7 things to know from Traer Council

Pictured during the July 12 regular Traer City Council meeting are Council Member James Erhardt, Mayor Pete Holden and Council Member Laurie Schafer. Darvin Graham/NT Telegraph

1. At their July 12 meeting the Traer City Council approved a bid of $398,618.43 from Aspro Inc. of Waterloo for phase one of a street improvement project. The bid from Aspro was the only bid submitted and came in significantly cheaper than the $630,000 estimate projected by the city’s engineer.

Phase one of the project will include street reconstruction and overlay on Mowery Street as well as sections of 1st Street, Mill Street, Elm Street and a small portion of Walnut Street.

A pre-construction meeting will be held later this month to determine project specifics such as the time frame that will be allowed for construction.

Engineer Leland Belding of Veenstra & Kimm Inc. informed the council that construction could begin in early August.

Concerns of construction interference with the Winding Stairs Festival parade and activities during the weekend of August 13 were brought forward. Belding assured the council that the construction schedule could be worked out in a way to avoid interfering with the parade and festival activities.

2. Almost 10 years to the day since the city of Traer suffered the 2011 derecho wind storm, discussion of the former Traer Manufacturing facility that was damaged in the storm was before the council.

The vacant manufacturing structure was torn apart in the 2011 storm and has been left largely untouched, now appearing to the untrained eye as something resembling an abandoned construction project.

Resident Dave Barnes brought up the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting to inquire of the council of any updates on the property and to express discouragement toward the lack of progress in addressing an eyesore along one of Traer’s most highly trafficked areas.

“Every morning I get up and look at the Traer Manufacturing building and it’s got a hole I could drive a truck through,” Barnes said. “There’s two other holes you could drive trucks through. The place is disgusting.”

Mayor Pete Holden said there remains a fund of around $200,000 that was given to the city by Magna International, Traer Manufacturing’s parent company, to use toward remediation of the storm damaged building when the property was deeded to the city in 2012.

Heartland Co-op acquired the property from the city in 2015 and have yet to address the partially demolished structure. Holden said the city negotiated with Heartland to grant them the remediation funds if and when they begin work to repair or demolish the damaged structure.

“We thought (Heartland) was going to start fixing up the building right away, and they were,” Holden said. “But there was a problem with the deed to the land and so it took about a year to get the sale finalized. In the meantime, they spent their money that they were going to spend on that building somewhere else.”

In response to Barnes’ inquiry, Holden suggested the city should reengage talks with Heartland about the property and that the city’s nuisance abatement process could be initiated to get things moving forward.

3. Community Protection Chair Carri Holst presented a request to the council for creation of a fourth paid position for the Traer Ambulance department.

The department currently employs two full time staff, Director Shaun Kennedy, paramedic Jo Kahler, and one part-time paramedic, Steve Vannatta. The department has a volunteer roster of 18 members.

Holst said they were struggling to get volunteers to pick up hours and sometimes would have volunteers not show up for the hours they previously signed up for.

Over the past year, the three paid ambulance employees have worked overtime to help fill in the gaps where volunteers are unavailable. At times the city has needed to pay a paramedic overtime to be a driver.

Holst reported more than $10,000 in overtime costs had already been expended in the first half of 2021 with a projection of exceeding the department’s budgeted total at the end of the year.

Recruitment efforts in recent years haven’t yielded enough volunteers with retirement of older members, younger residents with families busy with kids activities and an increase in residents who commute outside of Traer for work, cited as factors in the struggle to find ambulance volunteers.

Elsewhere in Tama County, the city of Gladbrook recently signed an agreement with Grundy Center to provide ambulance coverage for the next year and the city of Tama has began reducing other departmental budgets to make funds available to hire additional EMS staff; both due to a decrease in volunteer participation.

Following the discussion, the council voted unanimously to create and post a job listing for a part-time EMT/Driver.

4. Requests for fiscal year 2022 local option sales tax funds were approved by the council with a total of $40,800 to be distributed over the next year.

This year there were 12 requests submitted from a variety of community organizations.

The local option sales tax has been in place since 2003, raised the sales tax rate from six percent to seven percent to provide supplemental funding for municipalities.

Requests receiving local option sales tax funding in the coming year include the Salt & Pepper Shaker Gallery, $6,000 for general spending and bills; the Winding Stairs Festival, $7,800 for inflatables and rides; North Tama baseball and softball youth programs, $5,000; Dollars for Scholars, $5,000 for scholarships; North Tama Brothers and Sisters in Christ, $2,000 for study materials; North Tama After Prom, $1,000 for entertainment; Christian Hands Across Traer, $2,000 for financial support; Traer Chamber of Commerce, $2,000 for landscaping around the welcome signs and $3,000 for Christmas lights; North Tama Parent Teacher Organization, $1,000 for teacher picnic and prizes; Traer Golf and Country Club, $2,500 for fireworks display and the Traer Masonic Lodge, $3,500 for building work.

5. In her regular report, council member Holst discussed recent vandalism that has occurred at the Mill Street bridge and at the Traer library. Holst suggested looking into installation of a security camera at the bridge, which has been the location for graffiti on multiple recent occasions. Blaine reported after the most recent incident that a sheriff’s deputy contacted her to inform the city that they had a suspect they were investigating in the matter, though no arrests or charges had been made yet.

Holst hopes surveillance of the area could assist both as a deterrent and as a tool for successful law enforcement investigations if and when vandalism of the bridge happens again.

The council also discussed desire for increased patrolling by the Tama County Sheriff’s Office, who the city contracts for law enforcement services.

Holst said she’s had several residents contact her asking why they so often see county sheriff’s officers sitting along Highway 63 at the south end of town.

“We’re paying these hours for them to be in town and I’d much rather see them working,” Holst said. “There’s a lot of cleanup, I know in my area and in Trish’s neighborhood as well, that can be done and it just doesn’t seem like it’s getting done.”

6. City Clerk Haley Blaine gave the council an update on the shelter house construction project at Taylor Park. True Builders of Traer were awarded the construction contract with a bid of $96,500 and have been steadily progressing toward an August completion.

The contractor quoted the city an additional $4,400 to finish the inside of the shelter house with wood paneling.

The council tabled the matter to inquire about additional options for the interior with concerns of the wood paneling warping over time.

7. Council member James Erhardt updated the council on discussions he’s had with the city fire department and ambulance department about their future building needs.

Erhardt said an idea discussed was to construct a new community building that could house the fire and ambulance departments under one roof.

No official plans had been made or proposals brought forth and Erhardt reported he was planning to continue talks with the fire and ambulance staff in the coming weeks to investigate facility needs.