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Council will reconsider 4 parking spots for jail

County leaders threatened they would demand compensation from city for design changes

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main street parking 19-08-13

These four Main Street parking spots have been central in discussions between the city and county about a new jail. (Photo by Rebecca McKinsey)

 

A Carroll city councilman who was among those who voted against eliminating four Main Street parking spots for a new downtown jail told the Times Herald he will call for another vote on the matter as he negotiates a compromise with county leaders.

“To me, the four parking spots are imperative to protecting commerce downtown,” Councilman Clay Haley said Tuesday. “I’m working aggressively to find a way to preserve downtown parking space and help the county get the project moving forward.”

The parking spots are near a proposed vehicle entrance and exit of the jail, and vehicles parked there might obscure the view of drivers leaving the building.

The removal of those spots requires a series of three affirmative votes for approval. The first vote on Aug. 12 was unanimously in favor. The second vote passed 5-1, with Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann opposed.

In the third vote on Sept. 23, Siemann was joined by Haley and Councilwoman Misty Boes in voting against the parking removal, which yielded a tie and the vote failed.

Carroll County leaders said Monday they might ask the city of Carroll to pay for an unspecified portion of the new county jail’s project costs that are a result of “improper action by the city.”

“The city of Carroll is advised that Carroll County may request compensation for any additional expenses caused by delay of the (law enforcement center) project or any other expenses incurred as a result of an improper action by the city of Carroll, including, but not limited to, the city manager or city council,” Supervisor Neil Bock read from a prepared statement that morning.

The removal of the four parking spots was part of an agreement between the city and county to improve traffic safety on Main Street near the new jail. The city was supposed to cede the parking spots, and the county was poised to spend an estimated $50,000 extra to recess the vehicle entrance and exit of the building.

Moving the entrance and exit doors away from the sidewalk is expected to decrease traffic congestion. County leaders had not officially approved the recessed doors, but a building permit the city issued for the project requires it.

The county is likely to incur additional design costs if the four parking spots remain.

Siemann said the outcry from business owners and residents about losing those downtown parking spots — in addition to the 15 that are gone from a parking lot where the new jail is being built just west of the county courthouse — intensified over the course of the three votes, a time period of about six weeks.

During that time, the jail project began in earnest with excavation and the installation of fencing around the perimeter of the work.

“It snowballed,” Siemann said of the feedback from business owners and residents, “especially when the equipment started showing up and the fencing. That visual made them realize: ‘Wow, we are losing 19 spaces. What’s going to happen to the public’s access to businesses?’ ”

The supervisors declined to comment specifically on the council’s vote but said they would discuss it privately in their meeting Monday. They were allowed by Iowa law to hold the closed session because it pertained to potential litigation, and Bock read the county’s statement after.

Progress on the jail stalled this week until underground utility lines can be moved. The break in work is not the result of the council’s vote, Bock said.

Councilman Haley said his ‘no’ vote on the parking removal was solely due to the concerns of many residents.

“I have absolutely no interest of increasing the cost of the jail — that’s not my motivation in the least,” Haley said. “I’m interested in preserving the downtown business district and taking care of the constituents who contacted me.”

He is confident a compromise will materialize in the coming days and plans to ask that a fourth vote be added to the agenda of the council’s next meeting on Oct. 14. Haley declined to speculate about what the compromise might entail.

“We’re going to find a way to make this thing right,” Haley said Tuesday. “I haven’t talked to any council members about this, but I have talked to supervisors.”

Indeed, Councilwomen Siemann and Boes said they were unaware of the negotiations and were skeptical of another vote on the issue.

“The potential is there procedurally, but based on what the public has communicated to me I would not want to give (the parking spaces) up under the current conditions,” Siemann said.

Boes said residents have been overwhelmingly against losing more downtown parking and that the supervisors should have had more of the jail plan finalized before awarding a bid and starting construction.

“I’ve told all of them I voted for the jail because I know it needs to be redone,” she said. “They clearly didn’t have the right people in the planning group, and they clearly don’t have the right plans. There’s no way they can responsibly build the jail for that amount of money.”

Initial estimates for the jail said it would cost about $9 million, but the lowest construction bid was $4 million higher than expected. The supervisors have forged ahead with construction with the hope they can reduce the construction costs and get more money for the project by borrowing up to $1.9 million more than what voters approved, using about $500,000 from county reserves and potentially selling county-owned farmland for about $1 million.

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