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Local governments share top priorities, local issues

IOWA CITY– The Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD) plans to sell Roosevelt Elementary, and its continued redistricting efforts dominated the conversation at a joint government meeting last week.
Representatives from ICCSD, Johnson County and the cities of Coralville, Iowa City, North Liberty, Hills, Lone Tree and University Heights gathered at the Iowa City Public Library on March 21 for a quarterly joint governmental meeting, primarily an information-sharing opportunity between the entities.
ICCSD Superintendent Stephen Murley briefed area officials on the ongoing process to sell the Roosevelt Elementary School land.
A competitive bid process will be used by the school board to identify the right buyer for the land, Murley said. This will allow administrators to have a greater degree of control over the entire process.
Residents of the Miller-Orchard Neighborhood have offered strong recommendations to the school board as to what they think would be a good fit for the neighborhood. Residents want to avoid selling the land to a high-density neighbor, such as a strip mall, bar or a gas station. However, they are open to some commercial properties, such as office space for businesses or a retirement home with low-occupancy housing.
“It was much easier for (residents) to define what they didn’t want than what they wanted,” Murley said.
The residents’ recommendations will make the competitive bidding process much quicker, Murley said, because it will give potential buyers a strong indication of what will be acceptable, lowering the chance that something is built contrary to what the neighbors want to see.
According to the competitive bid guide used by the board, there is one specific stipulation that must be agreed to for anyone willing to buy the property and that is that Roosevelt Ravine must be left in its current condition.

ICCSD redistricting
Many Iowa City schools are overcrowded, including North Central Jr. High in North Liberty and Grant Wood Elementary in Iowa City, Murley said. The school district is currently looking into ways to solve this problem. Northwest Junior High has about 300 open seats available, and Hills Elementary can be used to help the overcrowding issues at Grant Wood, he said.
Murley described the redistricting process as iterative, consisting of an open and on-going dialogue between the community and the administration team. A task force comprised of district administrators create a draft of the plan, circulate it within the community, and allow for discussion at public meetings and online input on the district’s website. This process will continue until some level of consensus is created within the community, Murley said. Changes are expected to be implemented for the 2013-2014 school year.

Social services spending
Officials also were apprised of each community’s contribution to local social services, a discussion prompted by Johnson County’s on-going concern for cuts in state funding as the Iowa legislature continues to rework its mental health funding model. Johnson County will spend over $14 million on mental health services and $8.6 million on its social services in fiscal year 2013. Supervisor Sally Stutsman listed numerous social service agencies the county supports financially, including the Visiting Nurses’ Association, Elder Services, the Crisis Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Action for Youth and area food banks, among others. Johnson County Board of Supervisors member Terrence Neuzil urged his fellow area officials to start looking at this matter as an economic development issue, as well.
“When you think about the number of people employed by these agencies, you see real big numbers. I hope communities will think about that impact as well. I think the (Iowa City Area) Chamber needs to learn about that impact before it supports a number of the initiatives they support,” Neuzil said.
In addition, Neuzil said with the lack of funds provided by the state of Iowa, agencies like Goodwill Industries will see a decrease in funds, which will negatively impact the services they are able to perform.

Area road construction
According to Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig, construction on Mehaffey Bridge in North Liberty has come in at nearly $4 million over budget. Early estimates had the project costing $5.5 million, but it has now reached $9.4 million.
Rettig, who served as a consultant on the project, said that officials are scrambling to find solutions to the problem. “There is every excuse under the sun, but that’s a big boo-boo,” Rettig said.