August Coffee with the GM Report

By Susan Thompson 

Updates on several projects were provided by John Rutledge, LPA general manager and LPN, LLC director of operations, at the August 9 “Coffee with the GM." He said the Lake Panorama Rural Improvement Zone (RIZ) board is moving into its most active time of the year, as dredging and current construction projects wind down and plans for the next spring ramp up. 

Earlier the RIZ board put out a request for bids for an outside contractor to dredge in the upper reaches of the Middle Raccoon River between the Fansler bridge and Lake Panorama’s upper basin. Now a $4.1 million contract has been signed with Dredge America. “The contractor will begin to mobilize this fall, and may get some dredging done before winter. But the bulk of this work will be done in spring and summer next year,” Rutledge said. “The RIZ board decided this is the best way to get this area upstream cleared, plus use available storage in the county silt basin before some land leases there expire.”  

This work will supplement LPA’s annual dredging contract with RIZ, and will help “catch up” on some of the more challenging areas of the lake and river channel. “We’re expecting to move a lot of yards of sediment in 2020,” Rutledge said. 

Last fall, the RIZ board finalized $11 million worth of debt certificates, which are similar to bonds, to finance this and other future projects. “RIZ is a tax increment financing (TIF) entity,” he explained. “This state program allows RIZ to take on debt to pay for future projects, which then is paid back through a portion of annual property taxes collected on property within the Lake Panorama RIZ district.” 

Currently RIZ receives about $2 million annually from property tax collections within the Lake Panorama district. In response to an audience question, Rutledge confirmed RIZ has successfully leveraged TIF property tax revenues to achieve cost share funding on three wetland projects. These projects enjoy support from state and federal sources, which target nutrient reduction in Iowa’s rivers and streams.

At the two completed wetlands, Iowa State University researchers have installed automated water sampling systems at both inflow and outflow points. The samples are packaged and sent weekly by LPA staff to Iowa State, where nutrient levels and other water quality indices are tested and compared. A third wetland, which is slightly deeper than the first two, is under construction north of Burchfield Cove. Once completed, it also will be fitted with a water sampling system. 

“As test results on the water coming into and leaving these wetlands are tracked over the next few years, ISU researchers will attempt to determine if this deeper wetland works as well as, or perhaps better than, the shallower wetlands,” Rutledge said. “If that’s true, more funding opportunities for wetlands better suited for the west side of the lake could be available.” 

Turning to Lake Panorama National, Rutledge said new menus for the Links Restaurant are coming soon. “Many items will be the same, with some added, and some gone,” he said. “It’s difficult to have such a wide variety, while controlling input costs. Restaurants with a narrow menu generally are more profitable. But we know we need to offer a wide range of items to satisfy our members and guests, and keep them coming back.” 

Rutledge said the LPN is looking for part-time workers for both the golf course and restaurant during August and September, as summer seasonal employees go back to school. “We lose a lot of kids this time of year, so if you know of anyone who might like to pick up some hours on the grounds crew or at the conference center, send them our way,” he said.  

Property tax bills are starting to arrive from the Guthrie County treasurer’s office. Rutledge said these bills are based on the property tax assessment notices received in spring 2018. “When you receive an assessment notice, and if you don’t think the value is fair, you need to file a protest within the time window provided,” he said. “Once you receive that tax bill a year later, it’s too late.” 

Rutledge acknowledged the majority of growth in Guthrie County can be attributed to Lake Panorama. This is happening at the same time many smaller communities in the county are in decline, which means lake property owners carry more of the burden.

In addition, he said state law requires the county assessor to increase or decrease property values if annual sales show a class of property sales is higher or lower than assessed values by five percent. “If you sold property at Lake Panorama in the past year, you’re probably pretty happy with the price you got,” Rutledge said. “But those higher prices do have an impact on the assessed value of similar properties nearby.” 

  The LPA maintenance staff continues to prepare community roads for the annual seal coat application, which is expected to begin in mid-August. Updates on other projects included: 

·      Tiles from the two pickleball courts at Boulder Beach have been removed by LPA workers, in preparation for Tennis Services of Iowa to apply a three-layer acrylic paint to the concrete surface. The paint will match the present green and blue colors on the tennis and basketball courts, plus white lines. Members will be notified through the weekly Panorama Prompt when the courts reopen.

·      Construction is going well at the new maintenance facility along 200thRoad. The maintenance department should be able to begin the move to the new facility in mid-October.

·      Plans for improvements to the LPA water system continue on hold until the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issues a construction permit. The work will involve drilling a second deep well into the Jordan aquifer, installing a reverse osmosis system, and related water plant upgrades. 

·      Blue green algae is blooming in some coves, especially along the Narrows. This isn’t simply water with a green tinge, but rather a slick-looking green slime on top of the water. Members are urged to use common sense and stay out of these areas, plus keep pets away. The LPA does regular testing of the algae, and counts remain well below federal limits. These blooms feed on phosphorus in the water, and will move on with rain, cooler weather, boat action and wind. 

·      The Guthrie County engineer notified LPA the planned work to improve the surface of Sage Trail will be delayed until 2020. The delay is the result of a wet spring and summer, which caused significant damage to Guthrie County roads.

In response to audience comments about drivers running stop signs, and high-speed boating after dark, Rutledge praised the LPA security staff, while agreeing these problems exist. “Every year we budget for more overtime and part-time help during the busy summer, both on water and land,” he said. “But the reality is we can’t find enough qualified people to take these jobs. The crew we have does a great job, but we simply need more people to fill the shifts. We’re looking at ways to make this more appealing to part time officers.” 

He said tickets are written every week to LPA members who ignore stop signs, and the security department will look into keeping some lake patrol officers on duty longer to slow down speeding boats after sunset. 

Barry Monaghan closed the meeting with an update on the Clover Ridge Interval Owners Association dissolution process. He said the association is close to being able to put the 22 units it owns along Karen Drive on the market. Lake Panorama Realty has been chosen as the listing agent. Monaghan encouraged those who might be interested to get their name on the realty company’s waiting list to be contacted when the units are available for purchase.