New Oskaloosa councilmen lay out philosophical differences
by Dennis Sharkey
For the first time in more than a year there were five council members present at an Oskaloosa City Council meeting.
John Norman and Greg Rockhold were sworn in as new council members along with Mayor Mike Boyd last Thursday, May 5.
Boyd is serving his first term as an elected mayor. He filled the unexpired term of former Mayor Judy Miller when she stepped down in 2009.
Norman is entering his second month on the council. He was appointed to fill the remaining term of former Councilman James Malsbury. Malsbury had not attended a meeting in over a year and resigned earlier this year.
Rockhold is serving his first stint as a councilman.
Shaking things up a bit and demanding more financial accountability will be an early theme if last week’s first taste is any indication.
Norman began asking questions last month before the ink was dry on his oath statement and Rockhold didn’t waste any time in questioning past procedures at last week’s affair.
Rockhold’s first line of questioning centered around the hot topic of the city’s pool closure. He said there are concerns that the city won’t have the monies available next year to open the pool.
He wasn’t the only council member concerned about the pool’s timeline. Veteran councilman Mike Paavola said the bids the city has are old and the project could run into cost overruns. Bids from last year ranged around $75,000. He said $10,000 in overruns could force the city to put it off next year.
“I really think it’s going to be a two year process,” Paavola said. “I hope I’m wrong.”
Others including Boyd and Councilman Allen Wise were much less pessimistic about the timeline. Both men said they were confident the pool would open next year.
In the weeks since announcing the pool would shut down for this year some funding sources have emerged. Boyd said in speaking with the Parks Board there is a possibility of getting up to $20,000 in a donation.
City Superintendent Bill Heard said another anonymous citizen has expressed pledging a substantial amount of money.
Financial accountability has been a striking cord for Norman since gaining a seat on the council last month and questioned the methods by which past councils developed a budget and tracked expenses.
Norman lobbied for a work order system that would track the daily activities of city employees to gain a firm grasp of how much time is spent in different departments.
“How do you know what to budget where?” Norman questioned. “You’re just throwing dollars at some pot.
“If you’re just throwing numbers at streets that’s not telling you,” he added. “You have to get your money where you need it and just grabbing and picking from here and there, I don’t think that’s the way to run the program. You have documentation of what you’ve done and what you haven’t done.”
Wise said he uses numbers from year to year to gauge where funds have been and need to be spent. Norman disagreed and said the budget is just a guide and not actual data.
Councilman Jim Faris raised his voice and in a quirky manner questioned Norman’s motivations for wanting work orders and suggested that he was wanting to micromanage.
“So are you suggesting, Mr. Norman, that we should have somebody hired to go around and make sure everything is going the way it should?” Faris said in a cartoonistic voice.
Norman looked at Faris with a peculiar look and questioned Faris’ direction. Faris said he’s not willing to hire someone to check the work of city employees.
“Where did you come up with another person?” Norman asked Faris. “I didn’t mention any other person.”
“Well that’s the only logical conclusion you can come to,” Faris said.
Wise stepped in and said that the idea sounded good but questioned how they would do it.
Later the conversation turned to the old Harvey’s Hardware building that was purchased in 2009 by the city with plans of converting it to City Hall.
Rockhold and Norman said they both have heard numerous complaints about the purchase of the building. Paavola told the two new guys he hears the same complaints and has no answers.
“That’s the one question I get asked the most, ‘Why did you buy that building?’” Paavola said. “You know what I tell them? ‘I don’t know.’”
Norman said the second most asked question should be, “Why did the city buy 13 acres of land?”
Wise said at the time buying the building seemed like a logical choice compared to other scenarios that included spending more than $350,000 on a new building.
Rockhold said some citizens are upset and believe the city took another retail space off the square. He complained that only Mutual Savings and Loan remained on that block of the square.
Wise said the city did not run another business off the square and that former owner Sam Harvey had plans to sell the building.
Paavola said the perception is real and that he thinks there is some credence to be lent to the thought.
“Oh I think we did,” Paavola said. “Somebody would have bought it.”
Paavola said business owners along the square were concerned that property taxes would go up once they saw the price tag of $125,000 for the building. The purchase price for the 13 acres was $35,000
Norman questioned whether or not the price was negotiated or if the city paid asking price. Wise said they paid asking price.
At one point Wise made a motion to sell the building but later pulled back.
“We need to do one of two things. Sell it and quit (complaining) about it or fix it and quit (complaining) about it,” Wise said.
Faris again raised his voice and expressed some frustration that the Harvey’s Hardware building had not been renovated yet. He said if the city didn’t do something to make it look better it would decay. Faris said he thinks Oskaloosa has great potential.
“I would bet even Walmart would be interested in something like this,” Faris said. “It’s called investing in your future.”
“That’s the future?” Rockhold responded. “A 100-year-old building?”
Rockhold said the city spent too much money on a building they are not occupying.
In other actions:
• The council talked with the contractor of the sewer project Andy Kelly about how to handle situations that arise with sewer problems.
Kelly said his preference would be to have the homeowner call an approved plumber to assess the situation. Kelly said if the plumber determines that it is their problem they will pay for the plumber and fix the issue.
Kelly said crews cannot drop what they are doing and dispatch to Oskaloosa every time a sewer issue arises. Earlier in the evening Kelly sat as two residents complained about what was perceived as a problem with the sewer project.
After some discussion it was determined that the root of the problem was the homeowner’s issue and not the result of sewer construction.
“If I feel like it’s my fault I’ll come up here,” he said.
The city will provide the homeowners with a list of plumbers who have worked in the city before. If the problem is determined to be the homeowner’s by the plumber, the homeowner will be responsible for paying the bill.
A plumber’s call can cost between $100 and $150.
• The city has hired Jared Bammes as the new animal control officer for the city. He will begin immediately and will be paid the same rate and mileage as the previous officer. Only two applications were received. Boyd recommended Bammes to the council.
• The city’s water rates will increase next month. The base rate will go from $16.50 to $17 and per 1,000 gallon charges will increase from $5.50 to $6.
The average bill in Oskaloosa will increase by $2.60 per month. The rate increase is in response to a rate increase from the city’s supplier, Rural Water District No. 7.
• The council approved numerous appointments. No major changes were made. Mike Paavola will take over as council president.
• Heard informed the council that the city has 30 days to install a back flow preventer on the bulk water sales hose dispenser. He said the state is requiring the preventer to keep things such as fertilizers and pesticides from contaminating the supply.
A quick change to the system concerns Heard. He said the new system will require two people to operate and some users will become frustrated. He asked for permission to hang a sign for a period of time to give a fair amount of time to warn customers.
• The council gave permission to Heard to pursue the purchase of a street plate compactor for more than $700. The machine is used.
• The council also agreed to sell some items on e-bay. One of the items is a generator.
• The city is looking for two or maybe three candidates to serve on the Planning Commission. Interested individuals should contact city hall. Candidates must live within the city.
• Boyd discussed the need for a city bike and skateboard park. Last week a nine-year-old was struck on Highway 92 while riding a bike. Boyd said he is working with local youth to develop a plan. He said most of the construction could be done by city employees.
“We’re trying to get this bicycle situation we’re having taken care of,” Boyd said. “We have to do something in this town or kids are continually going to get hit.”
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