CEDAR FALLS — The city of Cedar Falls is under threat of having its ISO rating, which impacts insurance rates for property owners, lowered from a 3 to a 4.
But the city has been working throughout 2018 to keep the rating as is.
The Insurance Service Office informed Cedar Falls it is prepared to drop the rating, but has given the city until February to make improvements to retain its level 3 classification.
The ISO is part of Verisk Analytics, a private corporation that collects data on fire departments and assigns a numerical rating based on a city’s fire suppression capabilities. It is based on a 100-point scale with 10 classifications, a 10 being the worst and a 1 being the best.
ISO ratings impact insurance rates for residential and commercial properties. A higher number could mean higher insurance rates.
It is ammunition for the Cedar Falls firefighters union, which opposes the city’s Public Safety Officer program and wants more full-time firefighters hired rather than cross-trained police/fire officers.
“Hopefully, the citizens can see how hiring more professional firefighters increases the city’s ISO rating at less than half the cost of hiring more PSOs,” said Scott Dix, Cedar Falls Fire Local 1366 president.
He accused the city of attempting to withhold the information from its citizens. He said the city has known about the possible lower rating for 10 months.
“On several occasions, citizens have asked about the city’s ISO rating with almost no reply to their questions by the city’s public safety officials or Mayor (Jim) Brown,” Dix said. “They clearly knew about the lowered rating but did not want to disclose it to the public.”
Dix called it another example of the city not wanting residents to find out the truth concerning the public safety program.
“Cedar Falls city officials are willing to either ignore the citizens’ questions or answer with half truths that paint an entirely different picture than the reality of the situation,” Dix said. “Cedar Falls citizens should be concerned that they are not being told vital information that affects their safety and the cost of their insurance.”
Fire Chief John Bostwick contends releasing information earlier would have been conjecture because the rating is in flux.
“As we have gone through this year we put into place all of these systems to address the issues that ISO suggested that we make,” Bostwick said. “It would be our preference to put out something that’s the final product.”
Jeff Olson, director of public safety services, said a 4 is still a good rating. He said the city was at a 4 rating until 2011 when it climbed to 3.
Bostwick said the city would be happy with either rating.
Rural resident Darren Yoder submitted a Freedom of Information request for all of Cedar Falls’ correspondence with the Insurance Service Office from Jan. 1 to Nov. 8.
According to the email correspondence, the city identified seven areas — telecommunications, engine companies, ladder service, deployment analysis, company personnel, training and inspections and flow testing — it could improve for a better score.
The city said the potential lower rating is a result of miscommunication with ISO.
“Part of (the lower score) was from us not providing them some data,” Olson said.
Olson said information the city provided to ISO understated staffing levels.
“Then later on what we learned is you frequently have more than your minimum,” Olson said. “It didn’t include any of our PSOs or alternative staff.”
PSOs are considered by ISO as half a firefighter.
Training was another issue. The city frequently uses controlled burns instead of simulations, such as those provided at the Waterloo Fire Training Center.
“We were surprised to learn that they would rather you go to the Waterloo training facility instead of burning a house down,” Olson said. “To me burning a house is pretty good training.”
In the email correspondence, ISO offered to give the city a chance to retain its rating.
Darin Cabalona, community mitigation analyst, who The Courier couldn’t reach for comment, was the primary ISO official communicating with the city.
The revisions by the city are sufficient to improve its score to a class better than 4, Cabalona said in an email. The improvements need to be in place by Feb. 27 for the score to stay the same.
“I have not been through the evaluation process before and look forward to learning and improving our score,” Bostwick said in an email with ISO. The evaluation is done every five years.
The city earned its lowest marks for training and company personnel, and its highest score was for water supply.
“I think because we had to go through this process of redoing it, I think it allowed us better opportunities to get better at what we’re doing,” Bostwick said. “If we had done well at the beginning we may not have been as focused as we are today.”
NASHUA — Wartburg College freshman Caleb Lines stood on the football field at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night and told himself no matter what happened, his weekend was already complete.
The 2018 Nashua-Plainfield High School graduate was about to compete in the Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway at halftime of the Big Ten Championship football game, and at stake was $100,000.
The day before, he had thrown 16 footballs into a can in 30 seconds to win a $25,000 scholarship and become one of two finalists, and the winner would receive $100,000 for college tuition.
“It was really fun, but I’m not going to lie, it was really, really nerve-wracking as well,” he said. “I mean I told myself, I would have been fine either way, but $100,000 is a lot of money and then, you know, people don’t always think this about me, but I’m really competitive, too.”
Saturday’s setup — Lines and Chicago native Taylor Miller, a pre-med student at Spelman College in Atlanta, would have 30 seconds to throw as many balls into a large Dr Pepper can five yards away — was the same as Friday’s when the four semifinalists competed.
Well, almost the same. At stake, of course, was that hefty bump when it came to the scholarship. And, unlike Friday, the stadium was filled with 70,000 fans.
Although the number of balls that landed in the can fell, Lines finished with nine to beat Miller by one and claim the grand prize.
The victory capped a whirlwind weekend for Lines, who hopes to one day get a doctorate degree in biochemistry and help eliminate global food insecurity.
He and his father, Dean, were treated to a three-night stay in Indianapolis.
“When we got there, the Dr Pepper people told us this was going to be a VIP weekend,” he said, “and they really made it that. It was so much fun, and to be able to share it with my dad, that was cool, too.”
He laughed when asked about competing in the semifinal round.
