Insult atop unfairness

The City of Storm Lake’s sidewalk policy is unfair. Homeowners in the older part of town are required to have them. Those living in newer developments, such as Emerald Park or West Lake Estates, do not have to install or maintain sidewalks. At one time the council discussed mandating sidewalks but caved in the face of public pressure.

So we have two sets of rules. One for those living in older, lower-valued homes. Another for those living in higher-valued residences on the west side of town.

The city decided years ago that if we are to have sidewalks they should be decent. It started an inspection program. They mark up your sidewalk, send you a letter and, if you do nothing, the city will hire the job done and send you the bill.

City staff is recommending to add insult to injury by sending that letter by certified mail. If you do not take action, the city will bill you $15 for sending the letter. Then it will repave your sidewalk and send you another bill.

It is a textbook way to alienate constituents.

You are supposed to know by visiting Facebook, Twitter or some city newsletter of which we are not aware that the inspectors are hitting your block on a given date. You would have, under the new and improved regimen, 60 days to git ’er done or face the executioner.

How about this instead?

The sidewalk at 125 Irving St. is demarcated as a no-walk zone. The inspector, ever-friendly and low-key former police captain Bob Swanson, knocks on the door. He explains that you need to fix that sidewalk, and you have a couple months to do it. He knows how to do this stuff without getting punched from many decades of police work. By the way, Swanson could tell the elderly person that the city has set aside a pot of money from state owner-occupied housing assistance funding to help defray the cost of construction. All you need do is apply and submit some scant proof of poverty. Such as, you are on Social Security or disability.

Let’s say no one answers the door. Friendly Bob leaves a little door-hanger package with some happy language describing the problem, how the city might help to correct it, and whom to call to help you figure it out. Maybe Friendly Bob can show up in a month or so to see if you have questions. Or some other friendly person.

If still there is no response, send a letter after 30 days saying it must be done. If not, the city will solve the problem at your expense.

Forget about fining people for certified letters. It is unfriendly. Most people will pay attention with a personal visit. For the few who don’t, hire it done and send a bill. If they won’t pay, then get unfriendly and take them to small claims. The magistrate will sort it out quickly.

These are the kinds of problems we create with two sets of rules.

In the future, the city should insist that all new developments install sidewalks. There are reasons you live in town. Streets, sewer and really nice parks. And sidewalks. We should all have them, if we are to live in town. First and foremost, they are safer than walking in the street. And yes, we should maintain them. But the city should be as concerned about its relationship with property owners/taxpayers as it is with covering the cost of a few certified letters under a patently unfair sidewalk situation.

Fresh start for marina

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources created a beautiful facility with the Storm Lake Marina on the lake’s west end. New buildings, docks, landscaping and dredging of the marina bay are all first-rate. Yet the marina has not enjoyed the success that it should. The state does not have the wherewithal to actively manage the facility, and it is barred by agency policy from selling beer, wine or liquor on the premises.

IDNR wisely turned over operations to the City of Storm Lake for better oversight and to get around that booze ban. The city found a marina operator in Wheel Camping and Marine of Worthington, Minn. Owner Brian Nielsen sounds genuinely excited about getting things ramped up in Storm Lake. He looks forward to a full-service boat and camping maintenance operation, plus concessions and new equipment. And, yes, people will be able to buy beer and quaff a couple on the patio overlooking the lake. It will not be the Barefoot Bar of Okoboji fame, but there should be a good bit more activity going on at the marina than there has been in generations.

For the first time in our memory, we will have a deeply experienced operator with presumably some capital behind him to make the place work. We have closer oversight with the city, and we have a more relaxed atmosphere. From the sounds of it, IDNR should be pleased with its investment in the lake and marina. It will result in more boating, more fishing and more fun along the lake.

Welcome to Storm Lake, Wheel Camping and Marine.