Monday, August 27, 2012

Carroll’s elected city officials Saturday kept improved library services at the top of the major-projects agenda.

But no commitments were made on price or location or whether to build a new library or expand the current one.

In a five-year strategic planning session at Sam & Louie’s restaurant, Carroll’s elected officials identified improvements at the Recreation Center, placement of a lazy river at the aquatic center and upgrades at the U.S. Highway 30 and Grant Road intersection as near-term priorities as well. City officials also plan to scout out grants for development of an intra-city trail system and commission a study on possible train-horn-noise reduction.

“My biggest concern is that we have too many priorities and we don’t end up doing anything,” said Mayor Adam Schweers.

A plan for a new public library failed at the polls in August 2011. Since that time, no new formal plan has emerged from city hall, although officials are reportedly in discussion with Des Moines Area Community College about a possible joint venture for a library.

But Schweers and council members didn’t advocate library plans during the goal-setting session.

“I think we need to start with a blank slate,” said Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann.

She added, “I think first of all we just have to hear from the public.”

Carroll voters overwhelmingly turned down a financing referendum for a planned $7.4 million library, effectively sending back to elected officials and library volunteers a decision on whether to build a new public lending facility, add onto the current one or do nothing at all.

The referendum that would have allowed the city to issue up to $6 million in general-obligation bonds failed with 22 percent, or 643 voters in support, and 78 percent or 2,282 people casting ballots against the public measure.

“It’s going to be all about numbers,” Siemann said. “We learned that from the previous referendum.”

The city needs to tap into what the public will accept, she said.

Schweers said it makes sense to take “a step back” from the library plan.

That said, the public has been heard on the library, Schweers said.

“I’ve heard about all of the opinions that are going to be gained,” Schweers said.

He added, “We’ve got about five plans floating around in the community.”

In terms of a road map forward, the elected officials agreed the current library is far from adequate. The next step will be public-input sessions, although the council didn’t discuss who would be invited or offer any time line other than a likely work session in September.

“We’re all open-minded but we need to start fresh,” Siemann said.

Council members committed to a number of ongoing priorities, including: street improvements, continuation of the Corridor of Commerce with an evaluation of the scope of the project, water-supply expansion and planning, and an update of the Comprehensive Plan for growth and development.

The council plans to examine ways to improve the Recreation Center. That could involve policy changes, such as going to 24-hour-a-day operation as proposed by some elected officials, or moving forward on a host of proposals for physical upgrades and additions.

“The Rec Center was never developed with the idea that it was going to be a money-maker,” Schweers said.

In fiscal year 2010-2011 the Rec Center posted a $196,084 operating loss on revenues of $361,638 and expenditures of $557,722. Since 1980 the Rec Center has averaged a loss of $109,356, with revenues coming in at 73 percent of expenses. The Rec Center came close to breaking even in fiscal year 1989-1990, as it operated at a $15,357 loss, or at 95 percent of expenses. The biggest loss came in fiscal year 2005-2006 at $268,854.

Schweers said the city clearly needs better marketing strategies for the Rec Center. What’s more, attention must be paid to the changing nature of family structures and schedules and how that affects families, Schweers said.

“How are we going to adjust for that?” he asked.

Siemann said a recent community survey clearly revealed that recreational options are important to residents.

“Take it into consideration is what I’m saying,” Siemann said.

Councilman Jeff Scharfenkamp said he wants to see the city move quickly on re-development of the property Casey’s General Stores plans to vacate with the opening of a new store last week. The city has a purchase agreement for the former Casey’s, but the deal won’t be executed until Casey’s clears the area of pumps, underground storage tanks and other items. The city is  considering moving the former Casey’s building and using it in some other maintenance-related fashion. The property could be used to make the intersection of U.S. 30 and Grant Road safer.

Schweers advocated moving forward with a plan for trails development with a focus on the northeast part of the city.

“This, you can actually get a lot of bang for your buck,” Schweers said, referencing the availability of grant money.

He said that with growth occurring in the northeast section of Carroll it makes sense to connect that area with school and other destinations.