Coffee with the GM Update

By Susan Thompson 
At a December 5 “Coffee with the GM,” John Rutledge, LPA general manager and LPN, LLC director of operations, provided an update on several projects.
Rutledge started by reporting Bill Dahl and Corey Welberg had been re-elected two days earlier to the Lake Panorama Rural Improvement Zone (RIZ) Board of Trustees. Other trustees on the RIZ board are Doug Hemphill, JoAnn Johnson, and Larry Petersen. 
The trustees are responsible for administering the RIZ, which is a local government entity designed to manage erosion control and water quality at Lake Panorama and within its watershed. RIZ is funded by property tax dollars paid by Lake Panorama property owners. In general, about 35 percent of the property taxes paid by lake owners goes to RIZ. 
One large project being funded by RIZ is work by Dredge America, which has been hired to remove up to 750,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Middle Raccoon River bed between the Fansler Bridge and Lake Panorama’s upper basin. The work will cost an estimated $4.5 million. 
“This is the most challenging area to dredge,” Rutledge said. “We may eventually have been able to do this with our own dredge and staff, but not before some of the leases expire on the current sediment basin. With Dredge America, this work should be done by the end of 2020.” 
Rutledge reported RIZ issued $11 million in debt certificates in December 2018, where were refinanced this fall. The funds will be used for development of long-term storage basins, additional wetlands to protect water quality entering the lake, and equipment. One piece of equipment will be a larger debris skimmer, which will be more effective. The current skimmer could be used as backup. 
RIZ has signed a purchase agreement on a farm. Rutledge said RIZ was interested in a portion of the farm more than two years ago, but the owners weren’t interested in selling just that section.  Plans had been developed for a wetland, but those were “put on the shelf” since the land wasn’t available. 
Once the owners decided to sell the entire farm, the RIZ board decided to purchase it. The western portion will be retained for the planned wetland. The other two-thirds may provide an opportunity to trade some land on this farm for land elsewhere that could be used for other water quality improvement structures. If not, the extra land will be sold. 
“We’re not in the business of buying land for speculation or to make money,” Rutledge said. “In this case, it makes sense to buy this farm to help accomplish what we are trying to do to protect the lake.” 
The RIZ fiscal year ends each June 30. Rutledge said the annual audit and other reports and documents required by the State of Iowa have been completed. These are available on the RIZ website:
Turning attention to Lake Panorama National, Rutledge said Shive Hattery engineers conducted an assessment of the LPN conference center, with an eye towards possible renovations to make the building more functional. 
“The LPA and LPN boards had been discussing possible improvements, thinking we might be able to get what we wanted for $1 million or the lower end of $2 million,” he said. “But the assessment showed it would cost $4 million to renovate just the main level, and the conference center would need to be closed for four to six months. It didn’t address the upper and lower levels at all.” 
Rutledge said for now, no major changes will occur as the price and downtime substantially exceeded expectations. The two boards will discuss possible goals and options in the spring. 
Golf membership applications for 2020 have been mailed to those who were members of either Panorama West or Lake Panorama National in 2019. Rutledge said the same basic membership options are being offered again in 2020, with some price increases. Two incentives are offered to get memberships in December and January, which helps the LPN cash flow during a slow time of year. Those who pay in full by the end of December will be entered in a prize drawing and receive gift cards. Those who pay by the end of January will receive LPN gift cards. 
Rutledge said the six sand traps at Panorama West will be renovated in the spring, since the contractor ran out of time this fall because of weather issues. Friends of Lake Panorama is contributing $15,000 from the McLuen estate gift and the LPA is providing a similar amount of money to finish this project. 
Brad Halterman, who has been the LPA project manager for three-and-a-half years, has been named the director of the Guthrie County Conservation Board. Rutledge praised Halterman for his work at the LPA, saying he was an “outstanding contributor” to the organization and definitely will be missed. The LPA is advertising to fill the position. 
Long-awaited water plant improvements are underway. Rutledge said there are three components to this $4.75 million project—drilling a new well into the Jordan aquifer, installing a discharge line that will run from the plant to near the Highway 44 Middle Raccoon River bridge, and installing a reverse osmosis system.  
Work on the reverse osmosis system already is underway. Work on the other two components will begin in the spring. Completion is anticipated for late 2020 or early 2021. When complete, Rutledge said the water produced will be softer and customers will want to make changes in water softeners and other in-home water treatment equipment. 
He said he’s pleased the “advance narrative is consistent with the results.” There had been an expectation increasing water rates $70 per quarter would cover the cost of the project. Once all plans were done and bids settled, that expectation was confirmed. 
The LPA board in November approved a motion to increase quarterly water rates from the current $90 to $160 beginning with the October 2020 bill, a quarterly increase of $70. Rutledge said this will put LPA water rates into the same ballpark as other communities.
In the spring, the LPA board may decide to ask members to vote in late summer or fall to approve a special assessment to reduce infrastructure debt. Rutledge said the form of this possible ballot measure has not yet been finalized, but it would be a means by which all property owners could share some of the cost.
In 2018, the water safety committee spent several hours reviewing buoy placements. Working with Shive-Hattery engineers, a map was developed showing chosen buoy locations. The LPA board voted on the final map at its September 2018 meeting, and agreed a full summer of use was needed before any additional changes could be considered.
Rutledge said this fall both the water safety committee and the LPA board reviewed the buoy map, and both voted unanimously to keep buoy locations the same for 2020. He said the only exception will be if a hazard buoy needs to be moved.
For the annual Lake Panorama ski team show in 2020, the LPA board has voted to make the main basin and surrounding areas a no wake/idle speed zone for 30 minutes before the show until the end of the show. The area will be marked with special buoys, and lake security will be patrolling and enforcing. This is being done to protect the safety of the participants, many of whom are young children.
Rutledge said the 2020 LPA budget has been finalized by the board. It includes a five percent dues increase, but no changes to boat stickers, camping and other fees. He said the board focuses on reserves, which are projected to be about 24% of the LPA budget. But he also said this is more like 16 percent of total expenditures when LPA and LPN are combined.
The road budget for 2020 was increased by $15,000 to keep up with inflation and ensure at least nine miles of roads can be seal coated.
So far, the number of antlerless deer taken in this year’s hunt is 122, which is about a dozen more than expected.
Jerry Armstrong, head of LPA security, is looking for water patrol candidates to work this spring and summer. These would be people who would not be expected to also do land patrol. Rutledge said they will consider college-age students, and asked those in attendance to spread the word.