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Council working toward next step in tree trimming process

By Kelly Terpstra,

Time to vote.

That’s the likely plan of action the City Council will take concerning trimming trees in Charles City.

The council again discussed the cost of trimming roughly 2,800 trees in the right of way in the Charles City city limits at a planning session Monday. The council also heard an update on the replacement of the Charley Western Trail Bridge that could be completed in summer 2020.

Although there wasn’t a consensus among council members as to what that exact plan for tree-trimming would entail, everybody seemed to sense a vote is looming.

“I’d like to put it on the next agenda for consideration. The sooner we do that, the better chance we have of this getting done sooner rather than later,” said City Administrator Steve Diers.

Mayor Dean Andrews recognized that although everyone didn’t agree about various aspects of the proposed project, it was time to move on and put the matter up for a vote at next Monday’s regular meeting.

“Everything we pass doesn’t have to be 5-0. Sometimes if we get to the point where we’ve had enough discussion, it’s time to vote,” said Andrews.

Dirk Uetz, Charles City street superintendent, said he received two bids from professional tree trimming services. Those contractors would attempt to trim trees in the right of way that fall below 15 feet of clearance on the street and eight feet on the sidewalks.

The low bid came from Cedar Creek Tree Service for $150,000, or about $53 a tree. The other bid was for approximately $270,000.

Diers said work could begin on trimming the trees as early as this spring and would be done in two waves. He said he would allocate $75,000 for the first tree trimming phase and cleanup in possibly March. The second wave would be done near the start of the new fiscal year and could be completed sometime in the summer or fall for another $75,000.

“The most effective thing to do is to pay for this out of road use tax and call it good,” Diers said.

Uetz said Cedar Creek Tree Service would probably start with the North Grand area. Work would include the trimming of the trees, use of brush chippers and hauling branches away. There would be no city staff involvement.

“They’ll do it all,” said Uetz.

Most in attendance agreed that this would be the best way to deal with trees in the city that have not been trimmed for possibly five, if not as long as 10 years.

The question then arose, what about the city code that says a property owner adjacent to city right-of-way with low-lying tree limbs must hire a licensed tree trimmer to do the work?

“We have it set up in the code so that adjacent property owners trim the tree, but we also state in the very next line that if it needs to be trimmed, we can cut it and do it,” said Diers. “That way it allows people to trim trees, if they they want to trim them – not by themselves, but by a licensed contractor. The reality is most people aren’t going to want to trim those trees.”

Mayor Andrews brought up a recent wind storm where property owners trimmed their own trees – many of them in the right of way.

“When we had all the wind storms, there’s a lot of tree branches knocked down. Everybody just went out and trimmed their trees. That happened all over the city. The question becomes do we just want to leave it as is or is there a reason to change things?” asked Andrews about the city code.

The council agreed to talk about possible changes in the code at a later date.

Then another issue arose about possibly billing the property owners to cover some of the city’s cost for hiring the professional service to get the job done.

“We’ve got a real tight budget. We’ve had a tight budget for a long time and we’re going to throw 150,000 bucks at this deal,” said council member DeLaine Freeseman. “I agree it needs to be done, but to dismiss trying to recoup some of that money kind of so easily, for some reason, kind of sticks just a little bit.”

Council member Keith Starr said that in order for the city to assess and determine whose trees were trimmed and whose were not would be a billing headache.

“By the time you get done with the administrative cost of it and also the public relations flow of this, I think it would be very tough,” said Starr.

Starr agreed that the city paying $150,000 to have all the trees trimmed was the right way to go.

“I don’t see any efficient way to do this — a uniform way to do this — besides turning ‘em loose and just hitting it,” Starr said about hiring professionals for the job.

The Charley Western Recreation Trail Bridge is set to be completed in the summer of 2020. The $1.35 million project has already received $249,000 from TAP (Transportation Alternative Program) funding. Fallis said the city could be eligible for another $250,000 should the city OK the application process to submit another request for additional funding.

The project was initially thought to have cost $2.1 million, but that was with an engineer’s plan of creating a pre-stressed concrete bridge. Part of the cost of the $1.35 million project calls for $300,000 for lighting on the trail and $100,000 for trailhead improvements.

Calhoun-Burns and Associates did the demolition of the old bridge this past summer.

Applications are due March 1 and a meeting will be held March 22 to determine what money, if any, is awarded to Charles City for the Charley Western Trail Project.  

The Corbin Group helped develop a plan for the 2019 Wayfinding Project, which would place gateway/welcome signs, vehicular guide signs, parking lot identification signs and information kiosks around Charles City. City Engineer John Fallis’ probable cost estimate for the project was $230,000.

The low bid came from Signs and More, located in Independence. That bid was for $157,427.99 — more than $83,000 lower than second-lowest bid of $240,688 by Nagle Signs of Waterloo.

There were six bids that were received, with ASI Signage Innovation of Grinnell being high bid at $278,502.

Fallis said Nagle Signs had some concerns about Signs and More’s low bid. Fallis talked with Casey Stoner, the project manager for Signs and More, about the bid.

“I didn’t hear any red flags,” said Fallis. “They said several times they really wanted the project and they really liked it. They feel that they operate with a lot lower overhead than a lot of their competitors. They’re confident in their numbers.”

Fallis recommended approving the contract to Signs and More after talking with the Corbin Group. A completion date is slated for August for the project, should it be approved by the council.