Council talks parks, bad debt and bike summit

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, February 12, 2014
The city council met Feb. 3, where it talked about fundraising for Parks and Rec., approval of bad debt write-off and the 2014 Iowa Bicycle Summit.

The council approved writing off around $5,100 in bad debt, as well as sending bad debt that can be recovered to the Iowa Income Offset Program.

Bad debt is debt that accrues on utility bills after a resident cannot be contacted, usually because he or she has moved out of town. Sometimes a resident will move without paying his or her final utility bill because the city didn't read the meter until he or she left.

Often, residents will build up large utility bills and then skip out of town without paying them. Because the city will not turn off utilities when temperatures fall below 20 degrees, they build up a majority of their debt during the winter.

The city tried to collect the debt itself, but was unsuccessful. However, it will begin using the Iowa Income Offset Program.

The program takes the names, social security numbers and amount owed by those still in debt to West Liberty and applies it to the individual's Iowa Income tax refund. If he or she is getting any money that money goes to the city instead until the debt is paid.

Also, it takes the resident’s money owed out of any winnings from the Iowa state lottery and casinos; basically any money received due to taxable income by the state of Iowa comes to West Liberty to pay off the debt.

"It does help a lot of cities recover some of the money owed to them, it's kind of a last ditch effort," said Mayor Hartman during the meeting.

West Liberty began using the program this year, and has discovered several instances where individuals in debt don't have social security numbers tied to their names.

This means the city cannot collect the debt through an income offset program. While the city has clamped down on collecting social security numbers, it needs the council to approve waiving uncollected debt from those without social security numbers.

Before being sent to the offset program, the city sends out three notices. Should the resident respond, the city will work with them to create a payment plan. But, if the city gets no response they send the name to the program.

As West Liberty digs into its archives to send information to the offset program, it will continue to need uncollectable debt waived by the council throughout the year.

Next, while the council didn't approve any motions, it encouraged the Parks and Recreation Department to move forward with putting together a fund-raiser to improve the Dutton Athletic Complex.

"The Park and Rec. Board is almost fully-staffed and very active with trying to make improvements in the parks; they would consider themselves a working board," said council member Melody Russell. She represents the city council at the park department meetings.

"One idea that has come up is to make improvements to Dutton Park…there are improvements to those ball parks that need to be made and the Park and Rec. Board is very aware of that," she added.

Compost has been added to two of the grassy areas in the baseball diamonds, which has helped. However, the board wants to focus on getting the grassy areas and diamonds completely up to par.

Because there won't be enough money in the budget, the board wants to hold a fundraising event. It will ask individuals or businesses to give money.

Nothing has been finalized, but it has talked about having three tiers of giving. The highest tier could result in one of the diamonds being named after the person or organization for a year. Lower tiers may result in signs being placed on the outfield fence.

"People are very interested in donating for recreation and to improve life in the community, and they [Parks and Rec. Board] just want council approval in order to do this. They would be the ones organizing it," said Russell.

She added that making the improvements could go toward helping the Parks and Rec. Department make money, such as holding baseball tournaments at Dutton Park and running snack booths.

While the council consented that the fundraiser was a good idea, it tabled a motion to move forward with it until paperwork with specifics about the fundraiser is available.

Finally, former mayor Chad Thomas gave an update on his time at the 2014 Iowa Bicycle Summit Meeting in Des Moines. He and City Treasurer Lee Geertz represented West Liberty at the event.

Along with bicycling, the summit gives a lot of information on Iowa trail systems and other outdoor infrastructures in Iowan towns. Thomas used the time to glean information pertinent to West Liberty.

"We kind of worked on getting some ideas about our trail system as we expand through our community and over to Nichols and try to join those up,' said Thomas. He was referencing the Hoover Trail.

The entire trail was envisioned to run over a hundred miles from Cedar Rapids to Burlington by Hoover Nature Trail Inc. However, funding eventually ran out and pieces of the trail were redistributed throughout Iowa.

West Liberty has revived a piece of the trail, which runs by the train depot. Nichols Mayor Cyle Geertz has begun reviving a Nichols portion of the trail as well. Some talk has occurred regarding connecting the two towns via the Hoover Trail.

Thomas said other highlights of the summit included a discussion on ash trees. A pest known as the emerald ash borer is destroying all of the ash trees in Iowa. He said it has been suggested communities take a pro-active approach to the problem, such as removing the trees and ensuring they aren't planted.

Also, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is putting together an exhaustive app of Iowa's trails and trail features that will begin service for RAGBRAI. Thomas would like to see West Liberty provide information on its portion of the trails, highlighting the depot and other spots.
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