ELK RUN HEIGHTS — The future of the city’s waste water treatment plant is a key issue facing candidates for seats on the Elk Run Heights City Council.
While Mayor Tim Swope is running for re-election unopposed, seven candidates are vying for the five council seats up for grabs on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Incumbent council members Dennis Bass, Tim Ratchford, Lisa Smock and Dale Wilson all are seeking new two-year terms. Joining them on the ballot are Arlan Schellhorn, former Mayor Gary Wurtz and his brother, Paul Wurtz.
While it wasn’t the only issue driving their campaigns, each council hopeful said determining how to replace the city’s outdated sewage treatment plant was a major decision facing the city.
Elk Run Heights currently shares its plant with Raymond, but there have been discussions about possibly building a “tri-city” sewage plant that includes Evansdale. Others have discussed reopening discussions about piping sewage to Waterloo’s plant across the Cedar River.
Bass, 62, of 505 Gilbertville Road, works as shop foreman at Schoitz Engineering and believes his 26 years of council service brings valuable knowledge to the position.
“I’ve got a lot of pride in our little town and want to make it better,” Bass said. “We’ve got one of the lowest (tax rates) in Black Hawk County and we’ve got the same services as everybody else, and I’m proud of that.”
Bass said he supports having Elk Run and its neighbors build a new treatment plant and does not believe hooking up to Waterloo is the right move. The latter would take away local control from Elk Run, he said, which would still be responsible for maintaining its current collection system and lift stations on top of the treatment payments to Waterloo.
Bass also said he wants to see Lafayette Street and Gilbertville Road both improved with walking trails along them.
Ratchford, 57, of 315 Gilbertville Road, is self-employed with Ratchford Auto Detail just two doors down from City Hall. He’s seeking his second straight council term.
Ratchford supports the current move to build a new treatment plant, touts the city’s low taxes and believes the sitting council works well together.
“It’s all basically a group effort here, and I’m pretty proud of our council right now,” he said. “Our main goal is to get a new waste water treatment plant and expand the city more if we can.”
Smock, 48, of 301 Marie Ave., is an at-home grandmother seeking her fourth term and also believes the city is on the right path in having its own treatment plant to control costs and avoid taking on issues Waterloo has seen with its sewer system.
“But I really love parks,” Smock said. “We’re looking at possibly putting in a dog park. I’m passionate about maintaining and addition to parks.”
Smock said she also wants to see a bike and walking trail included when Gilbertville Road is rebuilt. And she said a the city needs to be look at long-term plans to develop the city in a way that draws young residents.
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Wilson, 56, of 846 Dawn Drive, works as facilities services supervisor at VGM Group and is seeking his third council term.
“My objective for our city is to make sure we are moving in the right direction in keeping the city of Elk Run up to date with the best equipment, technology, nice parks, good streets and most importantly a safe place to live for our citizens,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the treatment plant is one of the biggest reasons he’s seeking re-election, “in order to see this project through, making sure we are building the right size plant, and spending our citizens tax dollars the correct way.”
Schellhorn, 71, of 216 Sutton Ave., is making his first bid for public office after retiring from a 41-year career as a manager in the beverage industry.
“I feel the experience I acquired as a manager … in both sales and operations would be an asset to work with the mayor and other council members to move the city forward,” said Schellhorn, adding the mayor and past councils have done a good job keeping taxes low.
Schellhorn said he believes a regional waste water treatment facility makes sense to meet environmental regulations and keep costs down, but he isn’t convinced hooking up to Waterloo’s existing plant is the right idea.
Gary Wurtz, 59, of 187 Gray St., was elected mayor twice but resigned in 2014 to deal with increased job responsibilities at the Airgas corporate office. He said he still wants to come back as a councilman to deal with some “unfinished issues.”
“My biggest goal is for the City Council at this point in time to focus on long-term development and how they’re going to grow the city and manage it,” Wurtz said.
Wurtz, who was mayor when the city was negotiating with Waterloo about shared sewer services, said he’d like to see those talks renewed.
“In 2012 we found it was cheaper to regionalize than building a stand-alone plant, but it never got finished,” he said. “We need to let go of the emotional aspect.”
Paul Wurtz, 53, of 5335 Lafayette Road, retired after working in Airgas health care. He is seeking his first term on the council after falling a single vote short in a previous election.
“The biggest hurdle facing the city is they need to build a new sewage treatment plant,” he said. “I am against that. I am for regionalization. … Honestly I don’t think the residents can afford to build a plant and I don’t think the (Iowa Department of Natural Resources) will let them.”
Along with a regional approach to sewage treatment, Wurtz said the city also needs to start looking at annexing land for future growth and consider adopting ordinances to govern aesthetics, such as parking vehicles in yards.
“I’d also like to say Tim Swope is doing an excellent job as mayor,” Wurtz said. “He’s done a lot of long-term planning.”