than to just cleaning them up.

Restoration companies have been hired in the past to clean up after fires by rinsing down the walls and perhaps using special paints to help with the smoke smell. Today, these same companies would have to clear everything out down to the studs and then spray before repairing the damage and that costs a lot of money.

“What burns today is a lot worse health wise than what burned in a home 20 years ago,” Hartman said. “Most restoration companies are not comfortable with just washing down the walls because of the liability and long term obligations to customers to not put them in situations where they are exposed to these cancer causing risks.”

THE ESCAPE PLAN

An escape plan on what you, and your family, would do to safely leave your house or apartment in the case of a fire or other natural disaster should not be put on the back burner, so to speak. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) advises that your ability to get out of your home during a fire depends on advance warning from smoke alarms and advance planning. The NFPA provides escape planning tools to help families prepare for a fire emergency.

Families need to gather together, develop a plan, and then practice that plan.

“We talk with our children about what to do if somebody drives through the neighborhood in a weird looking van or we talk to them about school shootings, but we forget to talk with them on what to do if there is a fire in your house,” Hartman said.

Hartman recalled a conversation he had with a parent recently who said “we told our kids that if the smoke alarm goes off, come find mom and dad, let us know, and we will get out together.”

“I understand the reason behind that but these fires can turn deadly in just two to three minutes,” Hartman said. “If your kid wakes up and thinks they know where you are but doesn’t really know where you are, then they are walking around the house looking for you when they just need to get out.”

The majority of fire victims in Muscatine over the past 20 years have been the young and the old. One victim was not at either end of that spectrum but was with two young children.

“Unfortunately, we as a nation and we as a culture have very little appreciation for the deadliness of smoke and fire,” Hartman said. “When the smoke alarm goes off, you need to have a plan and you need to get out. It doesn’t matter whether you meet at a tree in the front yard, a tree in the back yard, or at a neighbor’s house … just get out and stay out.”

THE VALUE OF SMOKE DETECTORS & SPRINKLERS

Working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors (both required by Iowa law) are important tools in the prevention of fire injuries or death.

“Having working smoke detectors is a message that we continue to hammer on,” Hartman said. “Looking at these recent fires, most had detectors but not all of them had operating detectors.”

Almost three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (40 percent) or not working smoke alarms (17 percent) according to the NFPA.  The NFPA also notes that properly installed and maintained smoke alarms play a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries, and save lives. Smoke Alarm Safety Tips

Smoke from a fire in your home spreads fast and smoke alarms give you time to get out and stay out.

Hartman is also an advocate for the installation of sprinkler systems in homes.

“Response time for fire departments are not as good as what we would like for them to be but they are not horrendous,” Hartman said. “Having a sprinkler system in residential homes would help.”

A point that Hartman continues to emphasize is that a fire in a room can become a room full of fire in as little as three minutes.

“Think about how long it would take for you to get in your car and drive to the nearest fire station,” Hartman said.

Once a fire is identified and 911 is called, fire fighters on duty need to put on their gear and then drive to the location of the fire. Once at the location, fire crews have to put the fire truck into pump, drag out the hose(s), find the fire, turn on the water to get through the fire hose(s), and then attack the fire.

“It takes time,” Hartman said. “A residential sprinkler system installed in the home would have activated at 130 degrees and potentially save lives and the home.”

One of the criticism of a sprinkler system is the amount of water damage to the home.

“Yes there is water damage from a sprinkler system,” Hartman said. “But it is a lot less damage from the amount of water coming out of a sprinkler system than the amount of water coming out of a fire hose.”

SAFETY OF CITIZENS, SAFETY OF FIRE FIGHTERS

The more synthetics we have, the more we utilize synthetics, chemicals, and technology to make our lives more enjoyable, the more we compound the issue of a fire turning deadly.

“That is where I get really concerned about the safety of our citizens and the safety of our fire fighters,” Hartman said.

When a family says goodbye to a husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, there is no guarantee that the family will see them tomorrow.

“We train for all situations,” Jerry Ewers, Muscatine Fire Chief, said. “But just like all first responders who put their lives on the line to protect and serve their communities, there are no guarantees.”

The philosophy of the Muscatine Fire Department is to: accept great personal risk to save another person’s life; accept moderate personal risk to save another person’s property; and, accept no personal risk to save what is already lost.

The only fire fighter fatality that Muscatine has experienced came during a residential fire but there have been plenty of injuries and close calls.

“Fire safety is not just about keeping your family safe, it is also about keeping those who respond to the fires safe,” Hartman said. “A lot of people express their appreciation to the fire fighters. The best way to show appreciation is to learn, discuss, and practice fire safety every day.”

