SOLON– There will be no egg-laying in Solon back yards, at least for now.
Members of the Solon City Council last week declined to move ahead with an ordinance which would allow chickens in residential areas, instead asking for a petition showing citywide support.
A new health insurance policy for city workers and a contribution to the 1105 Project were approved, however.
City resident Ethan Keele Kober had made a request to allow chickens to be kept in residential property within city limits. Ethan is the son of the Rev. Scott Kober, pastor of the Solon United Methodist Church, who was also present. Kober raised chickens at home before arriving in Solon last summer.
Since the late 1980s, farm animals have been banned within city limits, except for agricultural areas, said City Attorney Jim Martinek. “That’s been our position since that time.”
“With our zoning code, if it doesn’t state it, then that means it is not allowed,” said City Administrator Cassandra Lippincott. She indicated farm animals, including poultry, are absent from current code, therefore were not allowed within city limits.
Ethan made a brief presentation to supplement his written proposal regarding backyard chickens. He then asked council if he could answer questions.
“There is starting to be a little bit of talk in town, as I figured it would be,” said Mayor Pro Tempore Steve Stange. “Some of the concerns that were raised to me as well is it being a rural community surrounded by rural, with only a two-mile footprint if you will, will it attract outside wild animals, wildlife, to start coming into town if it becomes more routine than just one person.”
“The next concern was if you would have people that don’t necessarily take real good care of the coops and things of that nature, would the smells, odors and things of that nature start becoming a problem,” Stange continued. “There are people that take really good care of their pets, and there are people that somewhat don’t, so that was a concern, especially in our new housing developments and in some of the older parts of town.”
“I don’t know if the city’s in a position where we’ve got the staff to enforce this,” said Councilor Brad Kunkel. “That’s my overarching concern.”
“I have not had a chance to do my homework,” said Councilor Mark Krall, saying he would like to have a chance to discuss backyard chickens with nearby cities that had allowed them.
“I’m in favor of it because I think of them as pets,” said Councilor Ron Herdliska in support of the proposal. “I have some reservations about what could come afterward,” he added.
Stange suggested that it would be inappropriate for council to create an ordinance based upon a single request. He suggested a potential petition so Kober might engage more people to support his request.
“When you have a town of 2,200 people and three people want to do it, that’s not a majority of the town,” Stange said. “You are impacting every resident within the city, so to say we want 10 people... I can’t give you that magic number (of petition signatures).”
Herdliska made a motion to do more research on backyard chickens and present a report to council. The motion died for lack of a second.
While nearby communities of Mount Vernon, North Liberty and Iowa City have adopted ordinances permitting residents to raise chickens inside city limits, Solon was not ready to move forward without more interest in the community.
After previous discussions between council members, the health insurance committee, and a meeting with former mayor and insurance representative Rick Jedlicka, the council adopted a new insurance policy for city employees available under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).
During November 2013, the city faced a 30 percent increase in the cost of its Wellmark group health insurance plan. According to a document submitted by the health insurance committee to the council, “(they) found that by moving to one of the new ACA plans, the city could realize a substantial savings over the current plan costs.”
The new plan, referred to as Wellmark’s “Complete Blue 2000 B Silver,” is expected to save the city $37,466 in 2014, while keeping the same network of physicians, and the same nationwide support network. City employees will pay a lower deductible, including no prescription deductible, according to a plan comparison provided at the meeting. There will be a higher out of pocket maximum for employees and an increased co-insurance percentage.
The council approved adoption of the health insurance plan unanimously.
In related business, the council adopted Resolution 14-07 which authorized changes in the City of Solon Employee Handbook regarding health insurance benefits, and Resolution 14-08 which set the rate of contribution to a family health insurance premium at $75 per month.
Sara Langenberg, capital campaign chair for Johnson County’s 1105 Project, asked the council to donate $2,000 to help pay for renovations to a building donated by the board of supervisors. The 1105 Project, named for its address at 1105 S. Gilbert Ct. in Iowa City, houses four county human services agencies. Langenberg indicated a number of Solon residents were assisted by the agencies last year. Twenty-four residents received assistance from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); 69 residents took aid from the Crisis Center of Johnson County food bank; and five were assisted by the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (Kunkel is a board member of DVIP). The Free Lunch Program, also housed in the building, which served more than 40,000 meals last year, does not track the residency of its clients.
After council members and staff discussed the matter, members approved the request, with Kunkel abstaining. $2,000 will be donated over four years.
In other business, the council approved the site plan for Lot 2, re-subdivision of Lot 1 of Fox Ridge Part One A; delayed action on a TIF rebate agreement with MJK Properties, LLC.; approved employment of Dave Richards as public works specialist with pay retroactive to his March 24 date of hire; and approved sale of the city’s 2001 Dodge pickup for $2,150.
The next business meeting of the city council is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16, at the public library.