Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

July 30, 2013

Chickens, economic development discussed

Steve Woodhouse
Journal-Express

Knoxville — The Knoxville City Council took no actions Monday night, but held discussions regarding several topics. 

While staff continues to work on a new ordinance to allow chickens to be raised in the City limits, council members discussed what it should include.

Councilor Tim Pitt supports charging a fee for licensing. He believes that if a chicken owner has a financial investment, it will attract better people who will take better care of their coops. 

Fees collected could be used to cover the costs of the permit, inspections and enforcement. Inspections are recommended. 

Councilors Dave Roozeboom and Carolyn Formanek support the enactment of a temporary ordinance. This way, the effects can be studied to determine whether or not the City wants it to continue. City Manager Harold Stewart recommended a sunset clause be included in a draft ordinance. 

A meeting was scheduled to discuss the chicken issue with the public, but no one came, according to Assistant City Manager Dylan Feik. He said he might try having another. 

Mike Roberts, Knoxville resident, raised the concern of the potential increase in animal problems if chickens are allowed. He believes they will attract increased wildlife like raccoons and rats. Disease is also a concern. Feik said disease is usually associated with the level of cleanliness in the coops. 

Economic Development

Stewart updated the council on economic development issues. When he was hired, he was under the impression that economic development was one of his primary responsibilities.

Among the highlights he noted of late include the new McDonald's, Weiler expansion, Spahn and Rose expansion and other new businesses in town. 

Stewart intends to reach out to local bankers to see where they believe economic development should go and see if they are willing to help. As discussed previously, the city council wants to form an Economic Development Council. This has not come to fruition yet, but Stewart intends to seek people to serve with this group. 

As reported, the City is seeking a grant from the Iowa Department of Transportation to fund a study regarding rail. Stewart said BNSF is willing to discuss the placement of a new rail spur in Knoxville, though the company has not committed any funding. Marion County and the City of Pella have each signed letters of support for Knoxville to receive the grant and its attempts at improving rail infrastructure. 

Stewart believes a new rail spur would be a "boon to the region, not just Knoxville." 

Another issue Stewart raised is that parties interested in coming to Knoxville have contacted the Chamber of Commerce, and not him. Stewart said the City pulled funding from the City's support of the Chamber to pay some of his salary, to handle these issues. 

"If they approach the Chamber first, that's fine. I'll deal with it," Stewart said. However, he is not currently coordinating with the Chamber. 

The discussion also included some shortcomings that may need to be addressed for economic development. This includes lack of available housing and fiber optic infrastructure. Stewart said there is potential for a new housing development, but he was not at liberty to discuss details yet in a public forum. 

E-Civis

The City is paying E-Civis, a company that is expected to help the City find grants. Stewart said the challenge is that the economy is still struggling and grant funding has become scarce. Federations and the federal government have not spent as much. If the situation does not improve, Stewart suggested the council exercise the severance clause, available after one year, in the contract. 

Vacant Lots

Several vacant lots are owned by the City of Knoxville today, and according to Feik, approximately 10 of them are not large enough to allow for a new building. 

Some of the properties were purchased through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. This program was intended to remove blight, with the provision that the lots be sold for low-income housing. Stewart said the program has struggled, overall, to recoup money. He intends to ask the State if it is still committed to these requirements, in the hopes of getting the properties sold. 

Formanek asked "What's our plan?" for the unbuildable lots. Councilor April Verwers suggested a community neighborhood gardens or pocket parks. Formanek asked Pitt if the Parks Commission could work with adjacent property owners to find uses for these lots. Pitt said he would ask. 

Verwers suggested the City work through the winter to get the lots ready for community gardens in the spring, if that is what these neighborhoods want. 

Citywide Cleanup

"Let's start tomorrow," suggested Councilor Elsie Kemp. 

Stewart asked the council to allow him to put a committee together to work through the winter to plan a clean-up, to be ready for spring. The City does not have the equipment to do a clean-up on its own, and Stewart does not want residents to stock up on garbage, waiting for the event. 

From there, the discussion turned to handling yard waste. The City has a municipal brush dump, but citizens are not allowed to use it. This is because different uses of such sites have different rules from State bureaucracies that must be followed. 

The council then brought up the idea of municipalized garbage collection again, in which all garbage bills would be paid in to the City. The City requires all households to have garbage collection. 

In years past, when municipalized garbage collection has been discussed, council has chosen not follow thorugh on this. With three licensed haulers in town, council has previously stated they do not want to put anyone out of business. There were also concerns about how to fairly divide the town among the haulers. 

The goal would be to ensure that all garbage is collected. Some cities who have a system like this in place still struggle with getting all garbage collected. Stewart pointed to Pella as an example, that residents there have their water, sewer and garbage bills all in one. If a household fails to pay a garbage bill, the water can be turned off. The City of Knoxville does not control the water and does not have this option available. 

The council adjourned to closed session to discuss real estate. Mayor Don Zoutte reported that no action was taken following the closed session. 

The next regular council meeting is Monday, Aug. 5, at 6:15 p.m., at City Hall. All meetings are open to the public.