OLDER VS NEWER CONSTRUCTION

Recently, fire fighters were dispatched to a garage fire where the roof collapsed just seconds before fire fighters entered the structure to attack the fire.

“The reason the roof collapsed, and it was a big chunk of the roof, was that it was newer construction,” Hartman said.

Hartman said that fire fighters will assess the age of the home when they first arrive at the scene of a structure fire. Those built in the last 20-30 years have elements of “light weight construction” or the use of engineered wood instead of solid wood.

“Light weight construction helps to make the house open and beautiful but it is horrible for firefighting,” Hartman said.

The rule of thumb, according to Hartman, is that with a fire in the attic of a light weight construction home, the roof will collapse in six minutes.

“The call process, the turn out time, the drive time, set up time, all could put us right at that mark when we would put someone on that roof to vent it,” Hartman said.

Older homes have their problems too including not having fire stops which would prevent a fire on the first floor from dropping down into the basement or going up into the second floor or attic area. Remodeling also poses problems if that work is not done by professionals and not done to code.

“The older houses are better in some ways but in some ways they are not,” Hartman said. “Residentials are kind of a unique animal.”

Just like planning how to escape a fire, it takes planning and training to attack the different kinds of residential fires.

“We even had one recent residential fire that had extension cords running through the entire place and that is actually what caused the fire,” Hartman said. “They had a small extension cord with a surge protector plugged into another surge bar that was plugged into a heater.”

Extension cords are not meant for that kind of abuse and the heat generated from their overuse can cause fires.

“The more you plug into them, the more dangerous it is,” Hartman said.

MESSAGE OF THE DAY

In simple terms, fires are not like what you see in the movies. Fire is hot, fire is fast, fire is dark, and fire is deadly. In fact, smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do.

The most important message of the day, according to Hartman, is awareness. Parents need to reinforce the lessons of fire prevention and using an escape plan.

“We try to connect with every school child in the third through fifth grade with fire education,” Hartman said. “If they take that home and discuss it with their parents, then we have success.”

There have been many instances of fire education success including one recent event where an individual on a riding lawn mower tipped over and caught fire.

“He jumped out and started running around with his clothes on fire,” Hartman said. “Some children across the street saw this and yelled at him to stop, drop, and roll. He did and that put the fire out.”

Stop, drop, and roll is something the children learned from the program offered by the Fire Department in the schools.

While there is frustration that the message is not getting to everyone, there is growing evidence that the message is being received and being spread throughout the community.

If you would like more information, or a home visit, please contact the Muscatine Fire Department directly.

“We would be more than willing to help you and to make sure your house or home is safer,’ Ewers said.

Tax abatement is one tool for City to assist in Muscatine real estate investment

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Property owners, contractors, and developers with interest in Muscatine real estate have several programs available through the City of Muscatine to assist with new construction, renovations to existing buildings, or expansions to existing facilities.

 

Urban revitalization, or tax abatement, is one of those tools that is available to encourage economic development in the designated Urban Renewal Area of the city. Supported by provisions of Chapter 403 of the Code of Iowa, Muscatine’s Urban Renewal Plan seeks to encourage and stimulate new residential, commercial, and industrial development through the temporary reduction of property taxes on added value to properties.

 

Tax abatement is a tool used by local governments to stimulate investment in designated areas by temporarily reducing or eliminating property taxes on certain eligible pieces of real estate including new and renovated homes and commercial buildings.

 

Stimulating investment by encouraging new construction and renovation to existing homes is one of the program’s goals. Encouraging construction of energy-efficient homes and reducing the cost of living for a temporary period of time are objectives that enable the program to assist in the improvement of communities, leaving more valuable pieces of property, which means higher property tax revenue once the abatements expire.

 

Tax abatements are a temporary reduction of property taxes. The property owner still pays the amount owed pre-improvement, but may qualify for decreased taxes over a predetermined amount of time for improvements made to existing property.

 

Applications for housing and commercial tax abatement programs are available for qualified improvements that include new construction, remodeling, rehabilitation, and additions to existing property.

 

The Muscatine Housing Urban Revitalization Area was established by the Muscatine City Council in 2013 and updated in 2018 to include multi-residential and commercial residential housing. New revitalization districts were also added in 2018. A new commercial tax abatement program was added in 2016 for two key areas of the city – along Grandview Avenue and Park Avenue – that offer abatements on improvements that increase the assessed valuation of the property by at least 15 percent of the valuation before the improvement.

 

HOUSING TAX ABATEMENT

 

The Muscatine Housing Tax Abatement program offers eligible property owners reduced or eliminated property taxes for new construction or improvements to existing facilities in three areas including the revitalization area, blighted property sub-district, and historic property sub-district.

