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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 23, 2017

Mount Union no longer city

By Brooks Taylor, Golden Triangle News Service | Mar 13, 2017

DES MOINES (GTNS) — There is no longer a City of Mount Union. While the bricks and mortar remain and the streets are being traveled, Mount Union’s 113-year history as a town ended Wednesday.

That’s when the State of Iowa City Development Board voted unanimously to approve the community’s request to dissolve. Now the development board becomes the city’s government for the next six months with Henry County assuming the unincorporated area after the six-month interim.

John Marek, the last person to serve as mayor of the community, whose population had shrunk just below 100 (98 to be exact), was at the 15-minute development board hearing Wednesday along with his wife, Joelle, and Mount Union residents Linda Johnson, Richard “Butch” Johnson and Lamar Fenton.

With the dust now settling, Marek said he has mixed emotions. “I am relieved that the biggest hurdle is done and over with,” he began. “Now, I have to sort out the details and the former mayor’s role in the unincorporation.

“There is less weight on my shoulders but I don’t look at Mount Union any differently,” he continued. “It got to the point that no one was running for office that the ability of Mount Union residents to make a fair choice of who is representing them had been taken away. Democracy has been destroyed.”

Mount Union’s City Council passed a resolution in June of 2016 to unincorporate. Residents, however, filed a petition to put the matter to a vote and the vote passed, 32-31 during the November 2016 general election.

Marek admitted he was apprehensive as he awaited Mount Union’s turn in front of the development board. “I was nervous going into it because I didn’t know which way it would go. The law was clear that once we turned over the results of the vote, the City Development Board should take the steps to allow us to unincorporate.”

He said he feels some vindication following the decision. “You ask the question if the voters of Mount Union and the city council did everything correctly to meet the will of the people. We did things right, we didn’t run roughshod over the people.”

Change, they say, causes anxiety, and Marek said the emotion is present among residents of the former town. “There is some anxiety in the area because they don’t know what is going to happen now. No one knows the county’s plan for the park, zoning and street lights because the department heads of the county didn’t allow discussion on that … I still feel I have to argue for the residents of Mount Union so they are not taken advantage of by RUSS (Regional Utility Service Systems) or the county.”

The former mayor said the unincorporation puts the former community into uncharted territory.

“Looking forward, I am going to be diligent and watchful on how the process moves forward and that the people of Mount Union are treated fairly.”

Marek said the city development board was very complimentary on the packet of information provided them by him and the city clerk.

“I’m paraphrasing, but Barbara Brown (a board member) said it was the most informative packet to come before the board and gave a clear picture of what was happening.”

Although the largest hurdle may be cleared, there are still other hurdles, such as what happens with the streetlights, sanitation collection and the amount owed to RUSS.

Mount Union’s debt to RUSS, arguably, is the largest dilemma.

The city and RUSS have had numerous court dates. Considerable money is still owed by Mount Union residents to RUSS.

In the aging report disseminated Wednesday during the RUSS board meeting, a total of $37,038.45 was past due.

Mount Union residents still owe $9,498.68 on March bills, which are due March 15. There is also the matter of the $279,972.27 owed on a loan with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the treatment plant.

Basically, RUSS took out the note on behalf of Mount Union, largely because Mount Union did not have enough bonding capacity to swing the deal on its own.

A 28E agreement between RUSS and Mount Union said the loan for the plant would be paid back through user fees and that the city would also indemnify RUSS for users who were not paying their bill.

While Marek agrees that the city would not have had the bonding capacity to do the project on its own, he maintains that the City of Mount Union “is not a party to that (USDA) loan.” Furthermore, Marek said that since Mount Union is now unincorporated, RUSS cannot by law bring a lawsuit against an unincorporated town.

Bruce Hudson, RUSS executive director, doesn’t agree with Marek’s position. However, he is optimistic the hurdle will be cleared. “There is no doubt in my mind that together with the county supervisors, county auditor, my board and myself can get this resolved and give relief to the people in Mount Union. We hope we can move forward like this never happened. It is now between us and the county, and I know we can come up with a solution.”

The street lights will be turned off in a couple days, Marek said, but Alliant has given residents the option of “adopting” street lights at the cost of $11-$15 monthly and a number of residents have done so. The county will continue to provide lights on the two farm-to-market roads adjacent to the community, he added.

Despite the upheaval the community has encountered this decade, Marek said he was still disappointed the community had to dissolve. “It is sad we had to do this, but it had to be done. I think maybe I can look at things differently because I moved here 17 years ago and am not a native.”

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