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Council looks into housing grant for downtown apartments

By James Grob,

The Charles City Council discussed applying for a Downtown Housing Grant for updated apartments at Wednesday’s planning session.

Joanna Thompson talked to the council regarding her plans to develop modern upper-level apartments in downtown Charles City.

Thompson owns the building at 213 North Main, which houses the new Prologue book store. She wants to rehabilitate the upper floor of the building above the store with apartments and a second-story patio with outdoor seating.

“We want to have apartments that people will want to live in,” Thompson said. “We will make them more desirable, and they will have enough amenities that we get people who want to live there and stay there.”

Thompson said she intends to update the existing apartments with solar power, improved cable, internet and wi-fi access, among other things.

A grant from the state of Iowa is available for the project as part of the Iowa Housing Initiative. The Downtown Housing Grant, awarded to create new downtown housing units, is available to cities with a population under 30,000, and awards $100,000 to $300,000 for projects with less than 10 housing units.

One building per community is allowed, and the city must be the grant applicant. Community Development Director Mark Wicks has said he is willing to do the application work on behalf of the city. The application deadline is Jan. 31.

Thompson said she hasn’t seen all the numbers, but assumed she would be asking for more than $100,000. A development agreement between the city and the private owner is required to receive the grant.

The grant recommends the city commit to 25% in matching funds. The city is encouraged but not required to contribute financially, but the city could contribute in the form of a new facade grant or possibly culture and entertainment funding or in-kind services. The grant application will score higher if the city does contribute.

In other business Wednesday, the council reviewed the agreement for reimbursement of Iowa Law Enforcement Academy expenses for the Police Department.

Charles City Chief of Police Hugh Anderson explained to the council that when a law enforcement officer is hired and not yet certified, he or she is expected to attend academy training to receive certification at the expense of the city. In the event that the employee voluntarily resigns from the Charles City Police Department without having served at least four years, that employee is expected to reimburse the City for those expenses, which are typically around $14,000.

The new agreement raises the minimum monthly payment for the departed employee from $100 per month to $500 per month.

“This helps us recoup some of our costs after we train them for the academy,” Anderson said.

Also Wednesday, the council:

— Held preliminary discussions regarding several budgetary items. Housing Director Katie Nolte discussed the public housing budget while city administrator Steve Diers reviewed the city administrator budget, the emergency fund budget, the employee benefits budget, Cablevision, fiber to home, and American Rescue and Iowa CARES funding.
— Heard information from Emily Chambers regarding the inaugural Immaculate Conception Elementary School Color Run, which will be May 7 and begin at 9:30 a.m. The event is a fundraiser that will go toward educational learning tools for the children. Chambers explained that the walk/run will begin at the IC school and follow the walking trail along the river. The school is seeking permission from the council to use the walking trails.
— Reviewed agreements for wages for Fire Department and public works employees. Per the tentative agreement with Teamsters Local 238, employees will receive an across-the-board wage increase of 3%.
— Discussed registration fees for ATVs and UTVs. Council members seemed to agree that registration should cost about $30. The cost of the fees will be on the agenda at next week’s regular council meeting, which will be held on Wednesday instead of Monday.

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