 

New residential facilities in the Revitalization Area must have an assessed valuation of at least $175,000 with 100 percent abatement on the first $75,000 of actual value added for five years.

 

New residential and multi-residential facilities situated in some portion of the blighted property sub-district are eligible for tax abatement if the assessed valuation is at least $80,000 with 100 percent abatement of the actual value added by the improvements for a period of five years.

 

Residential property located in the Historic Property sub-district are eligible to receive an exemption from taxation for a period of five years on 100 percent of the actual value added by the improvements.

 

All qualified real estate assessed as multi-residential or commercial residential properties consisting of three or more separate living quarters with at least 75 percent of the space used for residential purposes are eligible to receive an exemption on 100 percent of the value added by the improvements over a period of five years.

 

COMMERCIAL TAX ABATEMENT

 

Two commercial tax abatement options are available to property owners who construct new, rehabilitate, or add to existing commercial or industrial facilities.

 

A 10-year declining schedule offers qualified properties a reduction in property taxes on the actual value added as of the first year for which the exemption was received. The 10-year partial exemption begins with an 80 percent exemption from taxation of the actual value added in the first year with the percentage gradually decreasing during the life-span of the exemption to 20 percent in years nine and 10.

 

The second option is a three-year 100 percent exemption of the actual value added by the improvements.

 

INDUSTRIAL PROPERTY TAX ABATEMENT

 

A partial exemption from taxation for a period of five years is provided by Iowa Code 427B on the actual value added to industrial real estate by the new construction of industrial real estate, research-service facilities, warehouses, and distribution centers. Seventy-five percent of the property tax on the actual value added is abated during the first year and is reduced by 15 percent each year until the fifth year which is at 15 percent of the actual value added.

 

CITY OF MUSCATINE TAX ABATEMENT PROGRAM

The pothole war … a never ending battle waged in the streets of Muscatine

 

021419 Grandview pot hole repair 03

It is a never ending battle in the war between city streets and winter weather. It is a battle for drivers as they face the many challenges of winter driving, and a battle for the work crews of the Street Maintenance Division of Muscatine’s Department of Public Works who also have many challenges related to upkeep of the streets during winter travel.

 

Those sometimes small, sometimes large, sometimes shallow, and sometimes deep potholes that somehow magically appear overnight to the detriment of the unaware motorist are a real concern to the City and to residents. The avalanche in the number of reported potholes is, at times, less than the number of actual potholes but the City does respond to each and every report and then some.

 

One key to successfully addressing this problem is the assistance from the public that the City receives. The City welcomes resident’s calls to the Department of Public Works (DPW) with information on the location of potholes throughout the community and this also helps City crews respond quicker to street needs. (See how to report a pothole below). Weather is a key to the severity and number of potholes, and is a determining factor of when City work crews are mobilized to fill the deformations in the pavement. The better the weather, the more potholes can be filled.

 

HOW POTHOLE FORMS

 

According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, potholes are the holes in the roadway that can be various shapes and sizes caused by the expansion and contraction of water after it has entered into the subsurface under the pavement from a crack in the surface. When water freezes, it expands.

 

Think of when ice cubes are made. A tray full of water is put into the freezer when you take the tray out of the freezer later, you will notice the water has expanded.

 

This same effect happens when water gets into the subsurface under the pavement. If it has a chance to freeze, it will take up more space under the pavement, and then the pavement will expand, bend or crack, which weakens the material. Then when ice melts, the pavement contracts and it leaves gaps or voids in the subsurface under the pavement, where water can get in again. If the water freezes and thaws over and over, the pavement may get very weak.

There is another thing that happens. As the weight of cars and trucks pass over the weak spot in the road, pieces of the roadway material weakened by the freeze-thaw effect get displaced or broken down from the weight, creating the pothole.

What happens when salt is brought into the picture? Water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. When salt is used, it lowers the temperature that water will freeze, creating an artificial freeze-thaw cycle to occur. This happens more in the spring because of the melting that takes place and because the temperatures go between above freezing and below freezing very frequently and allows many freeze-thaw cycles to weaken the pavement.

 

COLD PATCH VS HOT MIX

 

Once a pothole develops, it needs to be patched or filled in. Two different types of repair methods are predominately used in this process – cold patch asphalt repair and hot mix asphalt repair. The City of Muscatine has also recently used full depth patching with concrete in larger damaged areas.

 

021419 Grandview pot hole repair 02

Cold patch asphalt repairs can be used to quickly fill in pot holes and is available throughout the year. While cold patch is the “quick fix” and used by the City to repair most cracks and smaller potholes, it does not properly seal a pothole and does not prevent the pothole from forming again.

