MCED, economic development hot topics for Monona Council at Oct. 5 meeting

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Economic development was a hot topic Monday evening, as the Monona City Council discussed a 2016 appropriation to the Monona Chamber and Economic Development (MCED) and heard about funding opportunities through the Iowa Area Development Group.

The council contributed $8,000 to MCED this year, an amount MCED is asking it to increase to $12,000 for the coming year, in order to bring executive director Rogeta Halvorson from 24 hours per week to 36.

“I could use the extra days to do more,” Halvorson told the council. 

In the past year, Halvorson said MCED has grown to include 49 members, with three recently added to the ranks. Several new businesses are set to open, she added. Halvorson also oversaw an overhaul of the MCED website and has worked to increase promotion of Monona and its activities.

“Good things are going on and people are working together,” she told the council. “That’s what it takes.”

Councilmen Jason Schubert and John Elledge voiced some concerns about increasing the appropriation, citing that the council provided funding this year in the hopes of getting MCED on its feet, with the plan for MCED to then become more self-sufficient. 

“I think you’re doing a great job and things are growing,” said Elledge, “but how do we become more self-sustaining?” 

Elledge said he felt uncomfortable with providing MCED with taxpayer dollars and mentioned that he favored a door-to-door approach for procuring funds.

“If I went door-to-door, I couldn’t do my job,” Halvorson countered, noting that the city and MCED have a symbiotic relationship. 

By funding MCED, Halvorson said the city aids her economic development efforts, which in turn add to the city’s tax base. However, it’s not just about the taxes, she explained. If Monona creates a good impression, people are attracted to the community, growing the school, churches and businesses.

“It’s a give and take,” said councilman Dan Havlicek. “It’s important to have her for the businesses. We don’t have time to go around talking to businesses.”

“If we get one business,” he added, “that $4,000 is nothing.”

Councilwoman Randee Blietz, who is also a member of the MCED board, voiced her support for increasing the appropriation.

“The board felt that we have someone who’s passionate and doing a good job,” she said. “We’re going in the right direction, and to replace that now would suck. $12,000 is a lot, but good things are happening.”

The council made no official decision on the appropriation and will discuss the matter further at a future meeting.

The council discussed another economic development matter Monday night, as Steve Hanson, with NEIT, shared a grant opportunity through the Iowa Area Development Group that would help provide the city with studies to show Monona’s financial ability to expand and provide recommendations for growth.

The Iowa Area Development Group is the business and community development leader for over 250 member-owned electric cooperatives, municipal utilities and independent telecommunication companies (including NEIT) throughout the state. Through a grant program, Hanson said the community could receive $5,000, along with a $5,000 match, which NEIT has agreed to contribute, for the planning. 

With the funds, Hanson said Monona could receive financial planning, providing a snapshot of the city budget and what funding vehicles can be used. This will also offer creative ideas for economic growth and knowledge about the viability of expansion. The city could also receive growth planning.

“The goal is to implement the growth plan and make the changes found in the financial plan,” Hanson said. “We’d like to see more of a commercial park, but that’s down the road. This is step number one.”

Hanson said plan development will likely cost around $12,750, at the most. If it’s more than $10,000, he said it’s hoped the city would be willing to contribute. The council voiced its support for the planning, but pledged no amount until checking with several engineering firms to better determine cost.

Speed study

The council looked at information gathered by the Iowa DOT from a speed study of the intersection of U.S. Highways 18/52 and Falcon Avenue/County Road X26, near Kwik Star. The speed limit through that area is currently 45 mph; the DOT recommended maintaining the present speed zone, as 85 percent of drivers did not exceed 59 mph, which it said is an acceptable range.

The safety of the intersection was called into question by community members in February, when a MFL MarMac school bus was struck. A frost-covered window, obstructing the view of the driver who hit the bus, was found to be the cause of that incident.

City manager Dan Canton said the city last completed a speed study of the area in 2012. This speed study was requested by State Rep. Patti Ruff. 

Since 2012, flashing beacons have been added to the 45 mph speed advisory signs. This summer, the intersection was realigned, making the intersection perpendicular rather than a skewed-angle intersection. The council agreed that intersection change has helped.

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