WATERLOO — The city is preparing to borrow $16 million this year to pay for its annual capital improvements program.
An $8 million grant to complete a hotel and conference center at the Cedar Valley TechWorks tops the list of projects slated to receive a share of the general obligation bonds planned for sale later this year.
City Council members held a work session Monday to discuss how to divvy up the remaining $8 million from a long list of requests including building improvements, vehicles and equipment, road and flood control improvements and more.
Major projects proposed by staff include $1.8 million to install streets and sewers in the Greenbelt Centre business park near the former Waterloo Greyhound Park; $1.2 million to raise the Virden Creek flood levee, $700,000 in Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center improvements and $500,000 to complete the U.S. Highway 63 reconstruction.
Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson said the City Council has already committed to several of the projects, notably TechWorks and Greenbelt Centre, under previously approved development agreements.
Others were up for debate and generated discussion this week.
City Engineer Eric Thorson said the $1.2 million programmed for Virden Creek is part of an estimated $3.6 million effort to build a 3-foot wall on top of the earthen levees running through the city’s east side.
The current levee can’t be certified at its current height, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is planning to draw new flood maps for that area in the next two years.
“If we don’t raise it, when they remap this area it will put a lot of people into the flood zone,” Thorson said. That could force property owners to buy costly flood insurance as conditions of their mortgages.
Councilman Tom Lind questioned the $700,000 earmarked for improvements at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center.
“Are we just throwing money at this or do we have a plan?” Lind asked.
Mayor Quentin Hart said the bonds were intended to address urgent needs at the aging downtown convention center while the city works on a long-term plan to address repairs and maintenance in a number of city buildings.
“This $700,000 is probably a drop in the bucket for what we actually need” at the convention center, Hart added.
The bond list also includes $200,000 to install traffic signals at the intersection of Greenhill Road and Progress Avenue, where neighboring residents have been lobbying for improvements due to increased traffic and speeds.
Traffic Operations Superintendent Sandie Greco said it’s likely the city will only be able to complete the design this year, which prompted a Sager Avenue resident to encourage expediting the construction.
Several department heads said the amounts included in the bond program would not allow them to meet important maintenance needs and vehicle replacement schedules, but Anderson said there were nearly $27 million in requests for the $16 million available.
Several other big-ticket items included $300,000 to plant trees to replace ash trees being removed due to the emerald ash borer infestation and another $300,000 to repair sidewalks on city-owned properties.
The program includes $200,000 each to remove trees from the flood control levee system, which is required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and another $200,000 for downtown parking ramp repairs.
The $8 million in bonds for the Marriott Hotel, restaurant and John Deere Training Center going into the TechWorks Tech 2 building is expected to be repaid with sales and hotel taxes generated through the Iowa Reinvestment District program.
The remaining $8 million in bonds will be repaid with interest primarily using property taxes.
Waterloo currently carries just less than $100 million in bonded debt.