 

Hot mix asphalt repair addresses the underlying problems that caused the pothole by excavating the area around the pothole, and then filling and sealing the area with hot asphalt. However, hot mix requires the asphalt to be heated (temperatures range from 300 to 350 degrees) at an asphalt mixing plant and then transported to and poured before the mixture cools. While this product is a flexible mix that is highly resistant to weather and able to repel water, asphalt mixing plants usually only operate mid-March to mid-November when temperatures are 40 degrees or above.

 

Colder temperatures and the unavailability of hot mix during the colder months into early spring results in cold patch being the best option for most repairs during this time period. As the weather permits, crews from the Department of Public Works have been out to fill as many holes as possible with the cold patch that does not have to be heated.

 

These repairs, however, cannot be made at all times during the winter months. Snow covered streets often hide the developing potholes and City crews may also have to wait for water from melting snow to drain away. The City employs a throw-and-roll pothole repair strategy in the early stages of their battle against potholes where the cracks and/or potholes are cleaned out of water and debris with high pressured air, cold patch is throw into the crack and/or pothole, and a large truck drives over the patched area. While not a permanent solution, the temporary repair does help smooth out the streets with the area identified for a potentially more long-term solution during the warmer months.

 

REPORTING A POTHOLE

 

To report a pothole in the City of Muscatine, call the Department of Public Works at (563) 263-8933. To ensure that the repairs you are requesting are handled in a timely and efficient manner, please having the following information available at the time of your call:

  • Your name (optional)
  • Your address and daytime phone number (It is important that you provide a contact number in the event more information is needed)
  • The location of the pothole, including the nearest cross street and/or address
  • A description of the problem (There are other types of road defects that may appear as a pothole, but may require more intensive repairs)
  • Any other pertinent information that may need to be relayed to the crews about the area or the problem.

 

After receiving the information, a member of the DPW Street Maintenance Division will visit the site to determine the size and priority of the problem area so that the needed repairs can be scheduled.

 

Residents may also visit the City of Muscatine web site (www.muscatineiowa.gov) and click on the “Let Us Know” link. This link will take you to our request tracker where you can scroll down to the bottom of the page and select “pothole”. You will have to sign in or create an account to use the feature.

 

Once created, however, you will be able to use several other features on the city web site including “Notify Me”, which provides opportunities to receive notifications from a number of city departments, “Community Voice”, which allows you to comment and make suggestions in a public discussion forum, “OpenGov”, the official transparency site for the City of Muscatine, and you can even pay your parking tickets at “Online Payments”.

 

 

Hubei Chime Bells, Peking Opera to perform in Muscatine February 14

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MUSCATINE, Iowa – Celebrate the Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day, in the Muscatine Center for Performing Art at Central Middle School with performances by the China National Peking Opera Company, Troupe One, and the spectacular Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra.

 

This is a rare opportunity to experience and a celebration not to miss with a dazzling combination of vocal artistry, costumes, and acrobatics in three classic scenes to a program of works that honor centuries-old musical traditions performed on exact replicas of the ancient Imperial Bells of China.

 

The program is free and open to the public with no ticket required. The show begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, at Central Middle School, 901 Cedar Street, Muscatine.

 

This is the third stop for the orchestra who will perform in the Chicago Symphony Center, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, on Feb. 10 and in Orchestra Hall of the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, on Feb. 12. The group will also perform in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Feb. 18.

 

Georgia Cassimatis, writing for What’s On Sydney, previewed the orchestra’s planned visit to Australia.

 

“Magical, mystical, spell-binding, romantic, hypnotizing and simply beautiful,” she wrote. “These are only a few words to describe the grand music, and cultural, historical richness of the internationally acclaimed Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra.

 

“Historically impressive, the Imperial Bells are the 433BC chime bells, which were unearthed in 1978 in the Zenghouyi Tomb in Hubei Province in China. There are 65 bells with weight up to five tonnes hanging on two sets of wood racks. Visually breathtaking the stage mirrors the Chinese palace symphony orchestra and the ancient Jingchu people’s artistic lifestyle, dating back 2400 years.

 

“Considered the eighth wonder of the world, the ancient instruments including harps, pipes, bamboo flutes, drums, banjo and ancient Bianzhong Bells are played by an orchestra of over 40 musicians who take you on a journey of famous Chinese music and sensational singing.

 

“As one is transported back to a time thousands of years ago via the melodious timbres, there awaits a surprise; a beautiful ode to Australia, where the chimes begin playing Waltzing Matilda; with big applause and not a dry eye in the house.”

Members of the orchestra will arrive in Muscatine Wednesday evening (Feb. 13) with a welcome dinner at China Garden Restaurant. Most of the performers will be staying at the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center but some will stay in the homes of Muscatine residents. Home stays has been one of the favorite parts of the performers’ visit to Muscatine and a tradition that continues this year.

