December 08, 2022

City council eyes building, rental codes

At the Nov. 1 meeting of the Osceola City Council, discussions were held with council and city staff regarding building and rental codes in Osceola.

Building code

City Administrator Ty Wheeler opened the discussion on building codes by explaining to council an amendment to be made to chapters 155 through 161 of Osceola Code of Ordinances. Those chapters pertain to building codes, including electrical, plumbing, and mechanical licenses, certificates, and codes.

The amendment will update the existing code to the one most recently released by the state of Iowa. A change will also be made so that all of the updated codes would be found in one chapter, as opposed to separate ones.

Jason VanAusdall with Veenstra & Kimm, Inc (V&K) was in attendance at the meeting to answer any questions the council may have regarding building codes. VanAusdall, who has been assisting Osceola with building inspections since the departure of former inspector Dave Leonard, works in 21 different communities, and said that adopting the same language as the state into Osceola code allows for ease of use when working with different contractors.

“Our intention is to allow contractors to come in and out of different jurisdictions in the county, and have the same rules and regulations and amendments,” said VanAusdall.

Council approved the setting of a public hearing pertaining to the building code amendment 5-0.

The public hearing will be Nov. 15 at the regular city council meeting.

Rental code

The discussion was opened regarding the implementation of a rental code in Osceola. Currently, there is no Osceola code about rental properties. Wheeler told council that he had spoken to other communities that have rental codes, and found that contracting out enforcement for those codes is the most effective method of handling the situation, and that is where V&K would come in.

VanAusdall, who has been doing rental property inspections since 1999, said that being upfront with property owners and offering clear communication is paramount to successful rental codes.

“When you put the information out there to the residents and the property owners that you’re wanting to do this, it shouldn’t be a surprise…we want to give them ample time and information to comply with that city ordinance,” said VanAusdall.

VanAusdall said it is equally important to not rush the process, allowing property owners time with the information they need to know how to bring their properties into minimum compliance. He said that it will be necessary to hold landlord meetings, and not everyone will be happy about the changes. VanAusdall also spoke of the necessity of having a separate city code enforcement from V&K, but that V&K will not kick the code enforcement over to the city for whatever property they are inspecting. By ordinance, property owners would have 60 days to come into compliance.

“[We’re] looking for forward trajectory, [we] need to be ready for some that are not going to do it,” said VanAusdall.

Mayor Thomas Kedley reminded the public that this is a ‘go slow to go fast’ process, and that they will all have a chance to have their voices heard on the issue.

“It’s not a ‘gotcha’, it’s ‘let’s do better,’ " said Kedley.

“We have to go slow, we have to put the information out there, we have to answer their questions, and we have to be clear of what we’re looking for,” said VanAusdall.

Answering a question from councilman Tom Bahls, VanAusdall explained that the purpose of a rental code is to ‘raise the standard of rental stock in a community,’ which will also trigger the raise of stock in housing. He said that oftentimes rent will be raised as property owners feel they need to recoup what they put into their property to bring it to compliance, but not all owners will do so.

Council agreed to move forward with having VanAusdall send a service contract to Wheeler, along with other relevant materials - ordinances, policies, forms, etc. VanAusdall suggested looking at early spring 2023 for the first of three potential landlord meetings. Kedley encouraged the public to reach out to city staff, council, or himself to assist with any questions they might have about the possibility of a rental code.

Animal Control

At the Oct. 20 city council meeting, the suggestion to amend the city’s ordinance on the number of allowable outside animals plus include an ordinance against the feeding of at-large animals was discussed.

A proposed amendment was brought back to the council on Nov. 1, which stated that no person should have more than three domesticated adult dogs and/or three domesticated adult cats outside without a permit.

After discussion between council and city staff, it was decided to have staff rework the amendment before council would set a public hearing on the matter. It was also requested that the wording be changed to reflect ‘deliberate feeding’ of at-large animals, so as not to affect those owners who feed their animals outside and get at-large visitors.

Additional discussion of a trap/neuter/return program (TNR) was discussed with staff to look into the legalities of such a program, but no further action was taken at this time.

Communication and PR services

Council approved a partnership with Andrew Clark of Spoke Communications for the purposes of communications and public relation services with the Clarke County Development Corporation (CCDC), pending CCDC board approval. The cost will be $5,000 per year for the service agreement. Clark had previously worked with CCDC, the city, Osceola Water Works and other local entities in the PR and communication roles.

Town hall

Mayor Kedley is holding town halls on the first Tuesday of each month at city hall, starting at 5 p.m. Kedley invited those with comments or concerns to come talk to him, to call him at 563-249-1330, or talk to him if they see him.

“If you see me out and about, stop and have a conversation with me,” said Kedley.

Minutes from the Nov. 1 meeting can be found on the city’s website, or the legal section of this paper.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.