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City of Muscatine Communication Blog

Hello and welcome to our blog. As the Communication Manager for the City of Muscatine, Iowa, I know the importance of communicating with residents and providing them with an understanding of the different functions of the City, why these functions are important to our residents, and what the City is doing for the future of our community.

Many times the story of the various activities, accomplishments, and happenings within the City are not told and we want to make sure that the people behind these activities, accomplishments, and happenings are duly recognized. We also want to explain our vision of the future for the City of Muscatine, something that we take great pride in.

Please check back in periodically to see updates on what's going on here in Muscatine! Please feel free to leave comments on individual postings--the comments will not be displayed here, but they will be emailed to me so that I can collect your thoughts and make adjustments based on the feedback and suggestions. Moderated comments are an option as we progress. Thanks for reading and I hope you find this to be an effective tool!

May 17

Fire education important for safety of citizens and safety of fire fighters

Posted on May 17, 2019 at 2:09 PM by Kevin Jenison

MUSCATINE, IowaAn above normal number of residential structure fires in April has drawn the concern of Muscatine Fire Department officials who urge area residents to take the time to discuss fire safety with their family.

“We ran the numbers a little bit and the numbers are a little bit higher than last year,” Fire Marshal and Assistant Fire Chief Mike Hartman said. “I think that every single fire that we have had has been residential which drives the narrative a little bit more.”

That narrative is about fire education and what individuals and families can do to prevent fires in their places of residence and what individuals and families can do to protect loved ones in the event of a fire emergency.

Residential fires today burn quicker and hotter than residential fires 20 or more years ago mostly due to the materials used in construction and materials used in the manufacture of households goods. A complacency with the dangerousness of fire, the lethal qualities of the smoke, and the lack of awareness for the fire safety have also contributed to a society not willing to confront the issue until something bad happens.

Something bad did happen in February when three persons died in a residential fire.

COMMONALITY OF THE FIRES

Hartman said that one of his frustrations is finding any commonality of the recent fires with the causes all across the board.

“We have had some cooking fires and some careless disposal of hot coals from a fire pit,” Hartman said.

The abuse of extension cords has also been among the causes of residential fires.

“But the only real commonality is the carelessness and lack of appreciation for the seriousness of fire,” Hartman said.

Some of that carelessness comes from not understanding how different and potentially more deadly materials used today are as opposed to materials used 20 years ago. Synthetics are used in the manufacturing process today which enables the manufacturer to keep costs down and increase the variety of products available. That also benefits the consumer.

Synthetics also have a darker side, however, they burn hotter and quicker than natural materials.

“You can go from a small fire to a big fire rather quickly,” Hartman said. “A fire in a room can turn into a room full of fire in just two or three minutes leaving little time for a family to react and escape. Twenty years ago, with natural products, that escape time could be 30 minutes.”

Increased health risks with the use of synthetics and composites in today’s construction. Restoration companies are more incline to tear down houses damaged by fire than to just cleaning them up.

Restoration companies have been hired in the past to clean up after fires by rinsing down the walls and perhaps using special paints to help with the smoke smell. Today, these same companies would have to clear everything out down to the studs and then spray before repairing the damage and that costs a lot of money.

“What burns today is a lot worse health wise than what burned in a home 20 years ago,” Hartman said. “Most restoration companies are not comfortable with just washing down the walls because of the liability and long term obligations to customers to not put them in situations where they are exposed to these cancer causing risks.”

THE ESCAPE PLAN

An escape plan on what you, and your family, would do to safely leave your house or apartment in the case of a fire or other natural disaster should not be put on the back burner, so to speak. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) advises that your ability to get out of your home during a fire depends on advance warning from smoke alarms and advance planning. The NFPA provides escape planning tools to help families prepare for a fire emergency.

Families need to gather together, develop a plan, and then practice that plan.

