Waiting for a verdict

Both sides in property severance await outcome

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series. In Thursday’s edition, the City Development Board (CDB) was mistakingly referenced as CBD on several occasions.

The decision to approve or decline an application from two Marshalltown property owners to sever their property from the city is now in the hands of the State of Iowa City Development Board. The seven-member group will rule some time this month after listening to nearly five hours of testimony at a public hearing Wednesday in Marshalltown.

Should they approve the severance request, the city of Marshalltown must then hold a special election to let voters weigh-in on the contentious issue.

How and why

The dispute started Dec. 27 last year, when the Marshalltown City Council declined at a regular meeting the severance applications from three property owners — Monte and Leisha Eaton, Jim and Susan Gruening and Gregory and Linda Jacobs. All reside in the southernmost portion of city limits south of Marshalltown Community College — Eatons at 2460A Reed Ave., Gruenings at102 College View Lane, and Jacobs, 2460B Reed Ave. The trio claimed in their applications for severance they did not receive city services but yet paid taxes to the city, an allegation the city strongly denied either at city council meetings or in interviews with the Times-Republican.

City staff and councilors said the applicants received protection from the Marshalltown Fire and Police Departments among other services.

The council voted to deny their application by 3-2 vote. Voting to deny were Mike Gowdy, Joel Greer and Bethany Wirin.

Al Hoop and the late Bob Schubert voted to approve.

Creating additional drama to the one vote margin was the absence of at-large councilors Leon Lamer and Bill Martin

At the Dec. 27 meeting, Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Spohnheimer said if the severance applications were approved, the city would stand to lose $6,050 in its portion of taxes paid on the properties.

Councilors expressed other concerns at the meeting, saying “that a snowball effect would result” if the owners application were approved.”

Jacobs’ severance approved

Only the Eatons and Gruenings remain in the fight after the city council approved the Jacobs’ severance request by 7-0 vote. at its Sept. 25 regular meeting.

“It (Jacobs’ property in city limits) is a 20-foot strip of grass,” said Spohnheimer. Later it was determined that parcel had a taxable value of $27.

Use of Marshalltown Public Library, Parks and Recreation

From the beginning the Eatons and Gruenings have built their case on the grounds they are paying taxes without receiving city services such as water from Marshalltown Water Works, storm sewer, sanitary sewer, streets or street lights and fire hydrant in the distance specified by city code.

Their properties are serviced by the Rural Water District and both use septic tanks. College View Lane, which gives them access to Highway 14 into Marshalltown, is a private lane maintained by the Gruenings and eight nearby property owners.

However, at Wednesday’s hearing, city employees claimed the Eatons and Gruenings received services from the Marshalltown Public Library and Parks and Recreation Department.

Additionally, Attorney Patrick O’Connell, representing the city, used testimony from Marshalltown Chief of Police Mike Tupper and Deputy Fire Chief Christopher Cross to argue Eaton and Gruening families and property would be safer, because the MPD and MFD could respond faster than the Marshall County Sherif’s Office or Haverhill Fire Department (Both Tupper and Cross said they had great respect for the MCSO and HFD respectively). The speed of the MFD and EMS services brought out in testimony was repeatedly stressed by O’Connell.

City expenses to fight severance debated

Mark Eaton of Marshalltown, an at-large candidate to the Marshalltown City Council and brother to petitioner Monte Eaton, claimed at Wednesday’s’ public hearing the city had paid the Lynch Dallas, P.C. law firm of Cedar Rapids $11,154.50 as of Sept. 1 (Attorneys O’Connell and Steven Leidinger, representing the city, are members of the law firm). And Mark Eaton said he expects that amount to increase until the case is settled. The $11,154.50 was not disputed at Wednesday’s hearing. Mark Eaton compared that amount to the $6,050 in taxes being received by the city annually from properties requesting severance.

Written comments accepted

Residents with opinions pro or con on the matter may still have their voice heard by expressing in writing. Written briefs will be accepted by the CDB for 10 days, said Chairman Dennis Plautz. Briefs should be postmarked no later than Oct. 14, and mailed to the Iowa Economic Development Authority, attention Betty Hessing, City Development Board, 200 East Grand Ave., Des Moines, Iowa 50309. Copies of briefs will be given to the board.

City Development Board

Including Plautz of Fort Dodge, members are Barbara Brown, Cedar Falls; Jay Howe, Greenfield; Sarah Beatty, Sigourney; Richard Hierstein, Marshalltown City Appointee; Robert Duke, Marshall County Appointee; and Committee Vice Chair James Halvorson, Cedar Rapids.

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