In The News

Council passes budget, hears Blackbird update

By:  Matt Milner

OTTUMWA — Mayor Tom Lazio told council members Tuesday conversations with Blackbird Investments lead him to believe the company remains committed to renovation of the former St. Joseph Hospital.

The long-stalled project seeks to transform the hospital into up to 70 apartments. Work was supposed to begin last year. But construction estimates came in 40 percent above estimates and other hurdles remain.

Lazio said he met with company officials in Ottumwa within the past 10 days to discuss the situation.

“They remain committed to the project,” he told council members.

St. Joe’s has a special place in the hearts of generations of Ottumwans, many of whom were born there. Hundreds of others had relatives who worked in the hospital, which is located on Alta Vista Avenue.

Planned amenities for the hospital’s second life could include a swimming pool and possible commercial space. But all of that depends on how financing and bids come together.

Lazio acknowledged the wait has raised concerns about the project’s future, but said he remains hopeful.

Council members also approved the Fiscal 2017 budget for Ottumwa on Tuesday. It includes an increase in the city’s property tax levy.

Finance Director Bob Jay said the increase, which raises the levy a bit more than 19 cents, should bring in about $701,888 for the city over the course of the fiscal year. The assessed valuations of properties in Ottumwa increased slightly less than $28.4 million.

But property taxes are not paid on property assessments, at least not directly. They are based on the taxable valuation of a site. That means the levy applies only to the portion of the value that remains after tax rollbacks are applied. In Ottumwa, the rollback is about 45 percent.

The hike is an increase of 4.53 percent, a bit less than the increase in overall property values. It will add $10 or less to the vast majority of Ottumwa residential properties.

In a memo to council members, city officials said the budget prioritizes “city resources towards street and sewer improvements, while continuing the same level of services,” as in prior years.

Jay said the city will maintain fund balances that are “very healthy for a city our size,” under the planned budget.

Public safety is the dominant component of the city’s spending. The city’s police and fire departments account for about 47 percent of the revenue from residential property taxes.

Council members unanimously approved the budget with little comment.

In other business:

• The council approved funding for upgrades to the city’s audiovisual equipment in the council chambers. The quality of the signal the city broadcasts from meetings has long been problematic, with occasional loss of audio and video clarity. Some of the money is being reallocated from the reconstruction of the elevator in city hall, which cost less than expected.

• The city has a pair of special meetings coming up this month on street issues. The March 8 session will focus on downtown parking. It stems from a memo sent by Police Chief Tom McAndrew about enforcement options. The second session is slated for March 22 and will discuss the city’s plans for development and construction season.

• Lazio said more than a dozen RAGBRAI planning committees are forming in Ottumwa to prepare for the city’s role as an overnight host city. Ottumwa is the largest host city in this year’s ride.

Specifics about the route are pending, as is the city’s theme for the visit.

“We’re planning on having a citywide party or get together later this month or early next month to lay out the route,” Lazio said.

Original from Ottumwa Courier.