“We talk with our children about what to do if somebody drives through the neighborhood in a weird looking van or we talk to them about school shootings, but we forget to talk with them on what to do if there is a fire in your house,” Hartman said.

Hartman recalled a conversation he had with a parent recently who said “we told our kids that if the smoke alarm goes off, come find mom and dad, let us know, and we will get out together.”

“I understand the reason behind that but these fires can turn deadly in just two to three minutes,” Hartman said. “If your kid wakes up and thinks they know where you are but doesn’t really know where you are, then they are walking around the house looking for you when they just need to get out.”

The majority of fire victims in Muscatine over the past 20 years have been the young and the old. One victim was not at either end of that spectrum but was with two young children.

“Unfortunately, we as a nation and we as a culture have very little appreciation for the deadliness of smoke and fire,” Hartman said. “When the smoke alarm goes off, you need to have a plan and you need to get out. It doesn’t matter whether you meet at a tree in the front yard, a tree in the back yard, or at a neighbor’s house … just get out and stay out.”

THE VALUE OF SMOKE DETECTORS & SPRINKLERS

Working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors (both required by Iowa law) are important tools in the prevention of fire injuries or death.

“Having working smoke detectors is a message that we continue to hammer on,” Hartman said. “Looking at these recent fires, most had detectors but not all of them had operating detectors.”

Almost three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (40 percent) or not working smoke alarms (17 percent) according to the NFPA.  The NFPA also notes that properly installed and maintained smoke alarms play a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries, and save lives. Smoke Alarm Safety Tips

Smoke from a fire in your home spreads fast and smoke alarms give you time to get out and stay out.

Hartman is also an advocate for the installation of sprinkler systems in homes.

“Response time for fire departments are not as good as what we would like for them to be but they are not horrendous,” Hartman said. “Having a sprinkler system in residential homes would help.”

A point that Hartman continues to emphasize is that a fire in a room can become a room full of fire in as little as three minutes.

“Think about how long it would take for you to get in your car and drive to the nearest fire station,” Hartman said.

Once a fire is identified and 911 is called, fire fighters on duty need to put on their gear and then drive to the location of the fire. Once at the location, fire crews have to put the fire truck into pump, drag out the hose(s), find the fire, turn on the water to get through the fire hose(s), and then attack the fire.

“It takes time,” Hartman said. “A residential sprinkler system installed in the home would have activated at 130 degrees and potentially save lives and the home.”

One of the criticism of a sprinkler system is the amount of water damage to the home.

“Yes there is water damage from a sprinkler system,” Hartman said. “But it is a lot less damage from the amount of water coming out of a sprinkler system than the amount of water coming out of a fire hose.”

SAFETY OF CITIZENS, SAFETY OF FIRE FIGHTERS

The more synthetics we have, the more we utilize synthetics, chemicals, and technology to make our lives more enjoyable, the more we compound the issue of a fire turning deadly.

“That is where I get really concerned about the safety of our citizens and the safety of our fire fighters,” Hartman said.

When a family says goodbye to a husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, there is no guarantee that the family will see them tomorrow.

“We train for all situations,” Jerry Ewers, Muscatine Fire Chief, said. “But just like all first responders who put their lives on the line to protect and serve their communities, there are no guarantees.”

The philosophy of the Muscatine Fire Department is to: accept great personal risk to save another person’s life; accept moderate personal risk to save another person’s property; and, accept no personal risk to save what is already lost.

The only fire fighter fatality that Muscatine has experienced came during a residential fire but there have been plenty of injuries and close calls.

“Fire safety is not just about keeping your family safe, it is also about keeping those who respond to the fires safe,” Hartman said. “A lot of people express their appreciation to the fire fighters. The best way to show appreciation is to learn, discuss, and practice fire safety every day.”

OLDER VS NEWER CONSTRUCTION

Recently, fire fighters were dispatched to a garage fire where the roof collapsed just seconds before fire fighters entered the structure to attack the fire.

