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Divided Cedar Falls council supports hiring consultant on 'resilience plan'

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CEDAR FALLS — City officials first talked about developing a climate action or sustainability plan. Now the term has shifted to “resilience.”

Whatever the plan’s called, some City Council members don’t like the proposal put forth by a consultant to develop it.

Perkins & Will was one of four consultants that submitted a proposal, suggesting the change to calling it a resilience plan. A city working committee recommended Monday that the council hire the Minneapolis firm for $87,500.

After a 45-minute discussion, the council approved an agreement with the company in a 4-3 vote. Council members Dave Sires, Susan deBuhr and Nick Taiber dissented.

Sires objected to paying an outside entity to develop ideas that will cause the city to spend even more.

“We’re going to pay out $87,000 for a study,” he noted, contending the work could be done by community volunteers. “I’d like to see our citizens be involved rather than spending $87,000.”

DeBuhr referenced recent council discussions to postpone certain city expenses because of funding shortfalls caused by coronavirus pandemic shutdowns. She proposed hiring a consultant should also be delayed as officials grapple with the money issues.

“It’s more of a want than a need,” said deBuhr, also noting the contract exceeds the budgeted amount of $80,000.

Jennifer Rodenbeck, director of finance and business operations, said the council could choose to delay it. But the council directed city officials to move forward with hiring a consultant during its goal-setting sessions in December. The budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 identifies general revenue dollars to be used for the purpose.

She also noted community members will be part of the planning process even with a consultant. “Part of their fee is getting the community involved,” Rodenbeck noted, by providing input in a number of settings including workshops open to the public.

“This is definitely admirable, we’re going down the right path,” said Taiber. Still, he added, “I’m a little bit concerned about the actual methodology.”

He believes the proposal focuses on minimizing carbon emissions to the exclusion of other strategies. And he sees expenses that don’t have corresponding cost reductions.

“I want something that’s a little more actionable,” said Taiber.

City Administrator Ron Gaines said officials can work with the consultant to make some changes to the proposal, but he noted carbon emissions are only one facet. It lays out a process to develop both carbon and water resources management procedures.

As far as cost, Rodenbeck noted there isn’t always an immediate payback. However, “whenever you do a plan, your hope is it’s going to save money.”

Council member Daryl Kruse initially called for tabling or postponing action on the agreement with Perkins & Will. He cited the changing patterns of fossil fuel use caused by pandemic-related shutdowns and pointed to the consultants’ plan to base an emission reduction goal on the latest climate science.

“I think tabling this would be appropriate until we understand what’s going to be the new normal,” he said.

“I’m not in favor of tabling it,” said council member Mark Miller. He noted there are always scientific changes to contend with and said Cedar Falls residents are “already behind” creating some kind of plan. Miller endorsed “the idea of a professional coming” to guide the process.

Council member Frank Darrah expressed support for the proposal. He also indicated a willingness to hold off on approval if there were other ways to move forward on the matters it addresses, including the use of local expertise.

“What I like about this proposal, it puts the issue on the table,” said Darrah.

By putting off a vote “we’re pretty much pushing it out for another year,” argued Miller. “I feel like we need to move forward. It’s been a goal of the council, it’s been a goal of the community.”

Kruse retracted a motion to postpone the vote and joined council members Simon Harding, Miller and Darrah in supporting a contract with the consultant.



Photos: George Floyd reaction in Cedar Valley

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Local News Editor

I cover local schools and higher education for The Courier, where I’ve been a reporter for the past two decades. I’m a Minnesota native and have previously worked for newspapers there and in Illinois.

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