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Reader Asks: “Is This A Good Choice?”

August 28, 2019
Emmetsburg News

To the Editor,

I am writing in response to the article in the August 22, 2019 Democrat titled "EMU/City Approve Funds for Housing Project." Since returning to Emmetsburg in April 2016, I have tried to become active in the community and have attended City Council and EMU board meetings.

I am a retired Environmental Engineer with a Doctorate from Iowa State and a Registered Professional Engineer in Arizona and California. My expertise and experience include project and strategic planning, as well as civil and environmental engineering encompassing water, waste water and hazardous materials.

I have volunteered twice for vacancies on the EMU board. I have noted on more than one occasion the lack of strategic planning that has and continues to occur within the City government.

The current "ready, shoot, aim" approach to the housing situation in Emmetsburg is another example of the lack of long-term planning.

The City Council, EMU Board and Emmetsburg Community Development Corporation formed a subcommittee that excluded membership from local realtors who have the best knowledge of clients' needs and desires.

This is another example where funds collected from utility bills are earmarked for a project which has nothing to do with the needed upgrades to our gas, water, and wastewater systems.

Our utility bills include two surcharges and increased service rates that were levied to help fund utility improvements.

If the EMU Board has sufficient moneys to fund grants and loans to projects like the Shores ($250,000 grant) and now the proposed housing project ($100,000), why the need for a surcharge or rate increase?

Why should the taxpayers of Emmetsburg trust these bodies to execute the proposed housing project?

These are the same bodies that funded a Recreational Vehicle Park in excess of 1.8 million dollars of expense which during the first year collected less than $21,000 in revenue. The RV Park may collect a little more this year, mainly due to the Wind Generation Project.

Additionally, the $1.8 million expense does not include the cost of collecting rental fees, mowing, grading gravel areas, trailer parking space maintenance, or cost to winterize.

According to the data I received, these maintenance costs are included in Parks expenses.

At the current rate, it will take more than 80 years to recoup the moneys invested. If revenues are projected to double and the expenses continue to be hidden in the Parks budget, the payback on this investment is in excess of 42 years. Was this the communities first choice?

It is time to get serious about strategic planning. If building spec homes was a profitable idea in Emmetsburg, why haven't our contractors done this?

While Rockport is a beautiful location, it may be financially out of reach for many incoming residents.

Who will design these houses? How will the construction contractor be selected? How will these houses be sold? Were other options considered?

If the City loses money from this endeavor, who is responsible? Is this a good choice?

(signed) William Harris, PhD, PE

Emmetsburg, IA



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