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School board reluctantly signs water, sewer deal with Tiffin

CCA “over a barrel” in agreement with city

OXFORD– Clear Creek Amana (CCA) School Superintendent Tim Kuehl prefaced the board of directors’ discussion of a proposed agreement with the City of Tiffin by saying it was not a dream agreement, but rather, “the best we’ve got.”
The agreement details how water and sewer lines will be extended to the new elementary school site at the corner of US Highway 6 and Jasper Avenue, and how the estimated cost will be split, with the City of Tiffin paying one-third and the remaining two-thirds becoming the school district’s responsibility.
Extending new water lines is estimated at $395,972, new sewer lines from the city’s waste water treatment plant to the site is expected to cost $633,037, and a new lift station for the sewer line is estimated at $498,612.
While 8-inch pipes were required for both utilities, the city is pushing to upgrade to 12-inch pipes to accommodate anticipated future development. According to the agreement, the district’s reimbursement to the city for the infrastructure is estimated to be $1,008,231.
The board had anticipated a less expensive investment, hoping to tie in to an existing line to the west of the site. However, the city feels with future development, the system would be unable to meet the demands, and therefore the new line is necessary.
The school board reviewed and voted on the agreement in its regular meeting on Wednesday, June 18, at the Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford. Board members took issue with the agreement and voiced their oppositions.
Keith Johnk of Shive-Hattery, the district’s engineering and architectural firm, said Tiffin’s fees were not reasonable.
Shive-Hattery is also the engineering firm for the City of North Liberty, Johnk explained. “The way they handle things is totally different. We’ve had our discussions with the City of Tiffin, and they have us over a barrel.”
Johnk said it would be cheaper for the district and the city to tie into the existing line, and upgrade it later when development occur, though he acknowledged there would be costs for all users in the event of a future upgrade.
“What they are planning are utilities that will serve 350 acres, of which you own 50 acres,” Johnk told the board.
Kuehl and Johnk both noted the utility routes have changed several times during the course of planning for the new school.
“We’ve talked about every option,” Kuehl said. “This is what (the city council) approved, and we are over a barrel on timelines. Right now we’re doing work without permits, which they’ve said they’ll allow up until we need to pour concrete.”
“They won’t give us a building permit (until the agreement is signed),” Johnk added.
Board member Jim Seelman expressed frustration in having to approve the agreement to keep the project moving and meet the district’s tight construction schedule. The school is due to open in the fall of 2015.
Board President Steve Swenka wondered aloud if it was case of, “the city of Tiffin just playing hardball. Up until now, I think this board has been very obliging to anything they feel is important, and it’s confusing as to why they don’t want to return the favor,” Swenka said. Seelman ticked off a list of concessions the district has made to the city over the years, but ultimately concluded it wouldn’t change anything in this agreement.
“It sure would be nice if we had some alternatives,” Swenka said before moving to approve the arrangement between the district and the city. “They’re holding all the aces,” Swenka added.
“(If) they hold up the permits, we don’t build, and we’re not open for business,” board vice-president Bob Broghammer said.
Davis said he didn’t think the school board was being responsible with district money, but conceded to vote against the agreement would only serve to delay the project.
The motion passed on a voice vote with board members Rick Hergert and Eileen Schmidt absent.
The board also tabled a proposed agreement with the city to build a sidewalk along the north side of the high school. City ordinance requires a sidewalk; however, veteran board members Seelman and Kevin Kinney recalled that the Iowa Department of Transportation prohibited it due to the proximity to Highway 6. Kuehl reiterated the city’s ordinance requiring the sidewalk, but said no documents could be found showing a previous agreement between the city and the district.
Under the current proposal, the district would pay for a regulation-size sidewalk, per city ordinance, and since an 8-foot walking trail is desired, the city would pay for the additional width; however, even the width requirement remains unclear between the two entities. City council discussion has been for the district to pay for 6 feet of sidewalk, while the school board’s understanding was a required 5-foot sidewalk. A cost extimate for the district’s portion was not available at the meeting.
To sweeten the sidewalk deal, the city proposed waiving utility hook-up fees at the elementary site– an approximate $60,000 cost for water and sewer, said Kuehl– and discounting the $23,000 building permit fees by half.
Broghammer asked if the city has a fee schedule. Kuehl said he had not seen one and Johnk noted the information is not published on the city’s website. Still concerned over fees, Johnk questioned the building permit costs.
“That’s more than the state (charges for permits),” Johnk said. “The city doesn’t charge $60,000 for hook-up to each house,” He indicated Tiffin’s fees seemed arbitrary rather than based on a common method of calculation.
“Tiffin has adopted a building code, but they have a different fee schedule that’s not published.” Johnks said the city could still shut down work at the site in the absence of a building permit.
“This information needs to get out to our constituents,” Broghammer said, “to let them know we’re behind a barrel.”
“If there’s not even a published fee schedule, it almost looks like we’re trying to approve some unresolved business,” Swenka remarked.
With a consensus that they needed more information on permit fees, the width and specific costs for the sidewalk, the board moved to table the agreement until its Wednesday, July 23, meeting.