Elkader City Council discusses department budgets

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

The Jan. 11 Elkader City Council meeting focused chiefly on budget updates concerning public works, water works, the police department and the library. 

Before deep diving into the weeds of financial matters, there has been a surprise departure, as Ashley Althoff, just a month after taking over as economic development and Main Street Iowa director, has left the position. The departure was confirmed by city administrator Jennifer Cowsert, who could not offer any specific details, instead simply stating that she has “met with the Main Street Board and [they] are moving ahead to re-advertise the position and hopefully have someone on board by the end of February.”

Mayor Josh Pope responded to the situation by saying, “I was a bit surprised with Ashley’s recent decision. Like always, I wish her the best, and we will continue to proceed forward in pursuit of new candidates.” 

Althoff was contacted for comment but did not respond. 

On budgetary items, while there were many, only a few received notable attention. First was Elkader Police Chief Mitch Seitz’s request to replace the department’s 2017 Ford Explorer for a newer SUV or sedan, due to the Explorer’s numerous mechanical issues, even though it only has around 50,000 miles on it. Seitz is seeking a new fully equipped SUV, which would cost roughly $47,000. 

It was met with immediate questions about necessity. Council member Daryl Koehn asked, “Can we justify three cars? I’ve lived in this community my whole life and, for years and years, we only had one.” 

At the meeting and in an interview, Seitz stated several reasons for the need not just for a new SUV, but also for each member of the department to have their own squad car. 

“It’s key for officer retention and we wouldn’t be able to have an effective on-call service,” he said. 

He also added that the larger number of squad cars would improve their longevity, cut down on wear and increase value when it comes time to replace it. Three squad cars also improves response time. While Koehn remembers a time when the department only had one car, Seitz stated, “I think we’re working with different circumstances than in the past. We now have three full-time officers that need to be able to respond more quickly and have that at their disposal. I think we give a better service than we were able to in the past with three squad cars…and on the back end, it helps with retention.” 

Council member Bob Hendrickson had a similar reaction to Koehn. “Help me understand what you wouldn’t be able to do with two cars? How would it put you at a disadvantage?” he asked.

“We’d lose some service ability as far as being on-call…and moving cars around that often would not be practical in my opinion. I think we also lose the element of stability and longevity with our officers. If you poll officers throughout the nation, that really is a big thing, being able to have your own squad car. I kind of look at it as a mobile office,” Seitz replied. 

In a separate write up prepared for the council, Seitz expounded on the issue, saying that “Going to anything less than three squads wouldn’t give us significant cost benefits when considering the loss of efficacy in our overall operations it would create, the increase in maintenance of the cars and the benefits ‘take home’ cars play in officer retention.” 

Another expense of note during the water works budget portion of the meeting deals with and estimated $60,000 cost to paint the water tower. It’s a cost lead operator for Elkader, Kim Werger, described as reasonable. 

According to Cowsert, the funds for the project will come from money that has been saved over the years from user rates.

Addressing the cost and his proposal, Werger said, “They have new methods now…so that cuts the cost way down. The proposal is to raise the black up closer to the word Elkader…and to go to a darker color for Elkader. I know everyone likes the red, but it fades so bad.” 

Werger went on to caution the council against putting school logos and mascots on the water tower, as some residents have mentioned, because over the lifespan of the paint job—roughly 15 years—a lot can change. 

“Look at how much mascots have changed, just by law. And schools change and stuff like that, and pretty soon you got something that doesn’t mean anything,” he said. 

Of course, the question remains: how do you justify the price tag? According to Werger, that price includes risk and liability to the painters, due to the dangerous nature of the job, as well as the cleaning, lettering and supplies. When asked specifically why the tower needs to be painted at all and at such a cost, Werger simply replied, “the paint’s peeling off.”

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