“The reason the roof collapsed, and it was a big chunk of the roof, was that it was newer construction,” Hartman said.

Hartman said that fire fighters will assess the age of the home when they first arrive at the scene of a structure fire. Those built in the last 20-30 years have elements of “light weight construction” or the use of engineered wood instead of solid wood.

“Light weight construction helps to make the house open and beautiful but it is horrible for firefighting,” Hartman said.

The rule of thumb, according to Hartman, is that with a fire in the attic of a light weight construction home, the roof will collapse in six minutes.

“The call process, the turn out time, the drive time, set up time, all could put us right at that mark when we would put someone on that roof to vent it,” Hartman said.

Older homes have their problems too including not having fire stops which would prevent a fire on the first floor from dropping down into the basement or going up into the second floor or attic area. Remodeling also poses problems if that work is not done by professionals and not done to code.

“The older houses are better in some ways but in some ways they are not,” Hartman said. “Residentials are kind of a unique animal.”

Just like planning how to escape a fire, it takes planning and training to attack the different kinds of residential fires.

“We even had one recent residential fire that had extension cords running through the entire place and that is actually what caused the fire,” Hartman said. “They had a small extension cord with a surge protector plugged into another surge bar that was plugged into a heater.”

Extension cords are not meant for that kind of abuse and the heat generated from their overuse can cause fires.

“The more you plug into them, the more dangerous it is,” Hartman said.

MESSAGE OF THE DAY

In simple terms, fires are not like what you see in the movies. Fire is hot, fire is fast, fire is dark, and fire is deadly. In fact, smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do.

The most important message of the day, according to Hartman, is awareness. Parents need to reinforce the lessons of fire prevention and using an escape plan.

“We try to connect with every school child in the third through fifth grade with fire education,” Hartman said. “If they take that home and discuss it with their parents, then we have success.”

There have been many instances of fire education success including one recent event where an individual on a riding lawn mower tipped over and caught fire.

“He jumped out and started running around with his clothes on fire,” Hartman said. “Some children across the street saw this and yelled at him to stop, drop, and roll. He did and that put the fire out.”

Stop, drop, and roll is something the children learned from the program offered by the Fire Department in the schools.

While there is frustration that the message is not getting to everyone, there is growing evidence that the message is being received and being spread throughout the community.

If you would like more information, or a home visit, please contact the Muscatine Fire Department directly.

“We would be more than willing to help you and to make sure your house or home is safer,’ Ewers said.


Mar 11

Tools to enhance development - Tax Abatement

Posted on March 11, 2019 at 4:51 PM by Kevin Jenison

Property owners, contractors, and developers with interest in Muscatine real estate have several programs available through the City of Muscatine to assist with new construction, renovations to existing buildings, or expansions to existing facilities.

Urban revitalization, or tax abatement, is one of those tools that is available to encourage economic development in the designated Urban Renewal Area of the city. Supported by provisions of Chapter 403 of the Code of Iowa, Muscatine’s Urban Renewal Plan seeks to encourage and stimulate new residential, commercial, and industrial development through the temporary reduction of property taxes on added value to properties.

Tax abatement is a tool used by local governments to stimulate investment in designated areas by temporarily reducing or eliminating property taxes on certain eligible pieces of real estate including new and renovated homes and commercial buildings.

Stimulating investment by encouraging new construction and renovation to existing homes is one of the program’s goals. Encouraging construction of energy-efficient homes and reducing the cost of living for a temporary period of time are objectives that enable the program to assist in the improvement of communities, leaving more valuable pieces of property, which means higher property tax revenue once the abatements expire.

Tax abatements are a temporary reduction of property taxes. The property owner still pays the amount owed pre-improvement, but may qualify for decreased taxes over a predetermined amount of time for improvements made to existing property.

Applications for housing and commercial tax abatement programs are available for qualified improvements that include new construction, remodeling, rehabilitation, and additions to existing property.

