Effort to sever from city heats up

Four owners make their case


Editor’s note: This is the first of two installments on the efforts of four local property owners to sever their property from the city. The second installment will appear early next week.

No city street or fire hydrant access.

No sewer, no snow removal and no Marshalltown Water Works service.

And no plans by the city to provide any of the aforementioned in the immediate or distant future.

All motivated four property owners in Marshalltown whose homes border the southern edge of Marshalltown Community College to request severance from the city.


College View Lane residents Monte and Leisha Eaton, James and Susan Gruening, Gregory and Linda Jacobs made non-refundable applications of $250 each for severance to the Housing and Community Development department last year.

Their applications are unique.

No property owner had previously requested severance.

And the Iowa Code — which gives city and county governments guidelines on various matters — addresses the issue.

It was explained by Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Spohnheimer at a recent city council meeting.

“For example, the code does not allow a property owner in the middle of the city to request severance,” she said. “There can not be an ‘island’ whereby a property owner is not in city limits.”

Adding to the complexity is the Marshall County Auditor designates the property as county (Timber Creek Township) not city, said Monte Eaton in an email to the Times-Republican. “Our property has a shared easement within the city used for direct access for two adjoining county residences with the same 2460 Reed Ave. designation.”

He claimed the area was annexed by the city in 1969 at the request of a previous owner, who allegedly wanted to avoid a conflict with Marshall County over the construction of a out-building.

He also alleged the 1969 council did not property adhere to an Iowa Code section re annexation.

The 1969 council unanimously approved the request (with one councilor absent) according to city records.

“The problem is this: 47 years later there still are not city services provided to any requesting to be severed,” said Monte Eaton.

The Eatons and James Gruening appeared before the council Dec. 27 requesting their properties be severed.

Spohnheimer told the council if the applications were approved, the city would lose $6,050 in its portion of taxes paid by all.

The council considered the issue at length, discussing merits allowing severance, or to deny.

During the debate councilors expressed concerns “a snowball effect would result” if the four were granted permission to sever.

The council voted 3-2 to deny.

Voting to deny were third ward councilor Mike Gowdy, second ward councilor Joel Greer, and at-large councilor Bethany Wirin.

Voting to approve were first ward councilor Bob Schubert and at-large councilor Al Hoop.

Adding to the suspense of the one vote margin was the absence of councilors-at-large Leon Lamer and Bill Martin.

“It is disappointing,” said Gruening of the decision then. “And having two people gone (Lamer and Martin), did not help. It appears the four parcels were annexed by the city as a favor to a property owner and additional revenue gain (to the city). I understand the city’s concerns … others might want to leave the city … and I know the council has a tough job. I think anytime you try and do anything for the first time there would be concerns. I understand that. No one has ever tried to do remove themselves from the city before.”

“It is to be determined,” was Gruening’s response in late December if he and other property owners would continue their efforts to sever.

One of the four has aggressively continued the fight.

Monte Eaton has written numerous emails to City Attorney Roger Schoell and councilors promoting their case since the Dec. 27 council meeting.

He brought a thick folder with maps, documents, and other materials to T-R offices recently with evidence supporting severance.

However, two councilors who voted no see it differently.

Greer explained his vote to deny in an email to the T-R.

“I favor increasing the city limits footprint over shrinking it, and increasing not decreasing the tax base,” he said. “When owners purchased these lots after they had been annexed, they were on notice the properties were incorporated as part of the city. My decision had little to do with the prospect former owners may have benefited by some tax relief or by avoiding demolition of an out-building that had not received a county building permit.”

Wirin said she approached the issue with an open mind before the Dec. 27 meeting, but during debate became convinced it was not in the city’s best interest to approve.

“There are many other property owners in city limits who do not receive some or all city services,” she said in an interview with the T-R last week. “For example, a number of properties on the south side of Lincolnway do not have city sewer. What if they requested severance? And I have received many calls from residents supporting my vote to deny severance.”


Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com.