Elkader approves text messaging service to communicate with residents

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


After a little more debate at its recent meeting, the Elkader City Council approved utilizing a text messaging service to boost communications with residents. 


Council member Tony Hauber, who advocated for the system, said his decision was based on available research, the ease of the system and its ability to keep the public informed on topics ranging from project updates, emergency shutoffs and public safety alerts. 


Hauber mentioned an additional service the system could provide is informing people about city-planned events, as well as Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Elkader activities. 


Since the service is opt-in, residents can decide when to enlist in the program and if they want to receive these types of messages or not.


Hauber also brought up another interesting scenario for the text messaging service: a source of revenue for the city. He touched on the topic at the council meeting, stating, “You could have people pay to advertise their private events in the system.” 


He elaborated on this in a separate interview, noting, “The revenue generation opportunity (which I have not fully explored, but was commenting on as a creative use for the system) could arise from extending this channel to our local merchants to reach these citizens with private events that they are organizing (if the events meet a certain standard). Then we would charge the merchants a fee for utilizing this service. These charges could go directly against the cost of the service. I believe it is information that citizens would want, and it’s a service that this new system would allow us to provide, but its viability has not been fully vetted yet.”


However, what the system can offer is not what held up approval at a prior council meeting. It was the cost. According to Cowsert, the first year cost of $2,000 and second year cost of $1,500 was fully covered. 


Council member Peggy Lane asked where the money will come from.


“I took it from departments and marketing,” Cowsert responded. 


Cowsert also settled council member Daryl Koehn’s primary concern by funding the service without tying the cost to money already borrowed for other projects. This led Koehn to state, “I feel better about it.” 


Cowsert explained the funding a bit further in a separate email exchange. “I used a combination of general fund department money, $100 from water (for water main breaks) and the rest was marketing money, which is local option funds,” she said. 


She also shared the voluntary nature of the service and the updates it provides. “Any type of emergency alert, street construction info, special events—people can subscribe to what they want to receive,” she said. “If they don’t want the special events, they don’t have to sign up for those.” 


Elkader Police Chief Mitch Seitz suggested “it will only take one event for it to be worth it.” 


Even though the text messaging service was approved, there is no timeline yet on when it will be available to the community. 


“I am not sure yet on the process. We will probably have to be trained to use it and then will need to send out info on how to sign up,” Cowsert said.

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