The Muscatine Housing Urban Revitalization Area was established by the Muscatine City Council in 2013 and updated in 2018 to include multi-residential and commercial residential housing. New revitalization districts were also added in 2018. A new commercial tax abatement program was added in 2016 for two key areas of the city – along Grandview Avenue and Park Avenue – that offer abatements on improvements that increase the assessed valuation of the property by at least 15 percent of the valuation before the improvement.

HOUSING TAX ABATEMENT

The Muscatine Housing Tax Abatement program offers eligible property owners reduced or eliminated property taxes for new construction or improvements to existing facilities in three areas including the revitalization area, blighted property sub-district, and historic property sub-district.

New residential facilities in the Revitalization Area must have an assessed valuation of at least $175,000 with 100 percent abatement on the first $75,000 of actual value added for five years.

New residential and multi-residential facilities situated in some portion of the blighted property sub-district are eligible for tax abatement if the assessed valuation is at least $80,000 with 100 percent abatement of the actual value added by the improvements for a period of five years.

Residential property located in the Historic Property sub-district are eligible to receive an exemption from taxation for a period of five years on 100 percent of the actual value added by the improvements.

All qualified real estate assessed as multi-residential or commercial residential properties consisting of three or more separate living quarters with at least 75 percent of the space used for residential purposes are eligible to receive an exemption on 100 percent of the value added by the improvements over a period of five years.

COMMERCIAL TAX ABATEMENT

Two commercial tax abatement options are available to property owners who construct new, rehabilitate, or add to existing commercial or industrial facilities.

A 10-year declining schedule offers qualified properties a reduction in property taxes on the actual value added as of the first year for which the exemption was received. The 10-year partial exemption begins with an 80 percent exemption from taxation of the actual value added in the first year with the percentage gradually decreasing during the life-span of the exemption to 20 percent in years nine and 10.

The second option is a three-year 100 percent exemption of the actual value added by the improvements.

INDUSTRIAL PROPERTY TAX ABATEMENT

A partial exemption from taxation for a period of five years is provided by Iowa Code 427B on the actual value added to industrial real estate by the new construction of industrial real estate, research-service facilities, warehouses, and distribution centers. Seventy-five percent of the property tax on the actual value added is abated during the first year and is reduced by 15 percent each year until the fifth year which is at 15 percent of the actual value added.

CITY OF MUSCATINE TAX ABATEMENT PROGRAM


Feb 16

The pothole war ... a never ending battle waged in the streets of Muscatine

Posted on February 16, 2019 at 7:17 AM by Kevin Jenison

021419 Cold patching potholes, cracks on Grandview Avenue 03

It is a never ending battle in the war between city streets and winter weather. It is a battle for drivers as they face the many challenges of winter driving, and a battle for the work crews of the Street Maintenance Division of Muscatine’s Department of Public Works who also have many challenges related to upkeep of the streets during winter travel.

Those sometimes small, sometimes large, sometimes shallow, and sometimes deep potholes that somehow magically appear overnight to the detriment of the unaware motorist are a real concern to the City and to residents. The avalanche in the number of reported potholes is, at times, less than the number of actual potholes but the City does respond to each and every report and then some.

One key to successfully addressing this problem is the assistance from the public that the City receives. The City welcomes resident’s calls to the Department of Public Works (DPW) with information on the location of potholes throughout the community and this also helps City crews respond quicker to street needs. (See how to report a pothole below). Weather is a key to the severity and number of potholes, and is a determining factor of when City work crews are mobilized to fill the deformations in the pavement. The better the weather, the more potholes can be filled.

HOW POTHOLE FORMS

According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, potholes are the holes in the roadway that can be various shapes and sizes caused by the expansion and contraction of water after it has entered into the subsurface under the pavement from a crack in the surface. When water freezes, it expands.

Think of when ice cubes are made. A tray full of water is put into the freezer when you take the tray out of the freezer later, you will notice the water has expanded.

