Special Report: How city ordinances and special agreements change a city

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KIMT News 3 – When you want to learn a little bit about a city’s history, a great place to start is the ordinances, codes and special agreements the city has approved over the years.

Mar Oak, a small portion of Mason City, is a perfect example of this. When the developers of the community started building, they made a special agreement with the city of Mason City to be annexed in with minimal city benefits. Now, nearly 30 years later, those in the neighborhood are asking for some help.

“We don’t get garbage pickup, we don’t get snow removal, we don’t have water, we don’t have sewer and so forth, so we have gone the city and asked them if something could be done,” says Leman Olsen, a homeowner in Mar Oak. “It would kind of level the playing field; we don’t feel like we’re getting quite the value we should due to the taxes were paying.”

There are parts of the agreement that allow for the small community to vote to make changes to the decades old annex agreement, but those with the city say it wasn’t until recently that the Mar Oak Home Owners Association came forward.

“They continue to purchase their own services,” says Mason City, City Administrator, Brent Trout. “We don’t send them a water bill because they aren’t connected to the water system or the sanitary sewer system. So that is their decision that they made and they have worked through it with their home owners association to maintain the roads, but that was the agreement established in the contract.”

That agreement was made nearly 30 years ago and consists of around 20 pages of documents. Trout says this is a rare situation that newer city codes will keep from happening in the future.

“Garbage pickup was one that after 10 households were out there that they could request the city provide sanitation services,” he says. “We are well over that now, but they never came forward.”

So until the some of these amenities are officially provided, homeowners in the Mar Oak community will receive little benefits, but pay what they call “high property tax.”

Another piece of history in the North Iowa area is the number of city ordinances on the books telling people to call the Northwood police chief when a problem arises. For example, there is an ordinance asking folks to call the chief of police to camp in the city park as well as explaining the duty of the chief in regards to the city’s curfew laws, the problem is there hasn’t been a police department in Northwood for the last several years after an agreement was made between the city and the Wroth County Sheriff’s Office.

“We made an agreement with the sheriffs office so we would have officers on duty in the city of Northwood 24 hours a day,” says Northwood Mayor Jane Bloomingdale. “It has given us better coverage, we have less attrition and it has worked out better for both entities.”

Bloomingdale says the reason they haven’t changed the wording of the ordinances after the agreement was made because changing them would cost money. To change 20 ordinances referring to the chief of police Bloomingdale says could cost around $2,000, but while most of those laws won’t attract a lot of attention, one of them will. That one that explains the chief of police is responsible for making sure the stop signs get put out.

“The city has asked if the deputies could put out the stop signs before and after school to slow traffic, but there are some situations where emergencies come up and we’re just not able to get them out,” says Worth County Sheriff Jay Langenbau. “It is important, but it isn’t our top priority when other things are going on.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomingdale says each year the faces on the council change and so could the ordinance.

“It is just easier to keep it this way,” says Mayor Bloomingdale. “We could one day decide we want to bring the police department back and then we would have to change all of the ordinances back.”

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