 

Performance day (Thursday, Feb. 14) begins with a tour of Muscatine that includes stops at the Sino-U.S. Friendship House, Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine City Hall, Muscatine Community College, Weed Park, and the Muscatine riverfront. Lunch will be held at the Muscatine History & Industry Center before the performers being taken to Central Middle School for rehearsal and the performance that night.

 

Unlike years past, the performers will have an extra day in Muscatine before leaving for California. Following breakfast at the Merrill Hotel, performers will be able to spend Friday (Feb. 15) exploring downtown Muscatine, the riverfront, and doing some shopping. Friday afternoon will feature Chinese Cultural Day activities that will include the performers visiting with Muscatine students in various classrooms.

 

The Muscatine China Initiative Committee (MCIC) is coordinating the event and supported by the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Chicago.

 

MORE ABOUT THE PROGRAM AND PERFORMERS

 

The first half of the program features the Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra performing works that transport listeners to ancient China. In 1978, a set of 2,500-year-old bronze and stone chime bells were excavated from the tomb of a Chinese ruler from the Bronze Age in Hubei, China. Believed to be the earliest twelve-tone equal temperament instruments in the world, these chime bells create an authentic, melodious timbre and also are breathtaking to behold due to their grand scale and elaborate cast technique. Additionally, other traditional instruments are featured on the program, including the qing, a stone or jade chime; the xun, a vessel flute; and the se, a plucked zither.

 

The second half of the concert features Troupe One of the China National Beijing Opera Company presenting three scenes from the Peking opera repertoire that include instrumental music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics. Dressed in traditional costumes with full makeup, celebrated performers Yu Kuizhi and Li Shengsu are featured on a program that includes scenes from three classic Peking operas: Divergence, Palace of Eternal Life, as well as Uproar in Heaven, a classic Chinese story that follows the adventures of the mischievous Monkey King who wreaks havoc in his rebellion against the Jade Emperor.

 

The Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra is a part of the Hubei Provincial Opera and Dance Drama Theatre, which is a leading performing arts organization that produces and performs traditional and folk opera, dance and music of the Hubei province. Committed to innovation in the arts, the theatre has won numerous awards including the first prize of the Excellent Performance Award of the first China Opera Festival, a Wenhua Award and Hubei Five-One Project Award. Through their international tours, the Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra commits itself to cultural exchange and establishing connections between Chinese people and people from all over the world through visual and auditory performances.

 

Founded in 1955 as China’s premier Peking opera organization, the China National Beijing Opera Company is one of the national ensembles of performance arts directly under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, People’s Republic of China. The company includes acclaimed performers, playwrights, directors, composers and stage designers and has presented productions ranging over the wide diversity of Peking opera performance styles. The company’s Troupe One is its most esteemed, delivering the highest quality performances of traditional and contemporary repertoire. Masters of their generation, leading artist Yu Kuizhi and acclaimed director Li Shengsu have enhanced the artistic style of Troupe One, which also includes numerous performers who have won awards in national

 

Budget Season … anticipating funds and looking to the future of Muscatine

100418 miss dr walnut east

Nearly half of the funding for the City of Muscatine comes from property taxes (48 percent in Fiscal Year 2017-2018) but the fluctuations in state and federal funding sources and the highly competitive nature of seeking outside funding sources has placed even more emphasis on the use of property taxes as the major funding source for General Fund programs.

 

The City, through sound fiscal management, successful grant applications, contributions to programs, and outside funding sources, has been able to maintain the same tax rate ($15.67209 per $1,000 of valuation) for the past seven years while also improving the services offered to Muscatine citizens. In fact, the City tax rate has not been raised for the past 10 years.

 

But there is fear of the unknown when it comes to future funding opportunities The potential loss or reduction of back-fill payments from the state and the availability of grants and other outside funding sources could have a significant impact on what the FY 2019/2020 budget for the City of Muscatine is and how it will affect the City’s portion of the property tax rate.

 

Departmental budgets are prepared with an emphasis on meeting the needs of Muscatine citizens whether in infrastructure, housing, safety, recreation, or waste management, to name a few. Budget planning requires the departments to not only think short term (the requirements of the next fiscal year) but also long term (future goals and objectives). The question budget planners must ask is what needs must be met in the next fiscal year and what can be planned for and implemented in future fiscal years.

 

Those preparing the department budgets cannot live in the land where future money is guaranteed and their dreams, and the wishes of the residents, are but a yes vote away. Budget planners have to live in the land where there is an anticipation of the availability of funds but no guarantee.

