Cutting ties with the city

Property owners file petition to break free from Marshalltown

T-R FILE PHOTO Monte Eaton of Marshalltown is pictured making a presentation to the Marshalltown City Council late last year. He requested permission to sever his property from the city. Looking on from left is third ward councilor Mike Gowdy and fourth ward councilor Al Hoop.

Three Marshalltown property owners have filed a petition for severance from the city of Marshalltown with the State of Iowa’s City Development Board.

The three property owners — Monte and Leisha Eaton, James Gruening and Susan Gruening and Gregory Jacobs and Linda Jacobs — previously requested severance at a Dec. 27, 2016 council meeting and a Jan. 9 council meeting.

The request failed by a 3-2 vote at the Dec. 27 meeting, with two councilors absent.

The property owners requested the matter be placed on the Jan. 9 meeting agenda. However, the council voted 3-3

— with one councilor absent — not to place the matter on the agenda for reconsideration. A tie vote meant the motion failed.

The issue

The Eatons, Gruenings and Jacobs are owners of properties on College View Lane, which borders the southern most edge of the city, but are in city limits, due to annexation approved Dec. 1, 1969.

The three property owners made non-refundable severance applications of $250 each to the city last year.

Their applications were unique.

There is no record of previous applications to sever, according to city officials.

That unanimous annexation action more than 47 years ago — with one councilor absent — has been repeatedly contested by the three property owners.

They allege the Marshalltown City Council did it as a favor to the previous property owners, who they also allege was in conflict with county officials over construction of an out-building. The Eatons claimed the property owners were in jeopardy of having to tear down the building for violating a county ordinance requiring a building permit. Additionally, they claim the city viewed the annexation as a convenient way to add more tax revenue to the city.

Taxes but no services?

The 1969 annexation aside, central to the threesome’s argument is their claim they pay city taxes but do not receive city services.

They also claim, according to the petition, no city services are planned

In presentations to the city council, Monte Eaton and James Gruening claimed property owners do not:

• Have street or fire hydrant access. (While the nearest fire hydrant by Eaton’s estimation is one-half mile away, Marshalltown Fire Chief David Rierson told the T-R in January the MFD can service the properties by laying fire hose and calling on neighboring rural fire departments to provide tanker trucks. The closest is Haverhill, according to the petition).

• There is no access to city sewer. The nearest sewer line ends more than half of a mile from the closest parcel. The three property owners are served by independent septic systems.

• No Marshalltown Water Works service. The properties are served by rural water service.

• The petition claims there are no city streets leading to the parcels, and the city does not maintain any of the roadways to the parcels.

“The annexation has created an irregular border between the City of Marshalltown and Marshall County, resulting in the three properties nearly becoming a geographical island,” claims the petition.

The property owners claim to have support from Marshall County officials, according to the petition.

“The director of Marshall County Zoning, John Kunc, indicated no objection to the request for severance. The Marshall County Auditor indicated strong support for the requests, stating severance would increase needed tax revenue to Timber Creek Township cemetery and rural fire services, it would be beneficial by “squaring off” the irregular boundary lines in place, and that it would end confusion and complications over split taxation on the Jacobs’ parcel.”

City council decisions

The Eatons and Jim Gruening presented their case to the city council initially at the Dec. 27 council meeting.

Voting to deny severance were Third Ward Councilor Mike Gowdy, Second Ward Councilor Joel Greer and At-Large Councilor Bethany Wirin.

The late First Ward Councilor Bob Schubert and Fourth Ward Councilor Al Hoop voted to approve.

Creating additional drama to the one vote margin was the absence of At-Large councilors Leon Lamer and Bill Martin.

The Eatons, Gruenings and Jacobs tried a second time at the Jan. 9 meeting.

However, a 3-3 vote resulted, which prevented the matter from being put on future city agendas.

The property owners picked up Lamer’s vote on Jan. 9, but were still one vote shy, because a tie vote meant the measure failed.

Adding drama to the tie vote was the absence of councilor Bill Martin from that meeting.

“(This)” is clearly stonewalling, and an attempt to delay any motion for reconsideration to extend past the 30-day time period,” wrote Eaton in a Jan. 17 email to the T-R. “I am extremely confused, disappointed and dismayed the city and some councilors are so opposed to even further reviewing the information which is now available.”

Pro and con debate

In January, 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.”

Eaton disagreed with Greer via an email to the T-R.

“When looking at increasing the foot print one must also consider the area the city will be required to provide services to,” he said. “Increased foot print area causes an increase in costs, installation and maintenance of the infrastructure, including but not limited to, labor, materials, extended fire and police protection, road surface area, etc. This expansion also leads to Urban Sprawl which is a huge drain on city finances.”

In an interview with the T-R Tuesday, Greer said he has not changed his mind.

In January, 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 the severance.

“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. “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.”

In an interview Tuesday, Wirin said she has not changed her mind.

Mayor Jim Lowrance said via email to the T-R Tuesday he had no comment, as did city attorney Roger Schoell, also in an email to the T-R.

“The petitioners are taking advantage of the process available to them under Iowa Code, which is what they were advised to do if they disagreed with the decision of the City,” said City Administrator Jessica Kinser in an email to the T-R Tuesday. “We will await a decision of the City Development Board.

What is to follow?

The City Development Board meets today, and has 90 days to respond, said Marquess.