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Supervisors say ‘yes’ to Harris

SIBLEY, Iowa -- The Osceola County Board of Supervisors listened to a request Tuesday morning from Harris Mayor Greg Spaethe to help the town establish an urban renewal district and TIF (tax increment financing) with windmills to pay for a mandat...

SIBLEY, Iowa - The Osceola County Board of Supervisors listened to a request Tuesday morning from Harris Mayor Greg Spaethe to help the town establish an urban renewal district and TIF (tax increment financing) with windmills to pay for a mandated sewer project. 

“We could try to TIF the windmills around Harris, but we don’t have the bonding capacity like the county does,” Spaethe said. “That’s why we are coming to you this time.”
Last year, the supervisors approached the city to establish an urban renewal district to utilize tax increment financing with a number of windmills in the eastern portion of the county. The object - generate revenue for a number of projects that would have benefited the city. However, the city declined to take part after being bombarded with negative reactions from rural residents and members of the Harris-Lake Park school district.
“Last year, you guys came to us,” Spaethe said. “We were blindsided and buffaloed, not by you but by the rural community.
“Now the council knows their backs are against the wall and they need this help,” he said.
Spaethe said the money is needed to work on the city’s sewer infrastructure and a few roads within the city limits. He observed that the Harris council had approved using any funds left over after payment of the project to work with the county to resurface city roads.
The clock is ticking for Harris. Spaethe said the city has been receiving notices from the DNR since 2009 that something would need to be done. Now, a plan of action has to be submitted by August, construction has to begin in August 2016 and completion is required by August 2017. The cost of the work is estimated at around $2 million.

If the project is not completed, the city is subject to fines from the Iowa DNR. With the budget of the city as nominal as it is, Spaethe said Harris would be bankrupt within 15-20 days should the town incur the fines.
Likewise, Spaethe noted residents could not support the drastic increase in monthly sewer rates. Currently, residents pay $15 per month, the lowest rate in the county. Spaethe said he knows the rate needs to be increased, and Harris City Clerk Chrissi Wiersma has been working with the Northwest Iowa Planning and Development Commission on a stair-step system to gradually raise the rate.
However, to pull the project off with the deadlines imposed, the rate would have to raised to $70-$85 per month. Spaethe guesses that residents would move away rather than pay the raised costs.
Spaethe assured the board the council is 100 percent on board with the joint effort and consented by roll call vote at a previous meeting.
“I feel this way because I don’t want to lose Harris,” Supervisor Mike Schulte said. He initially proposed a broad motion to help the city. It died due to lack of a second.
Phil Bootsma noted that the infrastructure issues were part of the county’s plan last fall that Harris rejected. Bootsma made a motion to help the city of Harris establish an Urban Renewal District, with the assistance of Dorsey and Whitney LLP, to improve the infrastructure, with the understanding that the city will exhaust all other possible funding sources.
Dorsey and Whitney have worked with the county on a number of its urban renewal projects and is familiar with the area. According to Spaethe, the city had already established contact with the firm.
“When we reached out, Dorsey and Whitney were the only ones who would even entertain the notion because of all of the backlash,” Spaethe stated.
Spaethe said the city is currently exploring both grants and loans, but there is no guarantee it will qualify for grant programs. Schulte noted that he knew the city had begun work on finding a funding source, which is why he didn’t include it in his motion. He then seconded the motion by Bootsma.
Bootsma added that he’d like to see housing options for Harris come out of the TIF if the city was on board with the idea. Several homes in the town are in disrepair. Bootsma noted that a blight area could be established in the city limits to aid in improving housing conditions and availability. The motion carried unanimously.
Chairman Merlin Sandersfeld requested a subcommittee be formed to work on the project as soon as possible. He and Schulte will work with the city to move forward on the project. The windmills in question only have one more year of eligiblity for a TIF.
Cap Arms public hearing
A public hearing took place on the transfer of property from the county to Capital Armament (Cap Arms). No written or oral objections were filed. The board approved the measure unanimously by roll-call vote.
Osceola County Economic Director Mike Earll reported on the progress made by the company so far.
“They (the owners of Cap Arms) are starting now getting orders sent out,” Earll said. “Actually, the orders are coming in a lot stronger in some of their more rosy projections. … They are excited about getting started on the building.
“They are even talking about possibly moving up their hiring dates with the extra work that they have now,” he added. “Hopefully, it is a plus for them and our community.”

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