 

City department heads, under the direction of the city administrator, began to collect information on department needs for FY2019-2020 at the end of October. Preliminary budgets were prepared during November departmental meetings and lobbied in front of the city administrator and finance director during December. While many good arguments were made for the preliminary budgets during these discussions, none escaped feedback needed for the next step … preparing the budget for presentation to the City Council.

 

One of the primary functions of the City Administrator is to weigh all of the departmental requests and then come up with something that works within the funding or proposed funding that exists. Fiscal authority, however, resides with the City Council who has the authority to allocate and appropriate of all funds. There is no guarantee that the department’s budget request will be approved without debate or without cuts, and, in fact, that debate on the needs of the department in relation to the needs of the citizens and availability of funds, is a vital part of the budget discussions by Council.

 

There are a myriad of issues and challenges associated with preparing a departmental budget, just as there are 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 in the short term … and staying within the confines of the anticipated dollars that the City will receive in the coming fiscal year.

 

The presentations before the Muscatine City Council begins at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 24, 2019, when an overview of the proposed budget is presented. Over the course of the following two weeks, Council members will hear from the various departments and agencies as they present their FY2019-2020 budgets.

 

While the presentations are open to the public only the Council members are allowed to ask questions of the representatives. Public comment on the budget proposals will come during a public hearing tentatively scheduled for March 7, 2019. The budget presentations will be held in the lower level conference room at City Hall, 215 Sycamore. A complete schedule for the presentations is available on the city website at BUDGET PRESENTATIONS.

 

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.

 

 

 

Parking and the snow emergency

112718-snow-plowing-on-mulberry

 

A Snow Emergency, short for “emergency snow removal operation”, is nothing more than the enforcement of an established plan for on-street parking that allows the Department of Public Works (DPW) the ability to quickly and safely remove snow from Muscatine streets, alleys, and city owned parking lots.

The on-street parking plan works to increase the efficiency of snow removal operations by limiting on-street parking even if a snow emergency is not declared. In fact, the City urges residents to remember and utilize the on-street parking plan for any snow event of two inches or more.

The ability to clear city streets, curb to curb, and alleys in a timely, efficient manner benefits residents who need on-street parking and the City who can move on to other projects once the snow removal has concluded. Adhering to the parking plan can reduce the frustration of vehicle owners who often find their vehicles surrounded by snow piles and reduce the difficulties faced by snowplow drivers who must be aware of parked vehicles while clearing the streets.

So when is a snow emergency declared?

A Snow Emergency is declared when anticipated snowfall and other weather conditions are expected to significantly impact public safety.

Representatives from City administration, the Department of Public Works, Muscatine Fire Department, and Muscatine Police Department monitor the forecast, determine resources needed for the weather event, and begin to stage those resources for snow removal operations. These representatives continue to meet as the storm approaches to determine the impact to public safety and to the safety of City workers.

A Snow Emergency is usually declared before the first snowflake falls when the anticipated weather and road conditions warrant. Every storm is different, however, and not all winter storms warrant the declaration of a snow emergency. The form and amount of precipitation, the duration of the event, and other weather related factors are used to determine the response to a particular winter storm.

Discussions on the most recent winter storm (code named Bruce by the Weather Channel) began before the Thanksgiving holiday when the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Winter Storm Watch. The NWS was fairly certain that the storm was going to affect the southeastern portion of Iowa but the path and amount of snowfall changed daily. A Winter Storm Warning was issued days before the storm impacted the area.

“The forecast entering the weekend was for 4-8 inches of snow and windy conditions,” Brian Stineman, Public Works Director, said. “At that point we were fairly confident that we could handle snow removal operations without the need to declare a snow emergency.”

That changed midway through the weekend when the computer models fine-tuned the path of the storm and increased the potential snowfall to 8-12+ inches.  An additional twist was the issuance of a blizzard warning by the NWS with winds expected to top out at 45 mph.

With many communities in the region declaring snow emergencies ahead of the storm’s impact, Muscatine officials began communicating early Sunday morning and agreed that the expected weather conditions warranted a declaration.

“Ideally you want to make the call sooner rather than later,” Gregg Mandsager, City Administrator, said. “It just depends on the makeup of the storm and its forecasted impact.”

The minimum amount of time between the declaration of a snow emergency and the beginning of enforcement is four hours according to City code. And if that declaration is made after 8 p.m., enforcement cannot begin until after 8 a.m. the following day.

“Every event is different,” Stineman said. “We want to be sure that all our personnel are on the same page and ready to successfully deal with the weather event and the public. And we want to make sure that the public has advance notice of the parking restrictions so that they can adhere to the snow emergency parking plan.”

So what is this on-street parking plan?

A Snow Emergency declaration brings the enforcement arm of the on-street parking plan into effect (ticketing and towing of vehicles) and specifies what streets are cleared first. The declaration lasts a minimum of 48 hours but can be amended if road and weather conditions warrant.

