By Ken Ross, Managing Editor
The scheduled second reading of an ordinance establishing fees in support of the fire department was tabled at the Tuesday meeting of the Cherokee City Council, pending consideration of revisions.
The decision to table the matter was made following comments from insurance agents, real estate agents and landlords regarding the effects that fees will have on citizens.
"You would in effect be doubling a $500 deductible for a homeowner," Ken Slater told the council, referring to the $500 maximum fee that would be charged for a residential structure fire when the fire department responded.
Slater said that of all the insurance companies he has checked, only one had an option available that would pay such a fee for a homeowner.
Slater noted that insurance for commercial property does pay such fees. The fee for a commercial fire response is a maximum of $1,000 and $5,000 for industrial. The fee could be less than the maximum based on the equipment and manpower used.
Joan Ballantyne said she has also checked insurance companies and was also told that they don't pay fees for responding to residential fires.
Referring to the council's initial plan to eliminate two fire department driver/dispatcher positions, Ballantyne noted that the paid fire department staff do more than just wait at the station for a fire call.
"Why do you always pick on the fire department?" Ballantyne asked.
Hank Hayes referred to a recent call to a fire at the home of Dwight Varce, city council member, and said that Varce was fortunate that the firefighters were already in their turnout gear and with the pumper for the flight breakfast and could make a quick response to the fire.
"We have films of what can happen in five minutes," Hayes said.
Regarding proposed fees for annual building inspections by the fire department, Ron Strickland, city administrator, said the larger apartment buildings already had the state fire marshal's office conduct such inspections and the city would not require a city inspection on top of one made by the fire marshal's office.
He noted that an annual inspection of rental property is required in the Iowa Code although nobody in the city realized that until recently. Strickland indicated that the annual fire inspection is unknown in many towns but that doesn't prevent the town from exposure to potential liability for not performing the inspection.
Sandy Siegel asked the council whether the fee for the inspection was a matter of creating a service to get a fee.
Bill Troth, council member, acknowledged that it was creating a service to get a fee.
Siegel noted that with the large apartment buildings taken out of the inspection process, the fees would not generate that much revenue.
Ballantyne said that it is not fair to place a burden on landlords and tenants rather than spread it among everybody.
Jim Adamson suggested to the council that the city have a levy to pay for the fees.
It was pointed out that the city is maxed out on the amount it can legally levy. Estimated revenue for fire department services was included in the budget for the next fiscal year.
Dwight Varce suggested additional fund raising on the part of the fire department to pay some of the operating expenses.
Any revision in the ordinance will put it back to first reading status.
Duane Mummert brought up some issues that weren't brought up at the last meeting when the council rejected a walking trail proposal.
The city had done engineering work on and applied for grant money for a Spring Lake project that would cost an estimated $120,000. A federal grant for $78,000 toward the project was approved, but the council voted not to proceed because the city doesn't have $42,000 for matching funds.
Mummert noted that the entire project was more than just a walking trail. There is bank stabilization and drainage work that needs to be done anyway. There is also a matter of handicapped accessibility for the walking trail.
"We have money in the Bacon Fund but we were told that all of that money has to go to the swimming pool," Bill Troth, council member said.
The council dropped a proposal to change from angle to parallel parking on West Elm Street which has recently been designated a truck route. The parking will remain as it currently is.
The council approved $6,600 to be encumbered for police radios to the next fiscal year beginning July 1. The money had been budgeted for the current fiscal year but has not yet been spent. The radios are needed so that they are compatible with the sheriff's department radios and scrambled confidential calls can be made between the two law enforcement agencies.
Doug Woods voted against encumbering the funds. He had earlier commented on not having sufficient funds to pay for the fire department.