The Ottumwa Courier

October 1, 2013

Millville in NE Iowa seeks to end city status

MARY NEVANS-PEDERSON
Telegraph Herald

---- — MILLVILLE, Iowa (AP) — On a warm fall afternoon, with the Turkey River lazing by, pampas grass rustling and cicadas buzzing loudly, it's easy to see why folks settled Millville years ago.

The tiny Clayton County town, bordered by U.S. 52 to the east and timbered bluffs to the west, stretches from the river to the north and a county road three-quarters of a mile south.

When the thin strip of valley south of Guttenberg filled with families and businesses in the 1950s and '60s, townsfolk decided to incorporate themselves into a formal municipality. Millville became an official Iowa town in 1967.

Longtime Millville resident Jim Hankes remembers two grocery stores, four gas stations, two taverns, restaurants and a creamery.

"Everyone was happy and got along. We all wanted to live 'in the country,' where it was quiet," said Hankes, who has served as the Millville mayor or on the City Council since the 1970s.

But the Dubuque Telegraph Herald reports (http://bit.ly/1636v9t ) Millville today is a ghost of its bustling past with a handful of structures, 21 residents and few operating businesses. So Hankes and his fellow city officials have voted to end their town as an official entity.

They have requested permission from Iowa's City Development Board to unincorporate and are organizing their town's demise. The board will rule on the request, likely in November, and probably will take over paying Millville's bills. The secretary of state must make the final decision on Millville's fate, but if Millville submits its paperwork by year's end, the town will cease to exist, explained Matt Rasmussen, development board administrator.

"With so few people, it's hard to get people to serve as officials, and it's a lot of work for what we get," said City Clerk Jessica Bittner, who also has served on the council.

Mayor Larry Wilson, who has lived in town for seven years, added, "We had a public hearing at my kitchen table, and five or six people showed up. We've been talking about (disbanding) for some time."

Even though parts of the town are regularly swamped by the Turkey River, flooding episodes had nothing to do with the decision to unincorporate, he added, although the most recent flood caused the popular Millville Steakhouse to close.

The town coffers have some surpluses from taxes paid by the dozen property owners and from local-option and road-use taxes. With that money, officials plan to repair several short streets in town and to pay ahead for four years of garbage hauling by a private contractor. What's left will be donated to the public library and public school in Guttenberg, the nearest municipality.

After the paperwork is completed, Bittner will pack up the town's legal and historical documents and haul them to the Clayton County courthouse, where they will be stored in perpetuity. Bittner's husband, Dan, is a Millville native, and their two children were born as town residents.

"It's sad to see that there is not going to be a Millville, but the town will still be here," she said.

The community will become part of rural Clayton County, and it will be governed by county laws and officials.

Hankes said the decision to end Millville is bittersweet.

"It's yes and no. It's too hard to get anyone involved anymore. So many people have moved or died," he said. "But in a few more months, it'll all be over."

Although Millville normally would hold city elections Nov. 5 along with the rest of the state, because the town would cease to exist before anyone could take office in January, elections are moot.

Iowa's countryside is dotted with tiny towns, many of them struggling to survive, but it is relatively rare for the leaders of those entities to decide to formally disband, according to Rasmussen, the development board administrator.

"Since 1992, there have only been four discontinuances. Kent in 2002, Littleport and Athelstan in 2004, and Mount Sterling in 2012," he said. "It's usually very, very small towns with less than 50 residents who decide that the county can provide the same services to them."

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com