The City has five emergency snow plow routes which include snow ordinance routes, hospital access streets, school access routes, and transit emergency bus routes. These routes are cleared from curb to curb before the City proceeds to other streets. During a snow emergency, on-street parking is not permitted on either side of one of these routes until the streets are cleared. A color coded map of these routes is available on the City of Muscatine web site.

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 and this is the recommended parking plan during non-snow emergency events as well. The parking plan states that, 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.

There are two provisions for all streets where parking is allowed only on one side. If that side is on the even-numbered side, 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 grace period (or transition time) for moving a vehicle between the first and second snow emergency day (and subsequent days as needed) is 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. For example, if the day was Nov. 28 and you were parked on the even side, you have until 8 a.m. on Nov. 29 to move your vehicle to the odd numbered side of the street. No tickets will be issued during the grace period.

Just because the snow emergency is over does not mean you can leave these vehicle on the street without moving them.  Muscatine Police will continue to ticket and tow vehicles that have not moved since the snow storm until the streets are clear. Muscatine Police Chief Brett Talkington reminds residents that the city parking ordinance states you MUST move your vehicles every 24 hours at least 25 feet.

Parking and snow

Remember your sidewalks

While the City works to clear streets, alleys, and parking lots of snow and ice, it is the responsibility of property owners to clear their sidewalks. The benefits of clearing sidewalks include reducing the potential for pedestrian falls while traversing the property, and clearing a safe path for public safety personnel if they are needed at the property.

Section 3-1-4 of the Muscatine City Code 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.

Another section of the City code (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.

What Happens When the Mississippi Floods in Muscatine?

127  Pearl City Station 24.34

Muscatine has seen its fair share of floods over the years. Because our city is nestled along the banks of the Mississippi River, we are bound to see occasional high water. Many of you may remember the record floods of 1993 and 2008. Floods like those don’t happen often, but when they do, we must have a plan in place to keep our community safe and secure.

We are reaching the end of the normal flood season for the Mississippi at this point in the year, but we still wanted to give our readers a brief overview of how the City responds to floods.

The City of Muscatine has an efficient plan in place to monitor river levels and then respond at the necessary flood stages. The following departments are directly involved in flood control: Public Works – Engineering and Street Maintenance Divisions, Water Pollution Control Plant and Sewer Maintenance Division, Parks and Recreation, Police Department, Fire Department, and Finance Department.

035 Clam man statue on riverfront 24.34

Here’s a brief overview of what happens once the 16′ Flood Level is met. These guidelines were created prior to the reconstruction and raising of Mississippi Drive but are guidelines still adhered to by the City of Muscatine.

  1. 16′ is the Official Flood Level – It is monitored on the Muscatine gauge, which is located at the Municipal Power Plant, River Mile 453.0. Once the flood waters reach this level, City staff will monitor the weather and projections for river stages along with Mad Creek’s potential flows.
  2. 17′ Gauge –  Wait and watch. Water will encroach upon the walk area at Pearl City Station at 17.5′. Toe drain pumps will get ready to run when necessary.
  3. 18′ to 19′ Gauge – Once a prediction of 18′ is determined, 2,000 sandbags are created, and preparations are made to phase all parking in the riverfront parking lot with detours are set up. At 18.2′ water starts to back out of the storm inlet at Mississippi Drive and Walnut Street. By 19.2′, two lanes of traffic are covered. At 19.5′ water is across all four lanes of Mississippi Drive at Walnut and all of the riverfront parking lot is underwater. At 19.64′ water is to the center line of Mississippi Drive at Mulberry. At 19.83′ water is on top of the deck at Pearl City Station.
  4. At this point, local weather forecasts must be observed closely in order to predict Mad Creek flows. Necessary notifications must be made to the Railroad and businesses utilizing the railroad.
  5. Procedures are followed from 20′ and up that include closing structures and the flood gates. Randy Howell, the Street Maintenance Supervisor, makes the call for when flood gates go down. During the next phases, levees are patrolled to watch for boils. Sandbags are added as necessary. Correct emergency maintenance procedures are followed in conjunction with the State of Iowa.

This is just a glimpse into what happens when flood levels reach a certain level and how the City of Muscatine responds to flood situations at the riverfront. The City has an extensive plan in place to respond to any flood situation that may arise.

Residents and visitors to Muscatine are reminded that if they encounter water over the roadway … turn around and don’t drown. Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm related hazard. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. The next highest percentage of flood-related deaths is due to walking into or near flood waters.

People underestimate the force and power of water. Many of the deaths occur in automobiles as they are swept downstream. Of these drownings, many are preventable, but too many people continue to drive around the barriers that warn you the road is flooded. A mere 6 inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes just 12 inches of rushing water to carry away a small car, while 2 feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles. It is NEVER safe to drive or walk into flood waters.

