By Michael Schaffer - Managing editor
The Appanoose County Board of Supervisors Friday morning held a 90 minute public hearing to consider a petition to create a Rural Improvement Zone at Sundown Lake in the northeast part of the county.
The board now has 10 days to establish the RIZ by resolution or to disallow the petition.
Based on state law it appears a request to create a RIZ at Sundown Lake hinges on the board of supervisor’s determination if the improvements are needed.
Chapter 357H.1 of Iowa Code reads: "The board of supervisors of a county with less than twenty thousand residents ... based upon the 2000 certified federal census, and with a private lake development shall designate an area surrounding the lake, if it is an unincorporated area of the county, a rural improvement zone upon receipt of a petition ... and upon the board's determination that the area is in need of improvements."
Iowa Code defines "improvements" as "dredging, installation of erosion control measures, land acquisition, and related improvements, including soil conservation practices, within or outside of the boundaries of the zone."
On Friday, 172 petitions to establish a RIZ were presented to the board of supervisors. Representing Sundown Lake Homeowners Association were Jason Kok, the lake's main sales agent and attorney Denny Chalupa,
The advantage of a RIZ for Sundown Lake residents is they would be able to retain property taxes to achieve their goal to protect and improve the lake. The revenue the association would receive would be based on an increase of value over and above that which it is assessed at this time.
An increase in value could include the construction of new homes and additions to current homes.
Chalupa said Sundown lake homeowners are taxed by the county but none of the tax revenue is returned to them to maintain the lake.
"This gives the homeowners an opportunity to annex the funds from taxes that result in increased valuations within the district to apply towards its expense of maintaining the lake," Chalupa said. "The goal would be that the lake would be improved to the point that there would be no further need for (RIZ). It it's not maintained the lake will deteriorate to the point that it will lose tax dollars."
Kok, with the help of Chalupa, systematically went through before and after aerial photos of the lake to illustrate what was once water is now land due to silting and erosion to demonstrate the need for a RIZ at Sundown Lake. The photos ranged in time from 1994-2011.
Kok said Sundown Lake is experiencing major silting and it is creating problems for landowners.
Because the lake is shrinking it is more volatile with heavy rainfalls, Kok said. Large fluctuations in water level could cause a dam breach.
Kok said the lake was dredged in 2007 but has now filled back in with siltation.
Dredging is one thing the private lake is doing to confront the problem. The placement of rip rap is another. Kok said they have done $500,000 in improvements at the lake.
Kok said one homeowner once had a waterfront lot. He said that same lot is now a land front lot.
Kok said three other lakes in Iowa have RIZ designation.
Walter Parrish, who farms below the dam, said the RIZ designation would benefit both the people downstream and people on the lake.
The advantage for Sundown Lake residents is a disadvantage for every taxing entity in the county because less tax money would be coming in.
Representatives from local school districts attended the public hearing.
Brad Breon, Moravia School District superintendent, said the RIZ would limit the district's ability to bring in money because it takes away bonding capacity.
Travis Harris, Moulton-Udell School District president, said it's not uncommon to see this type of erosion in the county. He called it a problem for all landowners.
Kok said Sundown Lake is 400 acres and the entire project is 2,800 acres. The watershed for the area covers 13,000 acres. Sundown Lake has 351 lots, 280 are sold, 70 of them have a house and 20 with some type of structure, like a garage.
Iowa Code states an elected board of trustees "may authorize construction, reconstruction, or repair of improvements within the zone ... purchase material, employ personnel, acquire real estate and interests in real estate, and perform all other acts necessary to properly maintain and operate the zone." Trustees must live in the zone, will receive expenses but are not paid.
Iowa Code states the board of trustees must publish a notice stating the purpose and amount of an improvement project or projects.
Iowa Code states the RIZ can be dissolved by the board of trustees once "all improvements have been made in the zone and all indebtedness has been paid."