A discussion on the potential reallocation of general obligation bond dollars reignited the ongoing debate over plans for a water plaza during Monday night’s Marshalltown city council meeting.
Because the city did not receive one of the state’s Destination Iowa grants to pay for the feature, which is estimated to cost around $1.9 million and would be located near the Aquatic Center and Mega-10 Park on city property, City Administrator Jessica Kinser asked the council for direction on how to move forward so that proposed projects wouldn’t languish with partial funding.
Kinser indicated that staff would still like to move forward with the plaza and has $450,000 currently on hand in GO bonds. She then recommended reallocating $560,000 initially committed to the River’s Edge Trailhead toward the water plaza.
“To be very open and transparent, that does not get us where we are trying to go,” Kinser said. “There’s still a significant gap to fill.”
She added, however, that other grants could come available through the Prairie Meadows Foundation and the Community Attraction and Tourism (CAT) through Enhance Iowa, an arm of the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Some of the remaining dollars would likely still need to come from private local fundraising, but Kinser said that would likely push construction back to 2024.
After Kinser opened the floor up to questions, Councilor Mike Ladehoff asked what would happen to the River’s Edge Trailhead, and she responded that it would likely move back to a later fiscal year.
Councilor Jeff Schneider later asked about the cost and if it would end up being higher than currently estimated — noting that a substantial chunk of money was already behind the trail project as well — and Kinser said one of the driving forces behind the cost is the requirement to build a shower house.
“It doesn’t make sense to us either, but it’s one of those things that’s a requirement for us to be able to move forward on the project,” Kinser said.
Councilor Gary Thompson asked for figures on annual operating expenses once the plaza is built, which Kinser said would likely come to around $5,000 per year in water alone. She added, however, that she didn’t foresee many other expenses because of its proximity to the park and the aquatic center. Thompson said he was “totally against” the idea and argued that in his view, it would make more sense to make the aquatic center free and install smaller splash pads within individual neighborhoods around town.
“We could probably do two or three for this kind of money that would be really small in the neighborhoods, so I can’t support this at all,” he said.
In addition, Councilor Gabe Isom expressed concern about putting the water plaza in front of the trail and leaving that project “high and dry.”
“I don’t know, at least from my perspective, if allocating that $560,000 100 percent toward the water plaza makes sense until we have something more final in front of us, and at least today, it doesn’t even sound like the budget for the plaza itself is final,” Isom said.
Councilor Barry Kell wondered if some of the design features that were added in hopes of attracting the Destination Iowa grant could be “optioned out” as the city attempts to finalize plans for a plaza “it can afford,” rather than one that was tailored toward the grant.
Mayor Joel Greer asked how much the nonprofit Splash 4 Life had raised toward the water plaza, and Ladehoff said it was around $13,000 — the exact figure, it was later revealed, was $13,731.
Thompson then raised another concern as he indicated that earmarking GO bonds for one project and then reallocating them for something else was something he struggled with as a representative of the taxpayers. He then suggested simply paying the money back and downsizing the debt.
“Procedurally, I don’t understand how we can, with a good conscience, just reallocate money after we told the public that they had their say in what we were gonna use it for,” he said.
During the public comment period, Leigh Bauder of Splash 4 Life stepped to the podium and reiterated some of her previous criticisms of the initial plans unveiled in October, including safety and accessibility concerns.
A new design unveiled at a public event in November did assuage most of Bauder’s concerns, as she said she was about “90 to 95 percent” happy with it at the time, when the cost was estimated at around $1 million.
“So then my question becomes, how did the price tag increase $900,000?” she asked.
Six years ago, a splash pad proposal Bauder and her team had come up with to be built at Anson Park would have cost around $265,000, and she opined that inflation could not have possibly increased that much since then.
Bauder then asked the city to focus on rebuilding its infrastructure and go back to a simpler, more cost effective design to reduce the overall expense.
A motion then came to the floor to approve the reallocation of $560,000, and several councilors asked for points of clarification. Thompson echoed previous concerns about the cost and why it had continued to balloon.
“How did this turn from a splash pad at Anson Park to a water feature that is brochure worthy?” he asked. “We don’t fix problems. We like things that look good on brochures to attract people to Marshalltown. We have no budget for operating costs. We’re allocating money to build something. We don’t even know how much it’s gonna cost us to run it every year. You don’t know what the impact’s gonna be on the financial status of the aquatic center next door. So I’m asking a question before we vote on this. Where do we go from a $500,000 splash pad to a $2 million water plaza?”
Kinser responded that a water plaza is “far more inclusive to our community” than a splash pad, which is generally geared toward children only. By contrast, she said, a water plaza could accommodate the local Burmese community for their annual water festival and serve as a “gathering place” rather than a place to simply get wet in the summertime.
“As we started with the concept — it did start out as a splash pad — we thought ‘There is a broader use that impacts far more members of our community than just youth of a certain age or parents with young kids,” Kinser said. “So when we broadened that definition, we felt like we — and I think this will be what comes back and what you’ll hopefully see — is that there’s a project that impacts a larger portion of our community, meeting their cultural needs in a way that was not initially thought of and that a splash pad, in and of itself, can’t meet. It did broaden into a project that is more than just a recreation project into one that is a community asset serving a large part of our population.”
Ladehoff shared similar sentiments and said the water plaza would serve the city year-round rather than for just a few months in the summer. Ultimately, the motion to reallocate the money failed by a 6-1 margin with Ladehoff as the lone affirmative vote.
Greer then asked if any councilors would like to put forth a revised motion, but none did. Kinser said city staff would look for further direction at the next meeting on Jan. 23.
In other business,the council:
• Approved the consent agenda as listed.
• Approved motions to authorize new special Class C retail alcohol licenses for Tannin and the Marshalltown Arts and Civic Center.
• Approved the second reading of an ordinance amendment to establish a stormwater advisory committee.
• Approved a loan and disbursement agreement and providing for the issuance and securing the payment of $13,125,000 in sewer revenue bonds.
• Heard from members of the Marshalltown Municipal Band requesting $9,000 in funds from the instrumental tax levy.
• Approved moving forward with a proposal to sell a parcel of land adjoining her property 1021 S. 5th Ave. to Cynthia Lewis for a price of $500 by a 4-3 vote, with Schneider, Isom and Dex Walker opposing.
• Approved moving forward with plans to sell three city-owned lots at 519 S. 5th Ave., 4 N. 12th Ave. and 500 Lee St.
• Approved a motion to leave the mayor/council budget as it currently stands on paper.
Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or