The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

February 20, 2013

River Hills saying goodbye to downtown

Health center’s move outside city limits not because CEO was ‘disengaged’ or ‘disenchanted’ with downtown Ottumwa

OTTUMWA — There simply wasn’t enough room downtown for River Hills to move or expand, the health center’s CEO said.

The City Council unanimously approved River Hills Community Health Center’s request to connect its new building outside city limits on Hutchinson Avenue to the city’s sewer system at the council’s meeting Tuesday night.

River Hills CEO Rick Johnson told City Administrator Joe Helfenberger earlier this month that the health center was ready to move forward with finalizing its purchase of the 11-plus acre property on Hutchinson Avenue.

“We have all utilities and other infrastructure in place, but we still need final approval from the City Council to hook up to city sewer on the west side of Hutchinson,” Johnson said.

The sewer connection would be at no cost to the city, Johnson said, because River Hills plans to cover the cost from where the sewer system ends to its new property.

River Hills will pay the $500 sewer connection fee as well as sewer rates of 125 percent of the base sewer rate, since the property being served is outside city limits.

“That’s the standard under city ordinance,” said Public Works Director Larry Seals. “Anybody who lies outside city limits and connects to the city sewer system pays that rate.”

Councilman Bob Meyers was still disappointed River Hills did not decide to stay downtown. He also had concerns that under-developed roads near the health center’s new location could present a problem to patients.

“Really the only access is off Pennsylvania Avenue over the bypass to Hutchinson, or they can use Stellar [Avenue] and part of the county road, which has no shoulders and is not well developed,” Meyers said.

Johnson said most traffic will primarily be from Pennsylvania Avenue. He also said the new health center will be built in the far north corner of the property so the entrance and exit can steer clear of the curve in the road.

Councilman Brian Morgan asked Johnson to clarify for the public that “the city really did try the best we could to keep you downtown.”

“I worked with [Helfenberger] over six months on investigating different locations downtown,” Johnson said. “It’s not that we didn’t want to stay downtown, but in our final analysis with the properties secured, they were not big enough to meet our needs. And other factors came into play, and it appeared to us that it was not in our best interest to stay downtown where we were segregated from the rest of the medical community.”

Johnson also noted that it’s not the city’s responsibility to keep businesses downtown.

“It shouldn’t be the City Council’s role to dictate where businesses decide they want to locate,” he said. “This is nothing against the city of Ottumwa. I’ve lived here all my life and I applaud what you’re trying to do in downtown Ottumwa. It’s not that I’m disengaged or disenchanted with downtown Ottumwa. In the scheme of things, we really wanted to have a lot more space to have a campus so we don’t have to worry about moving again in 30 to 40 years.

“We did look really hard at staying downtown. It wasn’t a decision we made real lightly.”

The council also approved the Ottumwa Police Department’s request to apply for a three-year traffic enforcement grant from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau.

The nearly $50,000 request would be used to pay overtime, with an additional $13,000 used to purchase traffic safety equipment, including a handheld radar, five moving radars (bringing the department’s total number of moving radars to seven) and one in-car video camera.

In the event that another situation arises where law enforcement is needed, Morgan asked if the officer working overtime on traffic enforcement could be pulled to the incident.

“The overtime is for traffic enforcement, but if we have a big event and the department is doing traffic enforcement around that area and there are calls for service there, that person is going to respond,” said Police Chief Jim Clark. “Just like now, if an officer is doing traffic enforcement on a Friday or Saturday night, there are serious calls for service those officers respond to ... then once they’re no longer needed they go back to traffic enforcement.”

Also at the council meeting:

• The council authorized the replacement of the eagle medallion at Bridge View Center with a nearly $21,000 contribution from the city toward the nearly $36,000 project. BVC Director of Operations John Kearney said the construction joints the medallion sat on moved, breaking the bonding material in the concrete underneath. A new slab will be designed so “if there is any movement at all, the entire slab will move with the eagle medallion so there are no further cracking issues.”

• The council approved the Quincy Avenue Reconstruction Project, which will include a full-width, full-depth reconstruction of the street and extending the existing northbound lane beyond Theatre Drive. Engineers said the project will increase serviceability and improve traffic flow for the new Orscheln Farm and Home, which is being built west of Vaughn Automotive.

• Councilman J.R. Richards was the only councilman not to approve the consent agenda (a list of generally routine items usually with no discussion). Following the meeting he said he could not comment on which item he did not approve or why due to “a pending investigation.”

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