Bronwyn’s Council Preview, December 12, 2017: Rental Occupancy, 321 State, and the Budget

This meeting the council reviews the Council Budget Issues/Guidelines (item 35).

The Ames City Council meeting starts at 6 pm. The agenda includes:

Item 8: Resolution accepting annual affirmative action report

Each year, the city provides a report on hiring statistics of minority and female applicants and staff. This year, the 2016-17 data shows more full-time minority staff, as well as an increase in applications from women.

Item 23: First passage of ordinance limiting rental occupancy in single- and two-family residences

This has been one of the bigger issues of 2017, as the state took away our prior method of limiting rental occupancy. The ordinance we’ll be voting on Tuesday limits occupancy to three adults in a one-, two-, or three-bedroom house, and would allow one adult per bedroom in four- or five-bedroom house. The ordinance would also require a minimum of two parking spaces for one-, two-, and three-bedroom houses, and would require one parking space per bedroom for four- and five-bedroom houses.

Item 27: Staff report on 321 State Ave. development (affordable housing project)

There are still funding gaps on this project. /The council needs to decide if the City can afford to contribute another $250,000 to $350,000, or go back to the drawing board. (Though going back to the drawing board also represents lost dollars, as time is money.)

Item 29: Resolution approving voluntary annexation of 68.19 acres of land owned by Erben and Margaret Hunziker Apartments LLC (Outlot Z of Cochrane Farm Subdivision — Auburn Trail)

We’re back after two failed attempts at an 80-20 annexation (one in which 80 percent of the landowners by area consent to the annexation). Now the developer of Auburn Trail is seeking voluntary annexation without bringing along any non-consenting landowners.

12-12 chart

Item 30: Staff report regarding special event notification requirements in downtown and Campustown

The council will review how residents and businesses are notified of special events in our core business districts, and will discuss if and how we should require such notification prior to event approval.

Item 31: Staff report on Welch Avenue bicycle-pedestrian pilot project

Staff are bringing back a one-year report on the Welch Ave planter-box pilot project. A more in-depth redesign of this block of Welch Avenue will happen in a few years, the pilot is designed to hold space until then, and to determine effective future uses of this space.

Item 32: Resolution selecting ForeFront Power of San Francisco as the developer of the SunSmart Ames community solar project and entering into a letter of intent to begin working on the energy services agreement

The community solar project is underway. (Shares are still available!)

Item 35: Council budget issues and guidelines

This presentation from staff includes a forecast of the economic status of Ames, and a summary of the general fund and local-option sales tax.

Several years ago the voters of Ames approved a 1 percent sales tax referendum (see the sales tax history) that stated:
“Revenues from the sales and services tax are to be allocated in the city of Ames in the county of Story as follows: Sixty percent (60%) for property tax relief. The specified purpose for which the revenue shall otherwise be expended is human service agencies, the arts, and community betterment.” That is, 60% of sales tax offsets property taxes that pay for services like roads, police and fire protection. 40% is to be expended on” human service agencies, the arts, and community betterment.”

This Tuesday, the council sets the 2018-19 funding levels for human services (the ASSET program), the Commission on the Arts, and other “outside groups” such as the Main Street Cultural District, Campustown Action Association, and Ames Historical Society.

It is often tempting for city councils to use the funds earmarked for human services and the arts on items that are traditionally paid for out of the general fund (property tax). The idea of “community betterment” is a vague one, and the council might be wise to treat its meaning conservatively, and ensure its use is not for something traditionally purchased with property taxes dollars.

Complicating budget matters is the threat that state budget shortfalls might cause the state to end the rollback of property tax revenue, which would mean a large dollar loss for Ames. Of course, we won’t know the state’s course of action until our budget has already been adopted.

Thanks for reading,
Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen
City Council At-Large

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Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.