“That was a little weird,” he said, “because the stadium was virtually empty. There were some production people there setting up for the game, but they were doing their jobs. … You don’t realize how big those stadiums are until you’re on the field and the stands are completely empty.”
On Sunday, though, he was back to just being a college student, albeit one coming off a memorable weekend.
“The other competitors were great, and that made it even better,” he said, “but right now, I need to study. I’ve got a little catching up to do.”
WATERLOO — The city is moving forward with a $2.2 million plan to beautify its downtown entertainment district with decorative street lights, trails, colored concrete and plantings.
Waterloo City Council members voted unanimously Monday to approve a grant agreement for the Black Hawk County Gaming Association to provide $1.2 million for the project, which will be matched by a $477,000 state grant and more than $550,000 in local funds.
“This is a huge project for downtown Waterloo,” said Mayor Quentin Hart. “This is a centerpiece of our entire community.”
The project includes improvements along the pedestrian areas of Jefferson and Commercial streets running from near the Cedar Valley TechWorks campus at Westfield Avenue to SingleSpeed Brewing and RiverLoop Expo grounds at West Third Street.
That area includes multiple heavy foot traffic venues including the Cedar Valley SportsPlex, Waterloo Center for the Arts, Waterloo Public Library, Phelps Youth Pavilion, Young Arena, National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, Hawkeye Community College Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center and new residential construction projects.
Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson said the “streetscaping” effort will “create that symbiotic relationship through the corridor, basically from the SingleSpeed area to the TechWorks area, and make that all look as a part of a beautified downtown development.
“The other thing is safety,” Anderson said. “We know that there’s a number of pedestrians in this area, specifically with Hawkeye coming, Young Arena, the Center for the Arts. We’re trying to create a safer and more visible walking and pedestrian-type pathway through there.”
The state enhancement funding is related to the Iowa Department of Transportation’s current reconstruction of U.S. Highway 63 — Mullan Avenue and West First Street — through that area of downtown.
Work on the streetscaping project will be delayed until the city rebuilds Jefferson and Commercial streets from West First to West Third streets in 2020 and 2021 respectively, including the stretch of West Second Street between the two roads.
Interim City Engineer Jamie Knutson said he asked to hold off on the streetscaping until after the streets are reconstructed, which would avoid tearing up newly installed amenities.
“They are in desperate need of being reconstructed,” Knutson said. “I don’t want to do both of those (streets) at the same time and close down everything downtown.”
The street reconstruction, funded with local option sales tax revenue, is estimated to cost just under $1.5 million.
WATERLOO — The two men running for the vacant Ward 5 City Council post have different visions for the city budget.
The balance between property taxes and the need for city services was a frequent theme Tuesday as Jason Welch and Ray Feuss held their only debate prior to next week’s special election to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Chris Shimp.
Welch, who runs a small contracting company, said he believes the city is not being responsible to those paying taxes.
“They apparently seem to think they can take our money and spend it on whatever they want to, and I think it’s getting a little bit ridiculous,” he said. “As it pertains to a budget, I am fiscally conservative. I think the taxpayer should keep as much of their money as possible.”
Feuss, who works for the Iowa State Education Association, countered that failing to adequately fund city services will hamper the city’s prosperity.
“If we’re going to cut things, people aren’t going to want to come here,” he said. “… If we’re going to tell people we’re going to cut your taxes to not provide city services, big businesses aren’t going to want to come here, and small businesses won’t feel supported.
“I’ve never once said that I want to raise taxes; I’ve never once said that I want to lower taxes,” he added. “I want adequate funding for our city services.”
Asked about whether the city had adequate fire staffing, Feuss said it was unfair to Ward 5 taxpayers when Station No. 6 is frequently closed. He said he wanted to work over time to ensure enough funding for public safety so it is equal citywide.
Welch said he believed the city was already doing all it can for public safety funding, which is nearly 80 percent of the general fund operating budget.
“When our choices are either to cut services other places or we’re going to have to raise our taxes, I just don’t see it happening,” he said. “Maybe, possibly we’re understaffed but I just don’t think there’s money to (increase staffing).”
Both men said they supported the city’s use of traffic enforcement cameras provided they were used appropriately. But they differed on whether the city should consider public safety officers cross-trained for police and fire responses. Welch said he was OK with PSOs while Feuss said “no to PSOs.”
One audience member asked whether the candidates would listen to the handful of residents, sometimes dubbed the “back bench boys,” who show up every week to express their views during council members.
“Those people are on my campaign committee,” Welch said. “They’re some of the best informed, most concerned citizens out there, and they’re all backing me, pretty much.”
Feuss said those who speak each week are “not necessary right.”
“I applaud them because it’s important to have your voice heard,” he said. “But you’re not the only voice. The thousands of people that I have talked to in Ward 5 are the voices that matter also.”
Feuss said his campaign is focused heavily on bringing civility to the council chambers and adequately funding city services.
“I’m running to be a reasonable voice on council,” he said. “I’m not focused on headlines and controversy. I want to move Waterloo in a direction that all residents can be proud of.”
Welch said he was running to keep government intrusion out of residents’ lives.
“As I read the lay of the land, we have two different sides here,” he said. “We have adequate funding, which I’m interpreting as ‘I think our taxes are going to have to go up if we’re going to adequately fund a lot of these projects.’”
The debate was sponsored by the Black Hawk-Bremer League of Women Voters and can be viewed on the organization’s Facebook page.
The special election on Dec. 11 is only for voters in Ward 5.