This same effect happens when water gets into the subsurface under the pavement. If it has a chance to freeze, it will take up more space under the pavement, and then the pavement will expand, bend or crack, which weakens the material. Then when ice melts, the pavement contracts and it leaves gaps or voids in the subsurface under the pavement, where water can get in again. If the water freezes and thaws over and over, the pavement may get very weak. 

There is another thing that happens. As the weight of cars and trucks pass over the weak spot in the road, pieces of the roadway material weakened by the freeze-thaw effect get displaced or broken down from the weight, creating the pothole. 

What happens when salt is brought into the picture? Water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. When salt is used, it lowers the temperature that water will freeze, creating an artificial freeze-thaw cycle to occur. This happens more in the spring because of the melting that takes place and because the temperatures go between above freezing and below freezing very frequently and allows many freeze-thaw cycles to weaken the pavement.

COLD PATCH VS HOT MIX

Once a pothole develops, it needs to be patched or filled in. Two different types of repair methods are predominately used in this process – cold patch asphalt repair and hot mix asphalt repair. The City of Muscatine has also recently used full depth patching with concrete in larger damaged areas.

Cold patch asphalt repairs can be used to quickly fill in pot holes and is available throughout the year. While cold patch is the “quick fix” and used by the City to repair most cracks and smaller potholes, it does not properly seal a pothole and does not prevent the pothole from forming again.

Hot mix asphalt repair addresses the underlying problems that caused the pothole by excavating the area around the pothole, and then filling and sealing the area with hot asphalt. However, hot mix requires the asphalt to be heated (temperatures range from 300 to 350 degrees) at an asphalt mixing plant and then transported to and poured before the mixture cools. While this product is a flexible mix that is highly resistant to weather and able to repel water, asphalt mixing plants usually only operate mid-March to mid-November when temperatures are 40 degrees or above.

Colder temperatures and the unavailability of hot mix during the colder months into early spring results in cold patch being the best option for most repairs during this time period. As the weather permits, crews from the Department of Public Works have been out to fill as many holes as possible with the cold patch that does not have to be heated.

These repairs, however, cannot be made at all times during the winter months. Snow covered streets often hide the developing potholes and City crews may also have to wait for water from melting snow to drain away. The City employs a throw-and-roll pothole repair strategy in the early stages of their battle against potholes where the cracks and/or potholes are cleaned out of water and debris with high pressured air, cold patch is throw into the crack and/or pothole, and a large truck drives over the patched area. While not a permanent solution, the temporary repair does help smooth out the streets with the area identified for a potentially more long-term solution during the warmer months.

REPORTING A POTHOLE

To report a pothole in the City of Muscatine, call the Department of Public Works at (563) 263-8933. To ensure that the repairs you are requesting are handled in a timely and efficient manner, please having the following information available at the time of your call:

  • Your name (optional)
  • Your address and daytime phone number (It is important that you provide a contact number in the event more information is needed)
  • The location of the pothole, including the nearest cross street and/or address
  • A description of the problem (There are other types of road defects that may appear as a pothole, but may require more intensive repairs)
  • Any other pertinent information that may need to be relayed to the crews about the area or the problem.

After receiving the information, a member of the DPW Street Maintenance Division will visit the site to determine the size and priority of the problem area so that the needed repairs can be scheduled.

Residents may also visit the City of Muscatine web site (www.muscatineiowa.gov) and click on the “Let Us Know” link. This link will take you to our request tracker where you can scroll down to the bottom of the page and select “pothole”. You will have to sign in or create an account to use the feature.

Once created, however, you will be able to use several other features on the city web site including “Notify Me”, which provides opportunities to receive notifications from a number of city departments, “Community Voice”, which allows you to comment and make suggestions in a public discussion forum, “OpenGov”, the official transparency site for the City of Muscatine, and you can even pay your parking tickets at “Online Payments”.