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Tiffin Locker to become history, more help coming to city hall

TIFFIN– The Tiffin City Council held its first meeting of the month Wednesday, Sept. 12, in the Springmier Community Library with a lengthy agenda.
Continuing a process started earlier this year to bring three outlying areas into the growing city, the council held more discussion of annexation. City Administrator/City Clerk Michon Jackson said residents in the “Priority One” area, which is bordered by 340th Street on the north, Hwy. 218 on the east, 360th Street on the south and Jasper Avenue on the west, will receive another letter, probably before the end of the month.
“The letter will remind people that we are still looking to have them voluntarily annex,” Jackson said. Included will be a copy of the legal paperwork required, making it easier for residents to sign and return it. “We would like the parcel owners to feel good about the decision to be a part of Tiffin, so we are offering them an easy way to complete the paperwork and return it,” said Jackson. The city needs a 100 percent reply from the parcel owners in able to present the plan to the county. “We cannot have ten of the 20 parcels saying yes and take it to the county unless all of those parcel owners are connected to each other, and to Tiffin, already.” In other words, parcels must be connected and in the same area in order for annexation to occur.
Jackson told the council she continues to receive inquiries each week about annexation.

Tiffin Locker to become history
The question of what to do with the vacant Tiffin Locker now has an answer: knock it down. An estimate of $320,000 was received from Woodruff Construction to convert the structure into a new city hall. However, knocking the building down and building a brand new structure is significantly less. Mayor Steve Berner said Woodruff estimated a cost of $120 per square foot for new construction, or $207,000 for a proposed 36’ x 48’ building.
For now, the City Public Works Department will demolish the locker and clear the lot. As much recycling as possible will be conducted with the demolition work; for example, the state is going to collect cement blocks from the site for use as water and flood blockers. Talk of a new city hall, or even a possible combined city hall and community center, is now on-hold, but will likely be revived.
There was some discussion of putting such a facility in at City Park, but one of two grants received by the city prohibits a walled structure at that site. However, a land swap with the state, once completed, would provide an equal amount of grassland area, and thus allow a structure to be built.

Sawbucks for signals
The trail crossing of the Iowa Interstate Railroad at Jasper Avenue moved closer to completion. The project was delayed after it was learned the railroad now requires trail crossings to be protected with warning signals, as for a road crossing. Initially, the trail crossing was outfitted per current code with miniature warning signs. Currently, the trail ends several feet from the tracks on both sides. After signals are in, the railroad will build the actual crossing.
The current estimate from the railroad is $59,178. A contractor obtains, assembles and installs the signals, which the railroad then maintains. How to come up with the money has been a question without an answer. Jasper Avenue’s signals were paid through the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT), however the IDOT does not pay for trail crossings.
City Engineer Doug Frederick told the council the trail project came in $41,046 under budget. This was grant money, Frederick said, and he was told it could be applied to the signalization project, which would leave a little over $18,000 for the city to secure. In addition, money left over from the trail project can provide a little over $13,000, leaving just $5,000 more to be found.
Once all the funding pieces come together, the project will move forward. Frederick did not have a timeline, however.

Help needed in city hall
The council discussed a resolution authorizing the creation of a part-time utility billing clerk. “City hall is super busy, and we are way behind,” Jackson said, noting she has been putting in 50-60 hour weeks, and deputy clerk Caroline Koon has also been putting in overtime. Jackson said she did an analysis and came to the conclusion another person is needed in the office.
“Caroline is already working 40 hours, so I can’t really get her to help me out more.” Jackson suggested creating a separate part-time billing clerk, which would result in Koon’s hours and pay potentially being reduced. Jackson noted the deputy clerk/utilities department position was originally created as part-time.
“I’m not sure I like all these part-time jobs,” council member Jim Bartels said. “I know we need more people, but I don’t want to see Caroline swept away.” Council member Peggy Upton said when Jackson’s position was created, she did not want it to lead to another position being created as well. She also feared Jackson would be so busy doing her administrator duties, she would become too busy to handle the city clerk duties.
Upton suggested a temporary employee be hired, allowing Jackson and Koon to focus exclusively on their assigned duties without the distractions of walk-ins and phone calls.
“Something needs to be fixed” Berner said of the city hall situation. Council member Mike Ryan reminded the council that he agreed to the city administrator position because he wanted a city manager to take the day-to-day responsibilities off of the council’s plate. He also said he wants a breakdown of the work hours in order to make a more informed decision.
Upton agreed with wanting to see how the hours are distributed, saying priority changes may be in order. She also stated experience and prioritizing may ease the burden down the road.
“I have a feeling you will be more efficient and proficient as time goes by,” Upton told Jackson.
Ryan proposed a resolution to hire a temp for now. “I don’t want to sit up here and make all of these micro-managing decisions. That’s what we hired you for,” he said to Jackson.
The council approved hiring a temporary part-time clerical employee, for a four-month assignment. The person will work up to 16 hours per week answering phones, working with the public, typing, copying, filing and assisting Jackson and Koon. The pay rate was set at $10 per hour. Applications are being accepted until Friday, Sept. 21, with an anticipated start date of Oct. 1.
The council will meet again on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 6:30 p.m. in the Springmier Community Library. A public hearing will be held at that time regarding bids for the water tower project.