The recommended flood procedures, as established in 2010, can be found HERE.

The current flood prediction hydrograph from the National Weather Service can be found HERE.

Rebranding and “a turn for the better”

Marketing Muscatine effort more than just a new logo

 

MUSCATINE, Iowa – A new logo and a new tag line for Muscatine were revealed to the Muscatine City Council on Thursday (July 12), the first of several meetings with community members to showcase the logos’ design and meaning. The culmination of many years of work from leaders of several entities in Muscatine, the logo and tagline are part of a renewed effort to market Muscatine.

 

Muscatine-City-1C-ColorIn fact, the inability to adequately market Muscatine was one of the key reasons that early discussions led to the formation of a leadership committee to study and develop a logo and tagline that would work for the entire community of Muscatine. The committee included members from the City of Muscatine, Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Muscatine Power & Water, Muscatine Community College, Muscatine Community School District, and UnityPoint-Trinity Muscatine.

 

From early on the commitment was to develop a logo and tagline that could be used by all, a commonality that demonstrates the commitment of the community to be the place where living, working, raising a family, and retiring all takes a turn for the better.

 

Working with Northstar Marketing, Inc, out of Nashville, Tenn., the committee coordinated research on the community of Muscatine, on consumer awareness and the perception of Muscatine, and on competition for regional tourism and economic development. Out of this research came a strategic DNA that would form the foundation for development of the logo design and the tagline.

 

That DNA:

 

“For those with global horizons who want to watch the sunset in the Midwest, Muscatine, an industrial power between Iowa City and the Quad Cities, is where the great bend of the Mississippi turns small town ingenuity into unbounded enterprise, so you can access the world stage or watch it flow by.”

 

Muscatine history was not forgotten in the development of the new logo and tagline, and was fundamental in the development of the DNA statement.

 

Watching the sunset is in reference to the Mark Twain’s (Samuel Clemens) often used quote on Muscatine sunsets (“And I remember Muscatine – still more pleasantly – for its summer sunsets. I have never seen any, on either side of the ocean that equaled them.”)

 

The phrases Industrial power along with turning small town ingenuity into unbounded enterprise are another historical reference that also reaches into the future. The lumber industry was the first enterprise that brought recognition to Muscatine in the mid-1860s. H.J. Heinz also brought recognition to Muscatine by building the companies first plant outside of Pittsburgh here in 1892 to take advantage of the fertile soil located in this area.

 

Of course, the early 20th century button industry that led to Muscatine becoming known as the “Pearl Button Capital of the World” was another chapter in the greatness of Muscatine.

 

During the last 100 years companies and corporations established in Muscatine have become recognized worldwide for their products and services and that trend continues today with new businesses and their products becoming recognized throughout the region, nation, and the world.

 

The final part of that DNA does look into the future and notes how Muscatine is the place where you can access the world stage or just watch the world flow by.

 

The rebranding is just one part of a long term commitment by various entities in this community to help Muscatine grow in population, in recreational and employment opportunities, and in housing and educational options.

 

The two-year project to reconstruct Mississippi Drive from Mad Creek to Broadway is part of that commitment by the City of Muscatine to enhance the infrastructure and create a sense of place for residents and visitors alike. The Grandview Avenue project in 2019 and 2020 will add another enhancement as will the proposed 2nd Street revitalization in 2020 or 2021.

 

This “turn for the better” will entrust to future generations a connection between the Mississippi River and Downtown Muscatine, an area filled with history and tradition and an area filled with endless possibilities for residents, businesses, and visitors. Those possibilities do not stop at Downtown Muscatine but extend to all corners of the community.

 

When the next phase of Riverside Park improvements is completed, Muscatine will have a recreational and entertainment venue second to none up or down the Mississippi River.

 

When Mississippi Drive is complete, the redefined traffic pattern enhanced for pedestrian traffic, landscaped medians, and wayfinding signs will allow for a greater connection and flow between the riverfront and the downtown area.

 

When the corridor from Mad Creek to the U.S. 61 bypass is complete, Muscatine will have a main artery that will have increased business and residential potential.

 

This is also part of the branding effort.

 

It was mentioned at the City Council presentation on July 12 that the rebranding did not take into consideration the history of Muscatine and that the tagline was vague, confusing, and could be viewed as saying that Muscatine was never great.

 

The opposite is more to the fact.

 

Muscatine was located on the bend of the Mississippi River for many reasons and just one could have been because this is where opportunity takes “a turn for the better”. Throughout the history of Muscatine (and Bloomington before that) this fact was proven. It is being proven today, and will be proven again in the future.

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