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No common ground yet

By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader

NORTH LIBERTY– If Tiffin mayor Steve Berner had a new 28E agreement on his Christmas wish list, he may want to go ask Santa Claus for something else.
The Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Community School District school board discussed a proposed land agreement between the city Wednesday, Dec. 11, and voted to table it. It asks the district to convey 0.2 acres of land on the west end of the CCA campus to the city. The city wants the slice of land for an intersection with U.S. Highway 6 into a residential and commercial development just west of the high school.
Also, the city wants an eight foot wide sidewalk on the north side of the CCA property along Highway 6. To sweeten the deal, the City of Tiffin would pay 25 percent of the cost of the sidewalk,
“We do want to have a cooperative relationship with the City of Tiffin,” said CCA Superintendent Tim Kuehl. “I’m wondering if we don’t need more things clearly laid out. In my mind we’ve really got three projects on the table.”
Those projects are the land the city wants for the intersection, the sidewalk, and the potential new elementary school on the east side of Tiffin. “They’ve expressed some willingness to help with utilities and street development (for the building, if voters approve the bond referendum in February),” he added, “but right now, that’s not in writing.”
Board member Jim Seelman gave a brief history to his fellow directors and Kuehl on the origin of the sidewalk request.
“That was something we talked about with the high school. The whole conversation was to put it (along the intercampus roadway), because it made no sense to put it next to the highway.” At that point, the key question was how to safely get students across the busy highway. The answer was supposed to be a controversial, expensive and as-yet unused underground tunnel.
The district is responsible for a four-foot sidewalk, according to an ordinance enacted in the late 1990s, but Seelman expressed confusion about what exactly the city was offering. “I don’t know if they’re talking about the additional it would cost for the extra… four feet? ” he asked.
The board turned to CCA construction manager Ray Willoughby for his perspective.
“The DOT (Department of Transportation) did not want a sidewalk along Highway 6 because of the speed limit and the safety factor,” Willoughby said. The ordinance was thrown out at the time because, had the sidewalk been built, it would have led to nowhere. Now, with the proposed development, it has become a priority for the city.
Seelman also took issue with the city’s time limit for completion of the sidewalk.
“I think that’s unreasonable, especially since we’re building buildings and hooking utilities on (Highway) 6… we don’t want a deadline to put a sidewalk in by the end of 2014 when we may not be ready for a sidewalk. To me, there should not be a deadline on it, period,” Seelman said. He suggested taking the sidewalk out of the equation. “It’s not a plus or a minus for us one way or the other.”
Seelman and board member Rick Hergert stated that the directors represent all the taxpayers in the district.
“Yes, we have taxpayers in Tiffin, but that’s not the only place we have taxpayers. And for the school to just plain give away land… I don’t know how much they paid for the land they’re going to take for Ireland Avenue, but we’re paying $25,000 an acre, we paid for that. The land that buts up against it is $155,000 to $200,000. I can’t just vote to give that away,” Seelman said.
Board member Terry Davis agreed. “If they want that land from us, then they should come to us, to tell us how much they’ll give us for that piece of land,” Davis said, and the sidewalk is a completely different issue.
Board member Eileen Schmidt expressed a desire to work side-by-side with each city in the district, but agreed she had a problem with the giving the city land that would be transferred to a developer.
“That is our taxpayers’ money, and it’s going to be handed over to somebody else. That’s wrong.” Schmidt said she would be okay with the city making an offer for the land.
Board member Bob Broghammer asked if the land in question was even paid for, since it was purchased through the bond issue that built the high school. The consensus was that payments on the bond will continue for several more years, and therefore, the land has not been officially purchased.
To tie up the discussion, Kuehl paraphrased the board’s remarks.
“One, we want a price for the land. We’re happy to work with them on doing a deal but we need to work out a price. We also want to know how we could work together on the new building,” said Kuehl.
The board voted to table further discussion on the 28E agreement until the next regular meeting on January 15 at the middle school in Tiffin.